Defensiveness can pop up in all kinds of places, and in all kinds of ways. You might find yourself reacting angrily to criticism at work, or hastily defending something you said to your partner. Whatever the case may be, it can help to learn how to be less defensive. Because let's be honest — it ain't a great feeling.
Forget about how difficult it is to be on the receiving end of intense defensiveness. It also totally sucks to be the one who feels hurt or criticized enough to act that way. That's because snappy comebacks and withering stares usually come from a place of inner pain and turmoil.
"Often, when people get defensive, it is because someone has hit a nerve with them. They have touched on a truth or issue that is of particular sensitivity to the person, so they handle this by becoming defensive about it," says Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, in an email to Bustle.
That's why, in a perfect world, everyone would take defensiveness with a grain of salt. But sadly, it doesn't work that way. Defensiveness is hardly ever understood, and can often lead to issues in relationships, at work, and at school, according to Martinez. It really can become a problem. So, for your sake and everyone else's, read on for ways to reign in the reactivity, and learn to be (and feel) a little less defensive.
1. Think Before You Respond
The next time someone rubs you the wrong way, or you think they've said something that's absolutely ridiculous, do not respond with a snappy comeback. Instead, take a few minutes to cool off, and respond later with a clearer head. "If [you] need to take five to 10 minutes to walk away, calm down, and put things in perspective, there is nothing wrong with that," Martinez says.
2. Manage Your Stress
Ever notice how your defensiveness gets way out of control on stressful days, or whenever you're feeling extra cranky? "When we’re constantly on edge, we can feel out of control and unable to respond to criticism with a clear head," said Laura Schwecherl on Greatist.com. "So take a deep breath to keep those stress levels in check." Or, better yet, get thyself to some yoga classes, and make stress management part of your weekly routine.
3. Get Better At Listening
The thing about defensiveness is it makes listening really difficult. Instead of hearing what's actually being said, you might focus in on choice phrases, or things that make your blood boil, according to Martinez. If that sounds familiar, then start practicing better listening skills, and work on really hearing the full extent of what's being said.
4. Take Some Deep Breaths
Again, deep breaths are where it's at for all us defensive folks. But here's why — "When we feel threatened, our central nervous system overheats and makes us tense and on guard, unable to take in much new information," said Harriet Lerner Ph.D. on Psychology Today. The next time you feel yourself tensing up, do some slow deep breathing until it subsides.
5. Get To Know Yourself Better
Does it feel like anything and everything pisses you off? If so, it could be time for some inner reflection. "If we have a strong sense of self, and have worked through our issues, people are not able to push our buttons and make us defensive," Martinez says. Yes, it will take a lot of work, but the result will be a new and improved (and calmer) you.
6. Don't Let Yourself Interrupt
I know, this one is incredibly difficult. But interrupting someone is pretty much one of the most defensive things you can do. "If you can’t listen without interrupting, it’s a good indication that you haven’t calmed down," Lerner said. When that's the case, do some of that aforementioned deep breathing until you are actually ready to chat.
7. Know When You're Being Defensive
Sometimes, defensiveness is such an ingrained knee-jerk reaction that you might not even realize you're doing it. This is why a little self awareness can go a long way in helping you to feel a bit less reactive. As Lerner said, "Becoming aware of our defensiveness can give us a tiny, crucial bit of distance from it."
8. View Things From Different Perspectives
"People who are more prone to defensiveness may perceive an attack in certain situations in which people with resilient and calm temperaments would perceive none," noted Linda Carroll on MindBodyGreen.com. "Experiment with viewing the situation from different vantage points."
9. Don't Take Everything Personally
Even though it may feel like, the entire world is not out to get you. Keep this in mind the next time someone addresses one of your flaws, or gives you a critique. They likely aren't come from a malicious place, so there's no point in defensively putting them in their place.
10. Look For Some Common Ground
If you've found yourself in a defensive back and forth with someone — maybe a coworker, an SO, or your mom — stop and look for some common ground. What do you both agree on? Why do you both feel like you have something to prove? "This will shift the exchange out of combat into collaboration," said Lerner.
11. Remember No One Has To "Win"
One cornerstone of defensiveness comes from the idea we always have to be right. "We are conditioned to believe that strength means coming out on top and winning the fight," wrote Nancy Colier, a NYC-based psychotherapist, on HuffingtonPost.com. Once you can get rid of this super flawed idea, it'll feel way easier to chill out, listen, and stop being so defensive.
Not only with this help improve your relationships, but it'll make your daily life feel so much better.
Images: Pexels (11), Yap Chin Kuan/Unsplash