Many of us may be harming our relationships without even being aware. Some destructive patterns are harder to see than others. Read about this destructive quality, and see if you can spot it at work in YOUR relationship(s). This is the intro to my book about DEFENSIVENESS. You can continue reading this portion of it, or you can download the entire book for free HERE.
The word, “defense,” means “to resist an attack” or to “protect from harm or danger.” The word “defend” might make you think of an ancient city’s fortitudes, built to keep its inhabitants safe. The Great Wall of China may come to mind – that thirteen thousand mile wonder, put up to protect China from raids and invasions along its western border.
In sports, we often hear that the best offense is a good defense. Winning a game isn’t just about how many goals your team can score, but just as much about minimizing how many goals the other team scores. The best way to be a good, effective team, is to have a strong defense.
We also commonly hear the word “defense” used in the context of self-defense, which is what a person does (or attempts to do) when he/she is threatened and, rather than laying down or retreating, fights back.
In most examples where we see the word “defense” being used, it has positive connotations. By this, we might easily assume that defensiveness is a good quality. But actually, in most cases that involve human relationships, defensiveness has more negative than positive value.
Take for example; romantic relationships. John Gottman, relationships expert and author of “The Relationship Cure”, refers to defensiveness as one of the four “horsemen of the relational apocalypse”. In other words, when you see it coming, look out… the end is near!
Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines defensiveness as: behaving in a way that shows that you feel people are criticizing you. Author Shannon L. Alder says that “Defensiveness is usually someone silently screaming that they need you to value and respect them…”
But perhaps we know defensiveness best by its common outward manifestations – the ways a person will constantly make excuses, deflect criticisms, needlessly disagree or insist on being right. Sometimes it’s what we witness in other people. Sometimes we see it in ourselves, coming out in the “It’s not my fault” remarks, or the “Yeah, but you” retorts.
But we aren’t always aware that this behavior reveals something about us… that deep down, we feel we have something to prove. Which only means that despite how confident or courageous we want to appear, somewhere inside, we feel inadequate or unworthy. We believe our value is contingent upon others’ affirmations.
These feelings are often deeply engrained into us. Some of them, stemming back to experiences from our childhoods, which over the years, have woven their effects into our dispositions. For that reason, it has become incredibly hard for us to recognize our own defensiveness or to know how to change it.
To make matters worse, we often detach from our rational minds when we become defensive. Emotions run high, and it becomes nearly impossible for us to “let down our guards.” This makes defensiveness into a matter that is not just psychological or emotional, but also, physical. Maybe this explains why defensiveness is so hard to overcome.
Judge Jim Tamm, former law professional, says that “remaining non-defensive is the single most important thing you can do to increase your effectiveness when working to turn conflict into collaboration.” What can we say so far about overcoming defensiveness? That not only is it one of the hardest things we could ever do, it’s also one of the most crucial.
But what makes defensiveness such a hard problem to solve is its propensity to stay hidden. It’s a problem that we trace back to everyone but ourselves. It’s your spouse’s fault that you don’t trust people. It’s your family’s fault that you can’t take a joke.
These people who’ve provoked us in some way, we believe, are the ones who have problems. Therefore, why should we be the ones reading a self-help book, delving deep into our psyches? Let’s save that hard work for the people who need it.
But the thing is, defensiveness is our problem. It doesn’t matter who provokes us… whether it’s our neighbor, our spouse or a tree falling in the woods, it only hurts us when we respond negatively to such things.
And, if a real solution exists out there, it’s not something we can force on anyone else. It must begin in ourselves, as we are the only ones we have power to change. As author Stephen Covey said, “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us”.
We need to overcome defensiveness, perhaps most of all, because criticism is everywhere. Even when we do a job 99% right, it seems someone is still only going to notice the 1% we missed. And if our reasons stemmed from a need to feel appreciated, we will almost certainly react poorly when confronted or quit a job before it is finished.
There is simply no escaping criticism. If you look at all relationships, you’ll find that it exists in even the healthiest of them. Good friends must sometimes say “Hey Steve, you parked your car in my spot again”, or “Bob, why didn’t you tell anyone you drank the last of the milk?” Even the most loving spouses must sometimes say, “Hey, you’re stealing the covers,” or “You forgot to put the toothpaste cap back on.”
But a person’s defensiveness might make him unable to hear even such small things without rising up in defense. He sees them as an attack, when quite often, they aren’t. In fact, they’re often even acts of love. As the old proverb says, better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.
If we aren’t able to hear criticism well, even when delivered lovingly, then the problem isn’t on the end of the sender, but on the end of the receiver. If we get defensive, there is no way around it… we are the ones doing damage to our relationships.
To see if you fall into the “defensive” category, I’ve developed a small quiz. Please answer the following ten questions.
- Do you take it personally when someone criticizes you?
- Do you feel a greater sense of personal worth when somebody compliments you?
- Do you often feel like you are in competition with the people you are talking to?
- Do you have a hard time owning your flaws when others acknowledge them?
- Are you expecting others to be offensive before they even act?
- Do you get fired up when people rub you the wrong way?
- Are you sometimes too distracted by a person’s words and body language to hear the message in what they’re saying?
- Do you react strongly to offensive people?
- Do you typically see your bad interactions with people as being their fault?
- Do you feel it is your job to make others fully appreciate you?
Take a look at your results. If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you are probably a more defensive person. And if you respond negatively to hearing that you’re a defensive person, then the chances are even greater that yes, you indeed are a defensive person.
They always say the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. So, if you are a defensive person, then I want you to pause for a moment and say it out loud. Say; “I have a problem with defensiveness. With this problem, I am doing great harm to my relationships”. From there, you can begin to move forward and make real changes.
Defensiveness robs us of a better life. It keeps us from having better positions at work, better relationships at home, better friendships, better communication, and even, the chance to be made better by valuable constructive criticism. Isn’t it time we stop doing this?
Welcome to 10 ways to make sure you never stop being defensive. In this book, we will tell you all about the ten rules to follow if your goal is to stay defensive forever. These rules, of course, are rules that you should break, being that your goal probably is not to stay defensive forever, but to improve and experience a healthier world.
The ten rules are:
- Personalize Matters That Aren’t Personal.
- Make All Matters Into Matters Of Worthiness.
- Look For Offenses In Everything.
- Assume To Know What Others Are Thinking.
- Dodge Responsibility.
- Always Speak And Act Before Thinking.
- Do Not Be Self Aware.
- Do Not Hear The Message Behind The Words.
- Always Be Right.
- Never Take Any Crap From Anyone.
So, without further ado, let’s begin!
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