Defensiveness occurs when we assume we are in some way being attacked or threatened. The importance of what we feel the need to protect will have have a direct correlation with the degree to which we defend.
Whilst being able to defend what is important to you and having the ability to stand up for yourself are admirable skills that can prevent other people taking you for granted, sometimes our levels of defensiveness are overly elevated such that they begin to cause a problem.
For example, if someone rudely criticises your appearance because they dislike your choice of fashion, it is entirely reasonable that you should respond and defend yourself. After all, those little unjust that you let creep by will eventually eat away at your self-esteem, if you do not either develop some resilience or stand up for yourself.
However, if you are criticised for your appearance because you work in a job with a strict dress code or uniform and you showed up that day dressed as if you were having a lazy Sunday at home, then reacting defensively instead of taking on board the criticism (or in this instance we might refer to it as being feedback instead) could cause a problem.
As linguistics is my favourite element of NLP, one of the things I like to do with clients that I meet at the Hypnotherapy and NLP Clinic in Hertfordshire is to help them devise good quality questions that they can ask themselves when they feel that their defensive barriers are coming up.
Some useful things to ask yourself when you notice that sensation of needing to defend yourself are:
Will my reaction really make a difference to this person or me? Is it therefore really worth my time and energy?
Is this really an attack or threat or could it be a misunderstanding?
Could I relax and explain my position instead of defending it?
Is it OK for someone to have a different idea or opinion to me on this? If so do I still need to defend myself?
Will I still be bothered by this tomorrow/next week/next month/next year/in 10 years time?
Could there be an entirely different message intended to the one I am receiving? Would that change how I am about to respond?
Would I still feel defensive if I found something humorous in all this?
Not too long ago, I had a dispute with a relative about something which was so minimal, I now cannot remember what it was. What I do remember is that it was by text (which is never a good way to understand the other persons point or have them understand yours). At the time, it seemed to be significant enough that I had pinged over a few messages defending my position.
Simultaneously, I was looking for a way to wrap up the dispute because it was time consuming at a point when I had better things to do and I could feel the tension increasing as I began to feel more defensive. This was something that I wanted to avoid.
The other person then responded with a message saying “You always have to have the last word.”
Rather than defending myself again and sending something else back that would no doubt fan the flames further, I instead decided to make the situation humorous (for myself) by deliberately not replying to the message that stated I always had to have the last word. I had a little chuckle to myself about it and by re-framing the importance of defending myself in that situation was able to let go of the stress that being defensive had created.
By Gemma Bailey