Last week I relayed the story about Ralph and Robin having difficulty expressing themselves in a way that the other could understand and appreciate.
Hearing what could be construed as a complaint or fault from the one you love can stimulate the feeling of defensiveness. I see that it can be challenging to identify or acknowledge defensiveness in some circumstances because doing so requires admitting you are wrong or the need for change.
The level of defensiveness is related to feelings of self-worth. If I feel unworthy, put down, criticized, or demeaned in any manner and my self-worth is very low, I will react in a very unpleasant way to attempt to overcome the wretched feelings of self-doubt. If I am feeling good about myself, goodness becomes a shield impervious to words of harm.
When faced with the prospect of vehemently defending myself, I resort to defensiveness. But what am I protecting? Is it my dignity, pride, or desire to appear favorable?
Regardless of the answer, defensiveness works to ward off unwanted negative feelings. I want to disown what I might have done. I may not want to admit irresponsible acts or behaviors that hurt another. Seeing myself as a failure may not be a place I can go.
So, it is easier to start a conversation that shifts responsibility to the other and turn it around on them. Attacking the other is an attempt to change the culpability from the person feeling like a victim. If I can get the conversation turned to you, then I am out of the spotlight and don’t have to experience the shame or guilt that damages my self-worth.
But in this situation, anger fueled by a loss of self-worth results and the discussion is ended. The results of this kind of conversation also depends on the anger level. It leads to more fractures and unfinished business, which is then added to the already bubbling cauldron of similar discussions and is used as fuel for future arguments. The higher the anger level, the worse the fracture.
If defensiveness is the result of poor self-esteem, how is that overcome? The explanation seems easy, but the change is difficult. Again, it depends on the level of unworthiness.
The first step may be to acknowledge that there is a problem with unworthiness. It is beneficial to practice saying and hearing good and positive things. Stopping the negative self-talk that keeps this circle in motion often yields fantastic results.
This is not a cure for defensiveness. It is an idea, to bring it to the surface, to help identify a blind spot in relationships.
Defensiveness can be overcome with conscious determination, acceptance, and strategic intentional focus.
Can you accept defensiveness as a possible irritant in your unhealthy relationships?
What an unlikely topic—defensiveness!
Yet it is one of the hidden and most deadly issues in relationships.
Watch for the blind spots.
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Blind Spots in Relationships
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