As someone who is continuing their educational journey, I am privileged enough to study the theories of some of the most influential minds that have been on this earth. These theories have encouraged me to think outside of my own self- continually searching for truths that go beyond surface level. Truths that lay in plain sight, but often go unnoticed. Today I want to dissect an issue that arises in our interpersonal relationships; defensiveness.
So often when we express unsatisfactory feelings based on the behavior of another, they respond in a manner of, “I didn’t do that!” Or, “well, I did that because of…” inevitably placing the blame on circumstances outside of them. And yes, it is sometimes infuriating. The lack of accountability, the disregard of the role they played. But today, I invite you to put on a different lens.
What does defensiveness say? Yes, maybe a failure to see fault. But above this, defensiveness says, “I hold you and your opinion of me in such a high regard that I do not want you to view me in a poor manner. I know I am better than this, and that is why I am struggling with identifying myself with your truth.” Defensiveness is not always a failure of acknowledgement, it is a cry for understanding. Remember this the next time someone reacts in this way. Listen to the words they are not saying.
In moments where the other party reacts defensively, they are in need of reassurance. Offer it to them, this looks like; “you do so many things right by me, but in this moment I feel let down. I am raising awareness to this because I do not want either one of us to hold resentments. Let’s find a solution where we can better understand each other’s point of view.” More than likely, this will welcome the other party to open up instead of hiding behind their walls. This approach allows for a conversation that promotes conflict resolution without making the other party feel like their character is under attack.
This is not to say this is always the case. Victim mentality and narcissism is very much real, so it is up to you to decide whether their lack of accountability is coming from a place of genuine admiration or a character built upon a “I can do no wrong” foundation.
If you find yourself on the brink of reacting in a defensive way, I encourage you to take a moment and pause. Think, “Why do I believe this persons perception is not an accurate reflection of who I am?” No matter the reason, do not try to justify it in a way that blames anything other than yourself. Instead say, “I value the way you think of me. If my actions are falling short of my good intentions, than I must be disappointing you, which in return, disappointments me. What can I do differently to prevent this issue from repeating?”
It is in this approach we not only take accountability, but also comfort the person we may have let down. We welcome feedback to resolve the issue at hand.
So many minor mishaps have turned into a full fledged war due to defensiveness. We must learn to look past spoken words to understand the true message. It is through this kind of patience and understanding which allows for healthy long term commitments.