i get really defensive

dear heather,
Lately, I realized that I get really defensive. My friends have even told me this in the past. This seems to be a problem because it’s worse than having an argument. I don’t really know what my problem is. Can you please help?

It’s human nature to get defensive sometimes–it can be a way to cope with stress by temporarily keeping negative thoughts and criticisms away. But if the people in your life have become afraid to speak honestly for fear of you showing hostility toward them, your defensiveness may be depriving you of deeper friendships and love relationships. The good news is that you’ve already acknowledged the issue and are taking steps to correct it. Here are some things you can try:

When you feel like striking out, don’t react right away. Take some time to identify what’s going on for you. You can even take a few deep breaths, if you need to. Instead of snapping or being sarcastic, listen. What your friend has to say may be more balanced and less of a criticism than you think–he or she may merely be expressing their own need.

Also, take some time to think about what he or she is actually saying to you, even if you have to tell the person, “Just give me a minute. I’d really like to respond without being defensive.” Think about what your friend is asking and try to stick to the topic at hand. It might help to think how you’d feel if you were in the person’s shoes. If you are confused by what your friend has said to you, ask for clarification. Then respond without resorting to sarcasm, name-calling and the like.

Defensive behavior is more likely to happen when we feel that we have no real power in our relationships (like when our parents criticize us). If this is the situation, try to change the structure of the discussion. Knowing that you will get your turn to contribute to the conversation may help you to engage in a productive, gratifying discussion rather than one that’s been preemptively shut down.

It might help to tell your friends that you’re trying to turn over a new leaf, so that they can practice being honest with you again without feeling as afraid of your reaction.

take care,
heather


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