How to Stop Responding Defensively

When we are angry, we are very vulnerable to being manipulated. Our logical thought processes are swept away by a tide of emotional reactions and counter reactions.

Others do not expect us to do anything reasonable or constructive. They expect us to be as immature and vindictive as they are. “That’s fair.”  We sabotage our happiness by playing this game of tug-o-war and become defensive.

We will get nowhere this way. One of us has to be the adult in the room. If they do not know how, then we must.

Instead, we can choose not to take their words literally, personally or seriously. We are not in a court of law and do not have to defend ouselves against their false accusations.  We can choose to do something else instead. In fact, we can do anything we want as long as it is based on a choice for us, not against them and not a mindless reaction to their provocation.

It is not our responsibility to straighten them out and defend against their false accusations, We do not have to proove our innocence and defend against the guilt of some absurd accusation. The game of tug-o-war is over, we are not going to pick up the rope and get dragged through the mud.   They can no longer control us into reacting defensively on their terms. We have a choice now, an alternative mode of responding.

The first step to overcoming defensiveness is to remember that there is no urgency to explain. If things get tense, take a break and then invite a conversation, rather pushing someone into a discussion. Invitations support cooperation, rather then bullying others into speaking when its convenient only for us. It can help to ask:

“Is this a good time to talk?”
“I want to talk, can we sit down tomorrow after dinner?”
“I need your help with what just happened. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
“I’d like to talk about___________. When is a good time for you?”

Second, come right to the point and use an “I” statement. For example, “I felt hurt when..” or “I’m concerned about ….” or “I’m feeling really… (put an emotion here like sad, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed), and I need your help.”

Third, we can make a request for what we would like to see happen going forward, such as: ” I’d prefer …(list something specific and do-able here).”

Another important point, is to make the request in the positive, rather then the negative. If we want someone to stop shouting, we can for example, suggest: “I’d prefer you talk in a calm voice.” The idea is that we need to let the other person know what we want instead of what they are already doing. If we say stop doing so and so, they may be confused on what else they can do, so they simply continue acting as they always have.

The antidote to defending against our emotional vulnerabilities, is called courage. I define courage as the willingness to do what is hard and do it anyways. We protect children from risk, if we do not it is called neglect. We do not expect kids to do what is hard, but we are not children anymore. As adults, we can take appropriate risks. We have choices now that we didn’t have then. We all have choices, even if we do not like our options. To do what is hard or do what is easy, either way the choice is ours and there will be a consequence.

Value comes from doing what is hard. We value gold or diamonds because they are precious and hard to get. We value a home, career education or a relationship because they are hard , but that’s what gives them value. It is up to us. We won’t experience courage until after we have taken the risk of doing what is hard and letting these painful emotions out.

Change is scary. And what is familiar is comfortable, easy, and offers security. But it’s not always healthy. However, what is new is challenging and uncertain, which makes us vulnerable and scared. So we avoid change because things that are new can be scary and hard.

Making a change is hard, but that is why clients gain confidence when they take action. We don’t feel confident or successful when we do what is easy. We gain confidence by pushing our comfort zone, doing what is hard (like making a change) and doing it anyways.

Click to visit original source at PsychCentral

Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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