Why Do We Get Defensive?

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defense

Why does anger escalate and damage relationships that did not need to be damaged? Why are some relationships stormier than they need to be? Why is it so hard to be happy these days?

The problem is all people are vulnerable. Bad things happen to good people. You can be going about your day, then the randomness of life takes over. No matter how big or strong you are, life happens. People die, you get sick, and stuff breaks down. No one is immune to it. All men are vulnerable to the chaos of life. You use anger to protect yourself and hide your feelings of vulnerability in a fog of anger. However, by trying to control the threat of vulnerability, you get out of control.

Defensiveness is the good intention of correcting others’ mistaken method of problem solving. It’s a good intention to straighten others’ out, but only makes things worse. You are not responsible for straightening out others. All the bitter defensiveness and exaggerated hostility is a big smokescreen to fight a perceived threat. Your defenses are building a protective wall around your heart, so you can seal off your emotional pain by lashing out in attack.

When you take things personally you plead your case to defend yourself against someone’s false accusations. Your mistake is to take these accusations literally, personally, and serious. When you do, you make the mistake of choosing to plead your case in an imaginary court of law with a judge and jury of one. You make the mistake of defending your innocence to avoid being convicted as guilty and deserving punishment.

For example, if say some says, “You never listen to me” or “You always blame me.” If taken literally, these “always” and “never” remarks may not be an accurate reflection of the factual experiences. Men often choose to defend against these false accusations. So they offer evidence: “What do you mean I never listen, you said to call the plumber and I did. Here look at the phone bill. I will show you.” They call their expert witnesses to the stand: “I don’t always blame you, ask my brother, he will tell you.” However, this rarely causes the other person to change their mind and your pleas are disregarded. Thus, you feel like you failed to make your case, which only compounds the pain and escalates the miscommunication as you retaliate with your own blaming accusations.

The same mistaken happens when you hear the word “should”. For example, your partner says, “You should have done it this way.” The word “should” implies that they know what is best and if you don’t do as they say you should have, then you are guilty of being wrong and need to be punished. Once again you find yourself in the imaginary court of law, offering reasons, facts, and defenses of why you shouldn’t do as your partner feels you should.

Think about how the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ are used in language. These small, single syllable words limit options and creative problem-solving by fostering rigidity. If you ‘should’ or ‘must’ do something one way, then it rules out all the other ways a thing might be accomplished. This fosters a rigid perspective of how you and others are supposed to behave. Rigidity inevitably creates tension between what your ideals and the way things really are.

‘Shoulds’ also imply guilt and guilt is painful. A ‘should’ or a ‘must’ sets the speaker up as a superior authority, “You must do it this way” implies “I know what is right, and you don’t.” Should’ and ‘must’ changes a disagreement between equals into one about dominance and submission, and the question becomes, “Who’s right and who’s wrong?” “Who is in a position of superiority and power?”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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