Defensive feelings are natural… but watch out for the behaviors that follow

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Most people do not like confrontation. When a clash occurs, whether with friends and family or in a work environment, it can create tension and lead to stressful interactions. اضافة اعلان

However, confrontation is an important factor to personal growth, as it provides an opportunity to handle tense situations and learn from mistakes. In turn, this enhances other areas of wellness such as self-confidence and social well-being. Thus, it is important to handle confrontation correctly in order to reap the benefits it can offer. If you shut down and do not listen to critique — or worse — enter attack mode, not only will you fail to reap potential benefits, but you could create a habit of defensiveness, which will lead to further problems down the line.

Between feelings and behaviors
Defensiveness is a relatively common, albeit unhealthy, response to confrontation. The phenomenon can be divided into two categories: feelings and behaviors. The feeling of defensiveness can be described as a culmination of shame, sadness, and/or anger, which are normal responses to critical comments from others. Feeling defensive is not necessarily a problem since you do not have full control over your emotions. However, it is helpful to deeply examine your feelings rather than just writing them off as a broader emotion. This will enable you to improve your emotional intelligence and communicate your feelings more effectively.

The second form of defensiveness is characterized as a behavior. Defensive behavior is much more harmful and brings with it sometimes severe consequences. It occurs when people are unable to control their emotions while being confronted or criticized, leading them to lash out. In this sense, defensiveness could be defined as a coping strategy in which an individual begins to attack others to shift focus away from their own faults or insecurities.

Types of defensive behavior
Defensive behavior can be difficult to notice in yourself, but sometimes knowing the signs helps in identifying occurrences. When you face critique, if you notice that you no longer listen to the person critiquing you, bring up the faults of others, and invalidate the feelings of others, then you may be exhibiting defensive behavior. Furthermore, a defensive person may try to justify their actions by making excuses, casting blame on others, or accusing others of having the same faults.

One of the most common forms of defensiveness is known as ad hominem attack. An ad hominem attack is when the person being criticized begins to insult or attack the other person’s character or history in order to discredit them. This can often open the door to other forms of degradation such as gaslighting.

Other types of defensive behavior, such as blaming or aggression, may be even more offensive. One common example is “righteous indignation”, which is reactive anger with the perception of being mistreated. However, more often than not, what underlies this indignation is an attempt to switch focus to avoid questions about a particular issue.

Defensiveness can also be passive and manipulative, with behaviors including giving someone the silent treatment and acting as an innocent victim. The former refers to passive retaliation when you ignore your critic. The latter involves agreeing with your critic, then taking pity on yourself in order to make the other person feel bad.

Fight or flight
Defensive behavior, at its core, is a primal instinct. Confrontation and criticism can elicit feelings of anxiety and stress, which our brains can perceive as an attack or threat. As a result, our “fight or flight” response may activate instinctively and subconsciously. Although this activation is not necessarily appropriate for the situation, it is nevertheless real, and we will do whatever we can to feel safe again. Defensiveness is one means by which we can make ourselves feel safer, but it is one of the more harmful and less productive options.
When you face critique, if you notice that you no longer listen to the person critiquing you, bring up the faults of others, and invalidate the feelings of others, then you may be exhibiting defensive behavior.
There are many reasons why people resort to defensive behavior instead of other, healthier actions. This behavior is often learned or can stem from early stages of development. One of the more common causes is childhood trauma or abuse. In these cases, confrontation or criticism can remind an individual of trauma or abuse. Defensiveness is a way for the individual to feel more powerful and compensate for insecurity.

Additionally, this behavior can be learned from parents, friends, or the surrounding community. Although it is unhealthy, it can be taught as a misguided way to relate to others. Defensiveness may also be a symptom of a mental health disorder, such as a personality disorder.

The defensive fallout
Being defensive may help an individual feel better in the short term. However, defensiveness is an unhealthy coping mechanism that can negatively impact many aspects of life, especially in the long run.

Arguably, the most destructive negative impact of defensive behavior is the inability to resolve problems. Confrontation is an individual coming to you with an issue in order to fix the relationship, whether it is a familial, romantic, or professional relationship. Unfortunately, defensive behavior means these issues cannot be properly addressed. Inevitably, problems will accumulate and could snowball into bigger issues.

Defensive responses can also cause others to completely avoid confrontation, pushing even the most intimate relationships to become distant. In turn, this can cause an individual to lose friends, family, and even employment, while also missing important opportunities for self-development.

A how-to guide for growth
The first step of dealing with defensive behavior is acknowledging your reactions to criticism and trying to understand their origins. In so doing, you can find a better way to approach problems. For example, if defensive feelings come from a place of insecurity, then building self-esteem can help. However, if defensive behavior comes from childhood abuse or trauma, therapy may be needed to work through it. By understanding your feelings, you help validate them while also learning to regulate them.

Additionally, it helps to mentally reframe the confrontation. Take any form of criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow as an individual, instead of an attack on your character.

That said, defensiveness could be appropriate in the face of harsh and unreasonable criticism. In these situations, communication and setting boundaries are important, whether the critics are friends and family or work colleagues.

When such instances occur, you can avoid the negative sides of defensive behavior and instead implement a set of standards that will benefit you in the long run. There should always be a baseline of respect and boundaries to maintain mutual respect.

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