The 4 Toxins That Make Your Life Hard – Defensiveness
Defensiveness is a default and natural reaction when we feel threatened. “It was not my fault. It was yours! I did not know that it was important. Nobody told me… You did not… and then I just had… It happened because…”.
Do the above statements sound familiar? We all know too well how tiring and frustrating it is to listen to long stories of explanations and excuses. However, when need to defend ourselves, the story is different. Our own reasons for defense are justified. Of course! Again, sound familiar?
Continuing on from my previous blog post about the 4 toxins, this post talks about defensiveness. Dr. John Gottman, Ph.D., psychologist, author, and researcher has done extensive research over the last five decades on what makes relationships last and what breaks them up. Some of what he found was the four most toxic behaviors in communication (criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling) and how they impact and disrupt our relationships.
Toxin 2: Defensiveness
We all act with defensiveness from time to time. It is a habit deeply ingrained in our being and is triggered by our fight or flight response. Of course, we want to defend ourselves when feeling attacked! However, this response, although very normal, is not productive when we want to have constructive interactions and build and maintain healthy relationships.
When moving into defensive behavior, we become the victim. We lose our power when we avoid responsibility. We can tell a convincing story of why this and that happened, but in the end, it is time-consuming and unconstructive, and it keeps us small by not owning up to our part in what occurred.
Defensiveness is also another way of blaming by moving it away from oneself and over to someone or something else, i.e. “It is not me, it is you”, “it was not my fault, it was because…”.
As with all habits that we want to change, we need to start by paying attention to what it is we are doing and what we want to do differently.
Instead of being defensive, look at what you can own up to, even if it is only 2%. If you are late for a meeting, if you forgot about something, if you missed a deadline – what part of this can you own? If you find yourself in the middle of a heated argument, ask yourself how you contributed to it?
Whatever we do, or do not do, there is a ripple effect of consequences. Some are intended, and some are unintended. Some we don’t even know about, but nothing happens in and off itself. There is always something that sets things in motion. What is your part, and what can you take responsibility for and own?
What are my reasons for being defensive? Instead of being defensive, what part of what happened can I own up to, even if only 2%?
What is next?
Pay attention to where and how defensive behavior shows up in your life. Listen to the excuses in your mind that justifies your action or inaction. Make a choice and decide how you want to be when defensiveness shows its face, whether in you or someone else.
Lead by example and ask yourself:
How can I communicate what needs to be communicated without defensiveness? What new behavior will I step into that will improve my relationship with myself and others?
Check out my article on contempt – the third, and worst, of the four toxins.