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What’s Wrong with Being Defensive?

I’m sure you’ve heard this comment, or perhaps even said something like it yourself:

“Why are you being so defensive?”

This is normally said in a way that makes it very clear that defensiveness is a bad thing. I want to know why defensiveness is so awful. If someone is being a jerkface to you, what’s wrong with defending yourself?

I asked my husband this question tonight. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with being defensive. Usually, the person who says that is doing or saying something asinine and they are mad that you’re calling them out on it.”

That’s a good point. Why should we let someone trample all over us or behave badly and not say anything? Should we just let them get away with it? I think it’s our live-and-let-live milquetoast attitudes that end up exacerbating situations. We don’t want to make waves, so we let people continue on with their rudeness or crappy behavior until it becomes intractable. After all, we don’t want to be accused of being defensive.

I did an online search to figure out why people find defensiveness so offensive and found this article by Clinical Psychologist Edward A. Dreyfus that explains the difference between defending one’s self and being defensive. Defending one’s self involves an actual physical or verbal attack, wherein both the victim and perpetrator would acknowledge the attack. Being defensive is a reaction to a perceived attack, whether one was intended or not. Dreyfus admits that the perpetrator of a “perceived” attack may actually be trying to attack you, but will not admit it … in fact, may deny the attack. (Note that it’s still an attack.) He indicates that we should remain open to having a connection with another person, that being defensive is not a good way to create this connection. Well, if someone is being a total jerkface to me, maybe I don’t want a connection with him. (I’m well aware of how defensive that sounds. 😉 )

I think slinging around comments that make people feel wrong about being defensive is a good way to sever a connection, but it isn’t necessarily the defensive person doing the severing.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Being Defensive?”

  1. I am often accused by my boyfriend when I defend myself, of being defensive. He has made it known to me that he cannot stand defensiveness and if you are defensive, then you are guilty. I feel as though I am drowning when I am simply trying to explain why I am not guilty. Do you have any advice as to how I can explain to him that I am right to defend myself when I am being accused? I’m not sure how to get the point across. It’s very difficult and after 3 years of being perceived guilty just because I don’t sit there and “take it,” is excruciating

    1. Hi, Shelly Lyn – You have quite a dilemma there. Is there a particular situation or topic that brings about his accusations? Or is this happening generally anytime you’re put on the spot to explain your actions? Because defending yourself is really just explaining your perspective. The fact that your boyfriend is thinking you’re guilty (of what?) and telling you he can’t stand defensiveness when you’re trying to explain yourself means he’s not giving you a fair shake (Does he ever have to defend himself? Do people ever accuse him of being overly defensive?) and it’s going to have the effect of making you feel unnecessarily guilty in every situation. It’s the sort of sticky situation (because you’ve been dealing with it for 3 years) that may require a professional relationship counselor. Look for a couselor who does not take sides but can give both of you an objective third-party view of this dynamic of your relationship.

      I wish you good luck and hope you can find a way to resolve this situation.


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