Broken pavement, Mary Warner, 2013.

What’s Wrong with Being Defensive?

thoughtfodderI’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?


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