It is important to be able to stand up and defend yourself. However, the best defense does not involve acting defensively.
Being defensive means you are overly sensitivity to criticism, and are anxious to challenge or avoid it. Unfortunately, showing anxiety in the face of criticism weakens your position and often invites further criticism.
Here are three reasons not to be defensive:
1. Defensiveness weakens you and empowers the hostile person. Showing that you are anxious in the face of criticism indicates that you buy into the attack or criticism being made. Giving a heated response to a comment or criticism can make you look guilty, and gives the assailant power over you.
2. Defensiveness causes a vicious cycle of anger and hurt, resulting in escalating personal attacks. You paradoxically invite the other person to increase his or her efforts to get an explanation or apology, or make a connection, however negative it may be.
3. Defensive strategies hinder open communication and understanding between partners, and they certainly do not enhance goodwill and romance.
I’m not suggesting that you become a doormat. You might need to establish firm boundaries, but you can do so without becoming defensive. Answering comments or criticisms with less emotional heat diminishes the likelihood of hurtful, unproductive conflict.
If your emotions are getting the better of you, you can say, “I feel defensive right now. I need to calm down before discussing this. Otherwise, nothing good will come out of this discussion.” Notice that saying you feel defensive shows more self-control than acting defensively.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD