How to Handle Defensive People
Life Style

How to Handle Defensive People


Defensiveness often comes with two aspects: an emotion and an action. It usually arises when you think someone is criticising you and leaves you feeling angry, depressed, and ashamed. Typically, the emotion leads to a reaction in the form of sarcasm, ignoring someone, or being critical of them in return.

Reasons for Being Defensive Yourself

The goal of defensive actions is to divert your attention from your emotions of hurt and humiliation. Whether you know it or not, the goal is to draw attention to the shortcomings of the other person to make you feel better about yourself at that very moment. Although protective actions may make you feel better in the moment, they usually have the opposite effect over time. If you’ve begun to notice defensiveness in yourself, you may be curious as to what triggered it, when it began, and what may be at its root. The following are some common reasons or sources of defensiveness:

  • A response to anxiety or insecurity. For example – If you were bullied as a youngster, you can become a bully yourself to give the impression that you are more secure and strong.
  • A response to maltreatment or trauma in early life. Once more, feeling strong comes from being protective.
  • A response to nervousness or a lack of self-assurance. Defensive conduct may result from social anxiety or from a lack of confidence in your ability to speak aggressively.
  • A response to remorse or humiliation. You may react defensively if someone brings up a subject that is close to your heart and you feel bad about it.
  • A response to withholding the facts. If you are lying or attempting to conceal the truth about anything, you could become defensive.
  • A response to criticism of your actions or character. You could react defensively if you believe that you must defend activities you have committed or some feature of your personality.
  • A response to feeling powerless to make changes. When someone calls attention to an aspect of yourself that you wish you could alter but feel powerless to do so, you could react defensively.
  • An indication of a mental illness. Defensiveness can occasionally be a symptom of a more serious mental health issue, such as an eating disorder, personality disorder, etc.
  • An acquired habit. It’s also possible to pick up defensiveness from your spouse or parents as a social skill.

Related: The Psychology Behind Empowerment

Defensiveness often stems from psychological factors rather than physiological or chemical ones. It’s a perspective on the world that is typically based on social context or personal experiences.

Overcoming Long-Term Defensive Behaviour

It’s crucial to take into account the emotions that are driving your behaviours if you find it difficult to avoid being defensive while interacting with others. When you respond defensively, it’s conceivable that you are not aware that you are upset, furious, depressed, embarrassed, or feeling minimized. Being conscious of when and how you are feeling at the time can help you put an end to your protective reflexes. Keeping a written track or journaling about your responses is a useful tool for increasing your awareness of them. It will be simpler to identify when you are likely to have a setback and to prepare your response in advance as you get more conscious of your habits.

Ultimately, your behaviours may cause defensive reactions in others around you if you see that they are doing so. In these cases, it’s important to recognize the benefits of approaching situations as obstacles to overcome rather than subjects for debate. Avoiding the trap of reciprocal defensiveness may also be greatly aided by your ability to show empathy and respect to individuals in your immediate vicinity. How can you assist someone in putting an end to their defensive responses?

How do I deal with someone Defensive?

When interacting with defensive individuals, you may improve your emotional intelligence by doing the following actions:

  • Avoid taking a defensive stance. Being defensive yourself is the usual reaction to someone minimizing, blaming, changing the emphasis, or shutting down in front of you. Therefore, the first thing to do is to take a deep breath, realize that your buttons have just been pushed, and identify when your blood pressure starts to increase in a “fight or flight” response.
  • Turn your attention to the other individual. Observe them with empathy, understanding that their response is often the product of repressed feelings from other aspects of their life and career rather than anything to do with you. Decide to be inquisitive about what’s happening within that has caused them to overreact.
  • Ask inquiries until you have the answers you need. You can start to soften someone else’s protective response by using phrases like “Help me understand what upset you” or “Please tell me more about your feelings.”
  • Strive for a solution. You may also try asking questions such as, “How can we resolve this going forward?” or “What would you like to see as next steps?” when an individual becomes less defensive and more open to communication. To give the individual an opportunity to regain their composure, it might be necessary to implement a “time out” in between steps 3 and 4.

Read More: Defence Mechanisms in Everyday Battles

To summarise, defensiveness is an acquired trait, it can be unlearned as well. You should notice that even with your greatest efforts, if you are unable to put an end to your defensive behaviour then you may benefit from seeking professional assistance. Never be reluctant to consult a therapist, counsellor, or another mental health specialist. In terms of enhancing your communication abilities and controlling your protective reflexes, this may make all the difference in the world. Your feelings are quite natural, and you are not alone in feeling this way. It is OK to concentrate on altering your reaction if they are inconsistent with the kind of person you want to be or the way you want to behave. You will profit, as will everyone nearby.

References +
  • Roselle, B. (2018, November 2). 4 ways to communicate better with defensive people. The Business Journals.
  • Sloan, E., & Sloan, E. (2021, August 27). 4 tips for how to talk to a defensive person and keep your cool, too, according to conversation experts. Well+Good.

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