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Feeling defensive?

This BLOG hasn't been written to negate any emotions you might be feeling if someone has hurt you or made you feel shame or anger, it has been written to help you notice how you respond and give you an alternative response.

Do you like being called out or criticised? Do you feel uncomfortable when someone you love is being criticised and feel the need to step in? Do you have people in your life who are 'glass half empty' people? Being called out or criticised and indeed having our thoughts and feelings invalidated or feeling you have no choice but to listen to that pessimistic or negative diatribe can make some people feel hurt, shame, anger and have a negative impact on self belief/self worth. The impact of having these thoughts and feelings might be that we become defensive; a way for us to protect our own (or someone we care abouts) character and/or competence. It may also make us want to distance ourselves because of the emotions that are triggered in us when we are around people who are pessimistic, downbeat or critical. I speak to a lot of people who struggle with feeling and being defensive. This topic is very close to my heart because it's something I have to check myself for too.


Being defensive often doesn't help us, doesn't help the situation and is not good for fostering healthy relationships. When we become defensive we are looking to lessen those feelings of being hurt, shamed or angry. We are looking to shift the attention to the other person (or people). We do this to feel better about ourselves in the moment. The reality is, is that this is just a short term feeling and for most of us it makes us feel worse. Also, shifting the attention back to the person will most probably make them feel defensive. It can become a vicious cycle.


Some people aren't aware that they are being defensive. Let's unpick the topic now so you can recognise the signs and choose a healthier approach.


Some of the signs that you are being defensive are:

  • Make excuses about what you feel the person is criticising you for

  • Ignoring what the other person is saying / stop listening / becoming silent

  • Blame others

  • Creating distance (not making time to talk to/be with the person who you believe has been critical)

  • Be 'passive/aggressive' in your response

  • Over justifying your words or actions

  • Digging up negative behaviours (of the other person) from the past - avoidance

  • Playing the victim (agreeing to what the other person is saying and becoming over emotional to initiate guilt)

Here are some of the negative impacts of acting defensively:

  • The situation can be more strained than it needs to be

  • The situation escalates beyond the point that it needs to

  • Your self worth / self belief is impacted

  • You make yourself feel worse because the defensive behaviour really is out of character / you're not aligned to your values

  • Everyone feels bad - even if the intension wasn't to make this happen

  • You don't solve any problems by being defensive

  • It impacts you overall mental health

Some of the causes of being defensive are:

  • A reaction to the anxiety you might be feeling

  • A reaction to a feeling of insecurity or fear

  • A reaction to a childhood trauma* or abuse**

  • A reaction to someone attacking your character

  • A reaction to feeling helpless

  • A reaction to a mental health illness

  • A learned behaviour

  • Struggling to deal with emotions (low emotional intelligence)

You could also become defensive when you believe:

  • The person criticising or being negative has an agenda (they feel jealous, have mental health issues themselves, are narcissistic, etc)

  • The person criticising or being negative have their own issues are are being passive aggressive

How can you help yourself and the situation by being less defensive and/or making use of more helpful techniques? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Noticing that you are being defensive - this is the first step to change

  • It is OK to feel sad, hurt, angry, insecure... whatever the feeling. Acknowledge your feeling(s) and

  • Choose instead to focus on:

  • Taking a few breaths or counting to 10 before acting on the feelings. Think about remaining calm and in control of your behaviour

  • Tell the other person constructively how their comments have made you feel

  • Walk away and give yourself a little space

  • Think about your values and align your behaviour to your values

  • Know what situations might make you feel defensive and work around them if you can or acknowledge the situation and make sure you have compassion for yourself and your feelings

  • Put yourself in the other persons shoes if possible. They might be acting on their own pain (see comments below on trauma and abuse). This does not excuse their bad behaviour however if you know it's out of character for them it may soften the situation for you

  • If the person criticising you makes a habit of it i.e. it is in their character to behave in that way, you might want to think about distancing yourself from the person(s)

  • Take responsibility for your own behaviour

  • Boost your self esteem (let me know if you struggle here and I can provide some more suggestions on how to help yourself)

  • Think about how you are communicating. Remembering that body language contributes to a huge part of how we communicate

  • Seek help if the situation continues

If you would like any support on this topic please get in touch.

Much Love Jo xxxx


*Some examples of trauma would be an emotional response to a terrible event (or events) like an accident, childhood abuse, bullying, violence (physical and verbal), medical trauma, grief, sexual assault, forced separation, natural disaster etc.

** Some examples of abuse would be physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, exploitation and self neglect etc

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