Saturday, September 19, 2015

On the defensive

I had a boyfriend once, actually I had quite a few, but this particular one constantly told me that I was very defensive, 'No I am not!' I replied, then got a strange feeling that I was just proving his point. I spent a lot of time wondering what exactly 'being defensive' meant and what I was doing to make him say that, and what I could do to prove that I was not defensive, or alternatively, what I could do to stop being defensive.

I think this is only a partial definition, the full definition should include ' refusing to take responsibility for your actions or behavior when someone points it out to you'.

I guess he was correct and it was also true that he was always criticizing me, I realized that rather than be on the defensive - that is constantly defending myself against his criticism I needed to keep an open mind and also I didn't need to be around someone who had such a low opinion of me. I turned around and walked away.

I did figure out what it meant to be on the defensive and it was a useful lesson to learn.

There is not much to be gained from hissing and scratching at someone who is criticizing you, far better to take the criticism under consideration and decide if it is warranted, If it is, then it should be an opportunity to learn and grow, if it is not, then it is necessary to consider why that person feels the need to put you down, and do you benefit from being around this person? Either way, being defensive is definitely not the answer.

Psychology Today has an interesting article on how to avoid being defensive, and how to avoid the negative effects that criticism sometimes causes.

I particularly like this article on The Leadership Hub, where they have a checklist of eight things to help figure out if you are being defensive:

Do you:
  1. Rationalize - Explain, defend and make excuses?
  2. Agree with your attacker
  3. Undermine or devalue people who make you feel defensive
  4. Withdraw, deny or avoid conflict
  5. Take a passive-aggressive position
  6. Attack / counter attack
  7. Long-suffering, martyr
  8. Blame someone else
In some cases, where the criticism is deserved, it can not only be deflected, but the behavior rectified by accepting and asking for help - this only works if the person doing the criticizing is capable of helping. Take for instance the ex boyfriend, who was criticizing me in order to make himself appear smarter and more accomplished. Therefore, even if his criticism was deserved, and if he could have helped me to improve, he would not have wanted to

Putting someone down just because they criticize you is not the answer, whether to their face or behind their back, deserved or not. Being passive aggressive is a cowards way out and flat out aggression serves no purpose.

One of the areas where I have received the most criticism is my driving. I suspect it is something men will do without thinking, criticize how a woman drives. But as I have been told by every man I have known, that I am not a good driver, or had my driving criticized constantly sometimes thinly veiled as coaching and helpful hints, I have not only come to believe it, I drive extremely badly if I have any passenger in the car with me simply because I am so sure they are sitting in judgement and it makes me nervous. Had I reacted differently from the very beginning, by asking for some pointers to help me improve my driving, perhaps things would now be different and I would have more confidence.

It first started when I was learning to drive and my first husband continuously criticized everything I did, unfortunately he was not exactly a great driver himself, therefore asking him to teach me would not only have been unnecessary as I was getting profession driving lessons, but would only have served to inflate his already over sized ego and would not have helped my driving.

It is sad to think that we can have such a lasting negative effect on someone by not thinking before we speak, but even sadder to think how frail our self esteem is that it can be destroyed so easily. Sad that we let it be destroyed.

I have still to figure out that thin line between defending yourself and being on the defensive. However I think the most important thing is to not let someone else's opinion of you have any effect on your self esteem. People have a right to think whatever they want to about you. But what other people think about you is none of your business. If they try to make it your business it is up to you to avoid letting it influence how you feel about yourself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


More specifically, book reviews. I wrote a book, actually, it wasn't really a book. I wrote a series of essays, I wrote them for myself, as a form of therapy and to put a stop to the well meaning urging from friends and family who read them, I self published. I really had no expectations and was very pleased that anyone bought it, even more pleased that some even read it, and delighted that a few went to the trouble of posting reviews on (where the book is available in both paperback and for kindle). I freely admit that most of the reviews were written by people who knew me, some perhaps not very well, but all had at least met me.

From time to time I receive a few cents in royalties, signaling another sale. It really does surprise me that anyone would buy it. It isn't fiction, it is all fact and while it is obviously of interest to me, I find it difficult to believe anyone else would care about it. Except for the very few who might gain some benefit from one or two chapters, if they had similar experiences. I really did write it for my own personal benefit. My intention was to peel away the layers of scar tissue and expose the wounds in the hope that I could then let them heal. And I will tell you, heal they did.

So, perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I received a review from a total stranger. Someone had bought my book and had taken the time to write a review. Yes, it was not a very good review, actually it was not in the least bit good, but despite that, they gave it two stars, which I feel was at least one more than warranted by the review.

At first I was a little uncomfortable about the review. Not annoyed, probably more embarrassed. Embarrassed that someone spent good money on it to discover that it was, in their words 'boring'. And I don't doubt it would be very boring to a lot of people.

I put the review out of my mind for a while, then returned and read it again. Still the overall feeling was embarrassment. Certainly if you write something, and put it out there for the general public, you are inviting criticism. But the more I thought about it, the more I feel grateful. Some total stranger bought my book (I wonder why?) and read it, and then took the time to write a review.

Thank you K. Marlo and I am sorry that you were bored, sorry that it wasn't what you had hoped. You see, it was, as you said, an account of some random woman's life. Well, not my entire life, just the pieces that caused scars or deep seated memories. And believe me, it was peeling layers of my life back, sadly I can't peel layers of your life, only you can do that.  (see the review here)

As I rationalized the two star review, I accept that I am some random woman, but then everyone is just some random person to most other people. Every writer writes what is inside them trying to get out. I admit that I don't do much to market my book, the most I do is place a link to where you can purchase it, here on my blog. The main reason I don't market it is because I don't really expect anyone to have any interest in it. The few people I believe could possibly benefit from some of my experiences, I have given a copy to. So, I don't feel too bad if someone buys it and doesn't enjoy it.

However, after 3 months digesting the review, I also do not feel bad about that either. In fact the more I think about it, the better I feel. Someone bought it, read it and took the time to write a review, to me that is amazing and  a gift.

I did some searches and it is very interesting the differing opinions there are about negative reviews. And the amazingly negative reviews some incredible books and authors received - don't get me wrong, I don't consider my book a potential best seller, nor do I consider myself any sort of  a writer. I just love to write and most of all I find it very therapeutic.

The New York Times on negative book reviews. (And yes, NYT is very, very low in my estimation of good reporting, bearing in mind the almost comical way they portrayed my employer recently) Update 2021: This was written shortly after I started working for Amazon. I since discovered that every word of that NYT article as true, and then some. In fact, after being forced to retire, I wrote my own article, here. And I apologize to NYT.

The Huffington Post, which I do admire.

Here is an interesting article which indicates that a negative review can possible boost sales. Well, I think it would take a little more than that to boost my sales, but sales were not my intention as I already said.

I found this one interesting. I know people who write reviews on Amazon as a hobby. Personally, I will write a review, as the articles says, if I am extremely happy with a product, extremely unhappy, or if I receive exceptional customer service.

I enjoyed this one, though I had already figured out how I felt about my bad review, it was still an interesting take.

And finally, as I mentioned above, some best sellers with bad reviews.