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.

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