What would happen if you stopped defending yourself?
The question alone can generate a lot of fear. What if someone judges me too harshly? What if I’m accused of something I didn’t do? What if someone ruins my reputation? What if I lose the trust of a friend or family member?
The risk seems unbearable. In any conflict the need to defend yourself seems obvious. But is it really getting you what you want? In most cases, the instinct to defend yourself will likely get you the opposite of what you are trying to protect.
According to business experts, defensiveness is listed as one of the most toxic attributes of leaders in an organization. Family therapists can verify that a defensive posture will often sabotage and even destroy relationships. And research shows that defensiveness has a profoundly negative impact on blood pressure and cortisol levels leading to a greater risk of physical illness.
A better option might be to break the habit and replace it with other alternatives. Start by learning to recognize the impulse to defend yourself and challenge your thinking in order to make better choices. Here are three ways to think differently about defensiveness.
When you defend yourself…
You are defining the relationship as a competition. Finding yourself at odds with another person only means that their expectations haven’t been met. Arguing with them about their feelings only perpetuates the threat and anxiety. Choose instead to ask them more about their concern. Acknowledge their feelings to alleviate the threat and work on rebuilding the trust that may have been damaged.
You are getting distracted from the solution. All of the time spent arguing about what happened in the past could be used for looking towards the future. And all of the damage done will only create more work for you to repair. Focus on how you want things to work better. Avoid blame and admit when you are wrong. Look for ways to turn problems into possibilities.
You are asking someone else to control your emotional health. When someone is upset with you they are probably the least likely person to make you feel better. If you feel threatened or offended it is your responsibility to handle your own feelings to improve the situation. Even if they are wrong, and you feel justified in your point of view, trying to change their mind while you are feeling stressed or angry just won’t work. It’s better to say nothing and wait until you both cool off.
Defensiveness is really a habit that comes from your own insecurities. Being confronted by someone else will only bother you to the extent that you feel confident in your values and integrity. When conflict happens the best investment you can make with your time and energy is to focus on building your character. Find the humility to accept that others might say things to make you feel threatened and humiliated, and find the resiliency to respond more effectively.
As long as you know you are doing your best, rest assured that your integrity and your character will defend your reputation from the inside out.