Something happened the other day that made me sit down and write a 2,000 word blog post that I had every intention of posting here at N&B.
Fortunately for you, I realized that what I had created was nothing more than an insecure, defensive diatribe with just a little bit of advice sprinkled at the bottom. I am happy I deleted it.
But this incident made me reflect more on what it means to be defensive and to remind myself why I am working at being less defensive in my day-to-day life.
Defensiveness manifests in many different ways. Most people who know me would say that I don’t usually get outwardly defensive. I get along with a lot of people who disagree with me and I don’t react overtly when people discuss or criticize my beliefs. Even when I do feel defensive of my ideas, I don’t typically display those feelings for others to see.
My defensiveness in an internal battle and one I’ve lived with for most of my adult life.
You are not my therapist so I’ll give you summary: In the past I was in relationships with insecure people (family, friends, love interests) who would withhold affection or dole out punishments if I went against what they wanted me to be. In my present life, I deal with a lot of judgement from the rest of the world, or, at least, my small home town. I have a visible disability and have for some time now been open about my sexuality. Usually it’s just gossip or occasional dirty looks in the grocery store that I have to contend with. But sometimes people try to enforce real consequences. Some people have found out about my sexuality writing and tried to get me fired from my job. When I don’t take the precautions of concealing my leg braces and downplaying aspects of my disability, people have called into question my competence in my work or my status as an independent person.
Sometimes I still feel like I deserve the shame if I can’t fit in properly, even if “properly” is just some &ssh&le who wants me to be like them for… reasons.
And even though I know I’m a good person who does things to try to make the world a little better because of my actions, I still feel like I have to justify myself to others quite often. I know that I don’t have control over other people’s judgments. If someone wants to force a consequence on me because there’s something about me they don’t like, well, there’s very little I can do. But my mind will automatically shift into defensive mode, dredging up all the possible things I could say to validate myself and prove my worth.
But I don’t want defensive to be my default mode. I don’t want to feel like I have to explain myself just to be able to exist in front of a judgmental person. When defensiveness is my default mode, I’m putting the foundation of my thoughts and feelings upon insecurity instead of confidence. I get nervous or upset, my mind fills with self-doubt, and I don’t make the best decisions. I don’t act in productive ways or handle situations well. I fall back on bad habits of coping like becoming a door mat, doing whatever I can to appease the person—I’ll do whatever you want, just please don’t hurt me. Sometimes I want to pull out my shield then slam it on other people’s heads before anyone has even had the chance to be disapproving. Because I’ve learned that lesson and I’m not going back.
But from my experiences, none of this makes my life better and defensiveness, even just on the inside, keeps me from growing as a person.
For a while I have been making it a point to be mindful of my defensiveness and working every day to program defensiveness out of my default mode. Here’s what I’ve been doing:
1. Friend and attend.
At the end of the day, I would rather connect with others than fight. When I know someone holds a judgement about me, I still make an effort to be considerate of them and try to find some common ground or way to connect. It doesn’t always work, but at least it keeps me from defaulting to defensive mode.
To extend on this, I try to be as inviting and selfless as possible when interacting with others in my day-to-day life. I don’t put my opinion out much, especially on social media. I try to listen more than I speak, and give compliments when I can. I’m not talking about being fake—if you are in a place where you can’t do this without resentment, then don’t do it at all. It has to be authentic.
Also, keep in mind, this consideration is for you, not them. I know I benefit when I am warm and inviting toward others without expecting anything in return.
To do this, I have to actively put down my defenses and keep being enthusiastically curious to meet new people in a vulnerable way.
But this doesn’t mean being a door mat. In order to accomplish item #1, item #2 is crucial:
2. Bold boundaries.
I give people a chance to return the respect I give them, but it doesn’t always work out that respect is returned. For some people it doesn’t matter how considerate you are or how you frame respect. Some people find meaning in arguing or are just really defensive about certain topics. (I write erotic romance, I know how defensive people can be about sex and reading “dirty” books.)
I can tell when people have a stick out and are trying to poke me with it. I’ve learned to just be direct.
For friends: “I understand how you feel, but I actually really support >insert thing here<. But it’s complicated so we should only talk about this if we schedule time to sit down and have coffee.”
For work: “I’m not doing anything wrong. We can still work together. What’s something we can both prioritize going forward?”
For family: “I love you and I want you to know the real me. It’s the only way we are going to have a healthy relationship.”
At the end of the day, I have had to cut people out of my life when they did not stop their bullying or manipulation. It hurt. Sometimes I still miss those people, a lot. But my life is better and I’ve built up a new resilience. In work and other relationships I more readily spot red flags and have the guts to say, “I’m being respectful and you aren’t allowed to treat me like that.” It’s a process. Be strong.
3. Polished and poised.
I feel more confident when I dress up. When you feel more confident, it’s easier to put down your defenses. I absolutely acknowledge that power—feeling empowered or feeling powerless—impacts how we interact with others. Getting over my insecurities about my body and the way I dress allowed me to have a more level attitude about pretty much everything in my life.
Since I don’t know what I’ll deal with when I walk out the door every morning (I’ll always be disabled and I’m not stopping my writing any time soon) I take some power back in the way I dress. When I’m put together and sharp I convey the respect I have for myself and I just feel more centered.
Being selfless is also a bit easier and less vulnerable when I look polished and feel professional.
It’s not a foolproof tactic, but for me personally, it helps.
4. Don’t be a j&rk to other people.
So, this is difficult to untangle but I’ve had people say the exact same statement, “I’m being respectful and you aren’t allowed to treat me like that.” Problem is, they aren’t being respectful. They attacked first, used manipulative or shaming language, and were generally being a bully. Lots of people are capable of standing up for themselves and not taking bullsh&t. And I’m happy for them–yay boundaries. But in the next moment, they’ll deal the same bullsh&t they themselves refuse to tolerate. Harassing and shaming becomes justified if they’re the ones doing it.
I’m going to use a broad, divisive brush here, but please consider:
Conservative sees LGBT book on children’s library shelf. Throws a tantrum.
Liberal sees Christian book on children’s library shelf. Throws a tantrum.
In both situations, I’m just a librarian, standing in the children’s section, asking you to please stop screaming.
It can be hard to see when we do the things we hate, but we all do it. Spotting these patterns are key to bringing down defensiveness in your daily life.
I hope some of my advice has helped. I want everyone to live their best lives and be true to themselves. Defensiveness can keep us safe, but it can also keep us stagnate. Take it slow, build yourself, and collect the tools you need to cope in a positive way. Til next time. /&
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