So, what are the ingredients to an effective recipe to disaster-I mean, defensiveness. Let’s look at some of the most common.
- Make what’s not personal…personal: Often the things we perceive as personal attacks are not. Rather, they are a result of the other individual’s personal thoughts, feelings, experiences, and internal weather. If we didn’t cause it (most likely), why do we claim it?
- Mountains from mole hills: Do you find yourself catastrophizing your partner’s bad mood? Seeing the worst outcome from a minor missed expectation? If this is your mode of responding, of course you will find yourself in fight or flight much more often.
- Find offense in everything: The reason for defensiveness is often rooted in the perception of a threat. If we are on alert for that which might hurt us, then we can possibly catch it in time to stop it. Unfortunately, when we are looking for something…we often find it. Even if it’s not there.
- Mind reading, mind reading, mindreading: Friend doesn’t call us back right away? They must be mad at us. Partner decides to not join us for dinner? Must not like spending time with us. Boss points out that I could have done better at said task? He/She thinks we are incompetent. If the view of the world and people is that daunting…then “fight or flight” makes perfect sense.
- Fail to hear people when they speak: Our interpretations can get us into trouble. If I overlay my perception on your words, the true message is going to get lost. And, most likely, it is going to be a message of negativity versus find the positivity that might really be there for us.
- Always be right: defensiveness often creates an “either/or” mentality. “If he is right…then I must be wrong.” Tied into that is the sense of that right/wrong is our sense of worth. Being wrong=I am wrong. Again, when our sense of self-worth is (falsely) on the line, not being right is a bit too painful.
These are a few of ingredients that are often found in the recipe for defensive communication and note that our own perception is almost uniformly represented. There are others, of course. But these are very often present.
Part 3-Managing defensive responses.