Are You Sabotaging Yourself with Defensiveness?

· October 31, 2015

Defensiveness is a mode of self-protection, in anticipation of a danger or of someone who could hurt us. When we feel threatened, we transform, and our entire body is put on alert. Our body language indicates a high level of tension, rigidity, and defensiveness.

Our non-verbal communication changes with respect to our situation. In threatening situations, our body language takes on a more serious tone: we talk faster and use various facial expressions that communicate discomfort, disgust, and even danger.

Even if we say nothing, our body tells the world that we’re armed to protect ourselves. 

How do we defend ourselves?

In addition to body language and non-verbal communication, we express ourselves in a certain way when we are defensive. That is to say, we use certain words and phrases, intending to protect us from a possible attack or other danger. 


Unfortunately, in many cases, our defensiveness comes on too strongly and the way we express ourselves can be inappropriate and disrespectful. When we feel hurt, uncomfortable, or angry, we often overreact to the situation. A defensive attitude puts us on guard, makes us tense, and upsets us to the point of anger or irritability.

Often, this overreaction means that what started as defensiveness turns into offensiveness. We use attacks, blame, irony, sarcasm, or purposely hurtful expressions, all in the name of safeguarding ourselves from what we think is an attack from another person.

Subconsciously, we think more heavily in how we are going to defend ourselves from an attack (although it has yet to happen) than how to take advantage of the situation, to enjoy it or to simply learn from it, or to observe and get to know the person before us.

The problem is, when we are feeling threatened, the automatic reactions and behaviors that we fall into really do not protect us from anyone or anything. When we go into defensive mode we actually end up even more exposed and vulnerable than before, and we show the other person our feelings and lack of strategies to engage and effectively address the situation.

Broken mirror

Without a doubt, when we fall into the pit of defensiveness, it is because we do not feel safe, or do not feel strong or secure with ourselves. Therefore, we feel the need to protect ourselves and defend ourselves very outwardly.

How can we approach things differently?

First of all, we have to make an effort to perceive external situations from the most objective standpoint possible. That is, we need to rationally process the feeling of danger that puts us on the defensive.

It is more appropriate to observe the situation as a spectator before interpreting it. By doing so we will not feel so attacked by it. Since there may be other explanations for any given situation that end up being less alarming and do not require a defensive response, we may not feel attacked at all.

This isn’t to say that we don’t need to protect ourselves. It’s important that we look after our self-esteem and self-image. But we don’t need to adopt a defensive attitude to do this. Knowing who we are, and what we want in life gives us the confidence to recognize situations as they are and how they affect us instead of jumping to conclusions about personal attacks and danger. Being self-aware lets us understand that others’ opinions are just that: their opinions. And they are allowed to be different from ours without being an express attack.