Whoa, must have touched a nerve. Guess I really pushed her buttons this time. I wish I could have pushed the Mute button instead. Sheesh. Her arms are crossed and she is most definitely not looking at me. She’s in full metal-jacket protection mode now. Don’t panic. Our brains are actually wired to protect us psychologically, and may trigger a protective response if it detects a perceived “attack.” How about you? Do you rationalize away every misstep you make? Do you constantly poke “fun” of others to deflect criticism away from yourself?
Every bump or jostle causes us to react or even explode at times. That can sure make it difficult on the folks who actually have to live or work with us. It is nearly impossible to have a pleasant relationship with someone who almost always feels they are being attacked.
Of course, more often than not, your reaction has little or nothing to do with his intention; so now what? Please don’t say things like: “Stop being defensive.” That’s the same as saying: “Calm down” to someone who is clearly not calming down anytime soon. Trust me. You will get that anxious or defensive reaction on steroids now.
For some, being “wrong” about anything makes them feel like a failure. The five-minute siren goes off, and they automatically take that flashlight you just shone in their face and turn it right back on you. “Why?” you ask. The secret is that being defensive and in denial of our flaws or wrongdoing shields us from guilt and self-doubt.
Anyone who knows me has heard me caution against that dirty word: “You.” “You didn’t take out the garbage again. Harumf. You obviously don’t care about me.” Well, you know what they say: “A husband is someone, who after taking the trash out, gives the impression that he just cleaned the whole house.” Lol. Just kidding.
You may want to leave some wiggle room for him to squirm out of the accusation just a bit. If you say: “You never listen to me”; or “You always forget my birthday” – trust me: He will remember the time he remembered 14 years ago. And, of course, the most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday…is to forget it once. Lol.
Instead of blaming, try creating a safety net. Express some appreciation for what he has done in the past, and remind him how much you care about him. Then he is less likely to feel the need to defend himself as much. After that, keep the focus on yourself. “I felt so left out when you didn’t include me in your get-together last week.” “I hope nothing I said makes you feel as though you have to defend or protect yourself. That was surely not my intention.”
So why do we always dismiss our bad behavior as a mistake or clearly unintentional, while we are convinced that whatever they did was on purpose? Well, aside from hiding from the fact that we may actually be imperfect, it can also make us feel morally superior to others, at times. The last thing we want to do is to trigger our loved ones or co-workers. So what shall we do?
“Me? I’m never wrong, just different levels of right.” Oh, my. One thing is for sure: If you are an “I’m always right” kinda person, others may surely get defensive around you – a lot. So, please try not to be too opinionated, overbearing, and stubborn. For mercy’s sake, stop always blaming everyone around you for your mistakes. Then again, I blame Disney movies for making me believe that singing fixes everything. Heh.
Don’t want her to put walls up? Try catching her doing something right instead of always doing something wrong. Constantly fault-finding and criticizing will makes anyone’s guard go up in a heartbeat. Please do not leave people out. When we feel excluded or left in the dark, we tend to get suspicious and guarded.
Some of us are just going to respond disproportionately to things at times. The key is to always separate the whole person from the behavior. Everyone who acts out is feeling threatened down deep. By all means, do not escalate the situation. Try saying: “Can you please help me understand this better?” We humans react a whole lot better to curiosity than perceived criticism.
“Heck, I’m always right – even when I’m right about being wrong.” Uh, oh. Please check yourself, sweet friends. Are you looking for ways to help the situation or to be “right”?
Caroline is a licensed psychotherapist, crisis counselor, and writer with an office in Queens. She works with individuals, couples, and families. Appointments are available throughout the week and weekends. She can be reached at 917-717-1775 or at Safehavenhealing@gmail.com or at facebook.com/pages/Safe-Haven-Healing.