Defensiveness is a part of the human condition. A negative rather than positive part. It is usually an indicator that we are guarding our pride and our ego and that we don't want to be found wrong or wanting. Defensiveness is wanting to be like God. He is the only one who is never wrong or wanting. Thus defensiveness is proclaiming that we are not what we are: human, often wrong, fallible, broken and often wanting. It is a façade rather than the truth and it is our way of saying, "I am better than I am." And we are the only one who believes it.
Defensiveness is destructive to us in many ways. First, we fool ourselves into believing that we are better than we are. The best leaders and the healthiest individuals are those who know their own vulnerabilities, dark sides, and lack of knowledge. The truth is that we know very little, are often wrong, often misjudge others, and have dark sides that are far worse than we want to believe. Personal health comes from knowing the truth about ourselves, not from lying to ourselves. How we see ourselves will impact how we see and treat others and their views.
Second, defensiveness drives people away from us. When we are not open to the views, observations or criticisms of others we keep those around us at arms length. They know that we are not open to authentic conversation and thus don't share what they really think. In driving others away who could tell us truth we not only hurt ourselves but we hurt authentic relationships with those around us.
Third, defensiveness keeps us from seeing and treating others in a fair way. Defensive people generally see fault in others but not in themselves, see the quirks and shadow side of others but not their own. This impacts how we see those around us and if a supervisor, how we may treat our staff. The lens that a defensive individual sees through often sees others as worse than they are and themselves as better than they are.
The root of defensiveness is insecurity or unworthiness. The feeling that we are not enough: good enough; competent enough; smart enough, wise enough or worthy enough. That lack of self worth causes us to want to look better than we are which amounts to elevating ourselves while lowering others and resisting anything that strikes us as criticism. Defensive individuals are not healthy, whole people.
How do we overcome defensiveness and get to wholeness? The first step is to make a decision that we will be OK with who we are, how God made us and our strengths and weaknesses. If I can accept the truth about myself I no longer need to prove that I am different than I am, that I am better than I am or more perfect than I am. We are all broken vessels and becoming OK with that - even as we allow God to heal our brokenness - gives us freedom to just be us, not someone we wish we were.
This is about adopting a "nothing to prove, nothing to lose and nothing to hide" attitude. I don't need to prove myself. I don't need to worry about losing my reputation. Nor do I need to hide those areas where I am weak. It is a freeing attitude and it is how God wants us to live. It allows others and ourselves to see our authentic self.
That inward decision needs to help us with our outward behavior. When we experience that knife thrust of criticism (whether it was meant that way or not), rather than reacting defensively we can learn to relax, not react outwardly and say something like, "That is an interesting thought, tell me more." Rather than pushing people away, we are drawing them closer and inviting conversation rather than shutting it down. We may be fighting our emotions inside but outwardly we are practicing new behaviors.
Learn to spot the triggers that cause you to become defensive. Every time you get triggered, ask the question, how might I have responded differently than I did? And, Why did I react to that statement? Once you begin to learn the triggers to defensive attitudes one can develop strategies to counter it in the moment.
Defensiveness is about pretending to be someone we are not. Authenticity is allowing others to see us as we are.