Defensiveness is an attempt to protect oneself and to guard against further attacks.
When a person is bombarded with criticism and indications of contempt, it is natural to feel like a victim – and victims go into a defensive posture (“I haven’t done anything wrong, so stop picking on me”).
The victim feels justified in doing this. However, what is not often understood is that defensiveness tends to escalate a conflict rather than quelling it. The partner who does the blaming feels that the other one doesn’t “get it” and is resistant to addressing the problem. This can result in a standoff where constructive communication comes to a halt. Rather than trying to mutually solve the problems in the relationship, the two partners spend their energy defending themselves. Nothing is resolved, the conflict escalates, and the negative cascade continues to damage the relationship.
The way to address the defensiveness phase of the cascade is to learn how to stay calm. When anxiety is reduced, it is possible to ward off criticism, put it into perspective, and avoid reacting defensively. It is helpful to learn how to react to the overall situation rather than to only the words that are spoken in moments of conflict. Staying calm protects us against the possibility of feeling overwhelmed during heated moments.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy provides counseling in the convenient area of Sorrento Valley Road.
We also serve the surrounding areas of La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, University City, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway and Escondido.