Are you defensive? Have people told you that you respond defensively when feedback, criticism, suggestions or requests are made of you? Have you noticed that you have a tendency of never wanting to admit that you’re wrong—even when you could be?
Byron Katie, in her book I Need Your Love—Is That True? (Three Rivers Press) has some ideas that could be helpful to you. She says, first, notice how often you defend yourself with words, actions or your tone of voice. Notice when you make excuses, explain or justify yourself. Then, look at those responses.
What impression are you trying to hide or strengthen? Whom are you trying to convince? What is the story of “you” that you perpetuate?
What are you afraid people will think or do if you remain silent and don’t defend, justify, qualify, explain yourself, or tell us what really happened? Do you say to yourself:
- I’m afraid you’ll think I’m rude, and then…
- I’m afraid you’ll think I don’t care about you, and then…
- I’m afraid you’ll think I’m too …, and then…
Now ask yourself whether your answers to the above questions are actually true of you. Katie asks: What would happen if you moved and responded with less concern about what others think? What do you think would happen if someone would form the very impression of you that you’re afraid of?
A good way to become aware of the thoughts that fly by during a conversation is to watch yourself interrupting people. She recommends you try these steps:
- Simply notice when you interrupt. Don’t stop your interrupting; just notice it.
- As you interrupt, silently say this to yourself: “I’m not letting you finish your sentence because…” (and fill in the blank.)
- Just watch and let the blank fill itself in with what you usually hide from yourself in the blur of conversation.
Here are some examples. I’m not letting you finish your sentence because:
- I already know where you’re going and I don’t want to hear it.
- I already know where you’re going, and I have something more clever to say.
- I might forget what I have to say and lose this great opportunity to impress you.
- You aren’t interesting enough to distract me from my scary thoughts.
- I fear you’re trying to make me look bad.
- I fear you’re trying to blame me.
- I fear that what you’re saying may be true.
When you’ve done this exercise enough times to recognize the top three thoughts that lead you to interrupt, ask yourself if they’re true, and whether you can be absolutely certain that they’re true.
Finally, Katie says that instead of interrupting, you may find that you tune out when someone else is talking to you, and from then on you just pretend to listen. If that fits you, try to notice the moment when you begin to listen to your own thoughts instead of the words of the other person. Then say this silently to yourself: “I have decided to attend to my thought instead of to what you are saying because…”
These are ways that we habitually defend ourselves from what we don’t want to hear. To pay attention to this, with conscious awareness, is the first step in changing defensiveness.