Do you lash out when you feel criticized? Everyone can get defensive in certain situations, but if you’re getting defensive most of the time you feel criticized you may be damaging your relationships or your chance for raises and promotions at work.
There are several things you can do when you feel criticized that can make you feel better about yourself.
If you get defensive before you even have time to think, you’ll have to work backwards. As soon as possible after a situation where you were defensive, take a minute to think about where you felt it in your body. Did your chest get tight? Was there a rushing in your ears? Did you start to breath faster? Were you clenching your fists? If you can become aware of how you react in your body, you can use those cues to notice when you’re getting defensive and then shift your awareness to your thoughts.
To buy yourself some time, repeat back what you heard the other person say. I don’t mean that you sound like a parrot, just that you rephrase what the other person said in the way you heard it. So if Susie Q says to you, “You never clean up after yourself.” You could say, “It seems to you like I always leave a mess?” or, “You feel like you always have to pick up after me?” Often people aren’t aware of exactly what they’re saying because they’re nervous about bringing an issue up. So if you repeat what they said, they know you heard them and they have a chance to correct it, if necessary. These two things alone can stop many arguments before they start. The other benefit of repeating back what you heard is that the other person will usually respond with more information, which can move the conversation in a whole new, and usually positive, direction.
Our buttons are usually pushed because we’re reminded of someone or something from the past. Is it your critical father? Your grandmother who never liked you? A teacher who picked on you? Once you’re aware of this you’ll be surprised how quickly your defenses go down. In fact you’ll probably mentally smack yourself on the head and say, “Sheesh, why am I acting this way? This obviously isn’t my dad/grandma/teacher!”
Sometimes we react defensively because we are being picked on. If your boss, friend or significant other is always finding something wrong with you, that’s a different issue. If the relationship really matters to you, then you’ll need to point out what you’ve noticed to this person. I’d wait, though, until a time when things have calmed down and emotions aren’t running so high.
If the relationship isn’t worth working on, or you’ve tried to talk about it with the person and haven’t had any luck, it may be time for you to put some distance between you and this person. Find a new job, transfer out of the department, spend time with other friends who like you for who you are or let go of someone you love who doesn’t seem to love you just as you are. Let me know what you think: email me with your comments and suggestions.
Lynne Coon, LPC — counselor serving communities in the greater Portland metropolitan area including: Portland, Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Tualatin, Beaverton, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, King City, West Linn, Wilsonville, Gresham, Troutdale, Scappoose, St Helens, Camas, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, and Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County and Clark County.