In the previous blog I wrote that remaining overly defensive is tantamount to turning one’s back on a growth opportunity. By considering the possible merit of the critical perspectives of others, we can integrate new ways of seeing ourselves and of seeing the world. In this blog I will explain two ways to think about defensiveness in relation to specific weaknesses in ourselves.
Our self – that which in my view we ultimately defend in conflict – is not a tidy project. We all know that we have buttons, issues, and topic areas where we have greater sensitivity. We all have places where we have been injured and bruised, places that are vulnerable to being aggravated.
Where the self is strong and well developed we are more flexible, adaptable, and non-defensive. Where bruised from past difficult experiences, we are rigid and defended. There may be tough ‘scar tissue’ there as well.
There is a cruel irony in operation. The parts of ourselves that could most use our kind attention are the ones we are less likely to notice because we are so intent on defending ourselves against the incoming communication from others – communication that could assist us to take a modified and more open viewpoint of ourselves.
A second way to think about our defensiveness and where growth is wanting comes from the notion of projection, a defense mechanism which was originally postulated by Sigmund Freud. One theory is that the persistent criticisms and judgements we have of others are related to similar qualities in ourselves. For example, one may notice selfishness in others and judge them for that quality, while remaining unaware of the quality in oneself. In other words, our attitudes about others are a reflection of what we are not seeing in ourselves. In simple terms if you spot it, you got it!
Although it is not helpful to believe and take on all criticism as the truth, it is wise to be alert when we reject another’s offending perspective of ourselves. In my experience, these are precisely the occasions when we will be better served by figuring out what aspect of the criticism has some merit. A painful jab that provokes defensiveness can lead us to parts of ourselves that need care and attention. And, a persistent negative evaluation of others may be a clue to a weakness in ourselves.