The Web address of this article is
Clicking underlined links
here will open a new window. Other links
will open an informational popup, so
please turn off your browser's popup blocker or
allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If
the popups may not display.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting
This is one of a series of brief Lesson-2
articles on how to respond effectively to
annoying social behavior. An effective
occurs when you get your
met well enough, and all people feel heard and
This article offers useful responses to
the behavior of someone you experience as
It assumes you're familiar with...
This brief YouTube video offers suggestions on gving
effective personal feedback:
Can you think of an adult or child who seems
overly defensive with you or other people? Keep
them and your normal response to them in mind as
The first steps in responding to any problem
behavior are to be aware of it, how you feel
about it, and to understand what causes it.
How would you describe "personal defensiveness"
to a pre-teen? Do you agree that defending
is a primal response to feeling "attacked"
(threatened, disrespected, ignored, and/or
you react to these common social
your responses usually bring you serenity or
What Does Defensiveness Sound like?
Some common phrases defensive kids and
adults use include...
"No I didn't!"
I had to, because..
You never told me...
"I never did / said that!"
"I couldn't, because..."
S/he's a liar!
S/He made me do it.
"I never / always..."
What Causes Defensiveness?
Defensiveness ranges from mild and occasional to
chronic and excessive. Four things that combine
to promote excessive defensiveness are...
"Low self esteem" and/or guilt - i.e. being
dominated by Shamed and Guilty Inner Kids;
and their Guardian subselves; and...
of primary needs, feelings, social
behaviors, and communication options;
fear of failure, scorn, and rejection;
perceived or actual threats, criticisms, and
(psychologically wounded) people may feel
criticized when others offer them constructive
feedback. They may misinterpret other's
behaviors and attitudes as being critical or
superior when they're not. That's one result of
the inherited psychological wounds of
If an over-defensive person's behavior doesn't
you may feel irritated, frustrated, and/or
critical. Those are apt to degrade your
communication and relationship, unless you
problem-solve them together as teammates.
Do these ideas match your experience?
a "best way" to respond to an overly-defensive
Recall that an "effective response"
occurs when the responder (a) gets their
met well enough, and (b) both people feel
Start by checking to see
(a) if your true Self is
you, and (b) if you respect both of you as
equals in dignity and worth. If not,
you risk an ineffective or harmful response.
Check your attitude about the other person.
Does their over-defensiveness lower your
respect or cause pity or criticism? Do you
tune them out? These are usually signs of a
Remind yourself of your mutual
as two dignified people.
you want from your response. Beware
of trying to "fix," "save," or "guilt-trip"
your partner. Those are lose-lose options
which imply that a false self rules
If appropriate, ask the other person if
s/he's open to some (constructive) feedback. Most people will say
"OK" out of curiosity and/or politeness,
unless they distrust you or are shame-based.
If you need to
compose and deliver an
"(Name), I experience you as being often
defensive. When you do that, I feel
If you need
information, try something like this
with steady eye contact...
"(Name), are you
feeling criticized / misunderstood / judged
/ threatened / attacked (by me, or someone)
now?" If the person asks why you
"Because I experience
you as pretty defensive now."
If you want to
the other person be more aware of
their behavior, try...
"(Name), I'm aware that you often need to
explain or justify your decisions and
actions. When you do, I feel uncomfortable
because it feels like you're putting
yourself down. I respect you, and I'm not
here to judge you."
An indirect way of doing the same thing
"(Name), I'm curious. How do you feel when
someone seems over-defensive? How do you
Whatever response you choose, it may be
misperceived as a criticism or attack. If it
evokes more defensiveness, use
to acknowledge (vs. agree with) the person,
and decide if you want to repeat your
original feedback. An alternative is to ask
"Do you feel like I'm criticizing /
attacking you now?"
and reflect. How do these responses
compare to the way you usually behave with an
overly-defensive person? How do you feel such a
person would react to each of them? Is there
anything preventing you from trying out
responses like these?
This is one of a series of brief
articles suggesting effective ways to respond to
common social behaviors. This article proposes
the cause of excessive defensiveness, and ways
to respond effectively to it. The ways are based