Let’s be honest—we’ve all been defensive before. We hear a complaint from a partner, we feel they’re calling our character into question, and so the knee-jerk reaction is often to jump to our own defense and explain why we didn’t say, do, or mean what we’re being “accused” of.
“To be defensive is to react with an overprotective mentality to a situation that perhaps doesn’t warrant it,” marriage therapist Linda Carroll, LMFT, writes at mbg. “Rather than listening with an open heart, we respond with our metaphorical shields up and weapons drawn.”
Defensiveness is a problem because not only are we not listening with the intent to understand, but as couples therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, previously told mbg, “In these moments, we are held within the grips of the ego, which acts as a barrier to authentic communication and connection.”
Earnshaw adds there are actually very few scenarios in which we truly need to defend our point of view. “Multiple realities exist,” she notes. “[When people get defensive], they struggle to see that listening and validating do not mean agreeing, and that giving space to the other person does not mean you will never get space to share when the time is right.”