Why Do We Use Defensive Behavior? Learning To Communicate Well
Defensive behavior can be a common coping mechanism for many to defend oneself from perceived or actual threats. It can look different for everyone—however, it generally involves adopting aggressive, dismissive or suspicious behaviors to distance oneself from the perceived threat to stay as emotionally and physically safe as possible.
Learning to recognize and address these behaviors can help you be more aware and proactive in your interactions with others, possibly helping you find ways to try to decrease your use of defensive behavior.
Types Of Defensive Behavior
Many believe that there are various types of defensive behavior, each possibly coming with a unique set of characteristics and consequences. We’ve summarized several of the most common defensive behaviors below:
Passive-aggressive behavior: Someone who is adopting this type of defensive behavior might choose to express hostility or resentment indirectly rather than directly.
Blaming: When someone feels defensive, they might try to deflect responsibility for their actions by blaming others. This is a type of defensive behavior that may be commonly seen in arguments.
Denial: This type of defensive behavior can occur when a person refuses to acknowledge or accept reality.
Projection: This defensive behavior can occur when a person attributes their thoughts, feelings or behaviors to others, rather than realizing possible core causes within themselves—or taking responsibility.
Rationalization: This can occur when a person chooses to justify their actions by providing explanations or excuses.
Minimization: This can occur when a person downplays the significance or importance of something. This type of behavior may happen in the wake of a disagreement, especially when parties may share strong differences of opinion.
Comparison: This type of behavior generally occurs when someone compares themselves to others to avoid acknowledging their shortcomings.
Possible Causes of Defensive Behavior
- Defensive behavior can be influenced by a variety of factors, including: Trauma and past experiences: These life occurrences might shape how you view the world and your relationships. For example: If someone experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatic events, they may have developed coping mechanisms (such as defensive behavior) to try to defend themselves from further harm.
*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
- Fear of rejection or abandonment: Such fears might lead to defensive behavior as one tries to defend themselves from potential rejection or abandonment.
- Low self-esteem or insecurity: Feeling insecure might make someone more likely to engage in defensive behavior.
- Difficulty in expressing emotions: Some people might have trouble expressing their emotions, and might choose to use defensive behavior to cope.
- Lack of trust in themselves or others: A lack of confidence in yourself or others might lead to defensive behavior as a way to defend yourself from potential betrayal or hurt.
- Power imbalances in relationships: This can lead to defensive behavior if one percieve that they need to maintain control in the relationship.
Possible Consequences Of Defensive Behavior
Defensive behavior can have a significant impact on both your relationships and personal development. It could cause frustration and resentment in others, leading to strained relationships and difficulty resolving conflicts. Additionally, defensive behavior may make it hard to take responsibility for your actions, which may result in a loss of trust in yourself and others.
Understanding the consequences of defensive behavior can be helpful as you work to recognize how to address it—instead choosing to invest your energy into positive changes in your relationships. Online therapy and other supportive strategies can be helpful resources to use throughout this process.
How To Stop Defensive Behavior
Stopping defensive behavior can be challenging, but it is generally possible with the right approach. One of the first steps for many who are trying to stop defensive behavior in themselves might be to recognize and acknowledge it. This can mean being honest with yourself about the ways in which you use defensive behavior and how it affects others. You can do this using several of the following strategies:
- Exploring past experiences, emotions, and relationships that may be contributing to the behavior
- Practicing self-compassion and self-care
- Setting boundaries and communicating effectively
- Building trust in yourself and others
- Seeking professional help
How Can Online Therapy Help Limit Defensive Behavior?
Additionally, therapists can help clients build critical skills, including boundary-setting, effective communication and emotional expression. Mastering these skills can prevent the need for defensive behavior altogether.
This progress can be made more expedient with the use of online therapy, as patients may perceive that they’re able to be more transparent and honest than they otherwise would be in other settings. This can facilitate rapid growth in certain areas, possibly encouraging additional progress.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
Studies have suggested that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially helpful in addressing defensive behavior. For example, a study-led analysis by the National Council on Aging has found that online therapy is especially effective at addressing mental health conditions (such as anxiety disorder, depression and bipolar disorder). These conditions can underlie defensive behavior—which is why online therapy can be a useful tool to resolve both the behavior and symptomatic expressions in some.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a defensive person?
A defensive person is someone who shows defensive behaviors. Psychology’s “Defensive” definition is important to understand.
One definition of defensive is “devoted to resisting or preventing aggression or attack”. Psychology Today tells that many times someone is defensive because of criticism they’re receiving. This can be an unhealthy cycle that relationships fall into.
People can be defensive because they struggle with their self-esteem. It’s difficult to handle criticism when you already feel bad about yourself. You don’t want others to point out this behavior in your life as well. It makes you feel even worse.
Then, some defensive people struggle with mental health challenges such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Their behavior can also be linked to a lack of healthy self-esteem.
What is defensive behavior?
Understanding the definition of defensive can help you know more about what it looks like when someone is defensive. Defensive means “in the state or condition of being prepared or required to defend against attack or criticism”. While it sounds good for someone to be ready to defend against an attack, the word can be used in different ways.
For example, defensive driving is good because you’re driving in a way to keep everyone on the road safe.
Defend can mean “serving to defend”. You can see how the explanation and definition of defensive would make sense from that.
However, the problem with the definition of defensive is that it leaves the negative emotion out of it that can be connected with the experience. For example, if a person constantly shows defensive behavior, it’s not a positive thing. This is when someone constantly tries to make excuses for their actions or explain why something happened or isn’t their fault instead of taking responsibility for it.
When this happens long-term it can become a big problem in relationships: romantic, friendships, and at work. If a person feels that they need to be “serving to defend” themselves at all times, they can come across as confrontational. People can get in the habit of feeling they need to defend anything.
How do you use defensive in a sentence?
Understanding the definition of defensive is important if you want to know how to use it properly in a sentence, particularly in a psychological context. There are different definitions of defensive based on what part of speech it is. There is a defensive – adjective and also a defensive – noun. It’s important to understand meanings, word choice can improve when you know exactly how to use it.
Other definitions of defensive (adjective) include “devoted to resisting or preventing aggression or attack” and “sports: of or relating to the attempt to keep an opponent from scoring in a game or contest”. “Defensively” (adverb) describes the nature of behavior.
But, simply reading the definition of defensive might not always help a person understand how to use it in a sentence. You can use it to describe the way that a person is acting or the state that someone or something is in. A person’s response can be defensive. Or you could keep someone on the defense during your debate.
What do you call a defensive person?
A defensive person can be someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It can also be someone that is a regular victim of emotional abuse that is constantly criticized. A defensive person can also be someone that has low self-esteem or that has a difficult time listening to criticisms about themself.
It’s best not to try to self-diagnosis why someone’s behavior is defensive. If you want to explore this behavior in yourself or your partner, you could try working with a therapist. Even then, knowing how a person is classified can be helpful but referring to them in that way may not be. Try to think of the other person as a person rather than as a “narcissist,” a “victim,” etc.
What is the synonym for defense?
To find the accurate synonym for a defense that you’re looking for, you want to know how you plan to use the word. For example, trying to find alternate words for “attack defensive”, “defensive attitude” or just the word “defend” will bring different results.
Synonyms for “defend” could be: contend, fight, or guard
Attack defensive is more about a type of fighting style
Defensive attitude synonyms could be opposing or thwarting
When you understand the meanings, word choice is easier.
If you’re interested in learning synonyms that match the definition of defense to expand your vocabulary, you may want to try using things like using a synonym of the day or word of the day calendar. You can even do things like play word quizzes, crossword solver, scrabble, or other games that help you use new words. Parent-teacher center tips for parents in schools can also provide resources for educational activities like this.
If you are looking for synonyms for things like the definition of defensive to use in school papers (English, science, technology, literature), look for tools, writing prompts, grammar 101, writing 2, or other classes that can help you expand your writing skills and word choice.
What is the antonym of defense?
When it comes to learning new words or understanding the meanings in a better way, it can help to look at the antonym of the word as well. For example, if you want to understand better the definition of defensive it can help to understand the opposite of the word.
When you understand both what a word means and exactly what it doesn’t mean, it can help you avoid mixed-up meanings, word choice can be important in getting your message across.
What are the best ways to learn new words?
There are many fun ways to learn new words. Some of them include doing a daily crossword puzzle, learning the word of the day, playing everyday word games like Words with Friends, or using a word finder.
If you’re looking to expand your vocabulary, it can also help to study the different parts of speech that applies to a word. For example, defensive – adjective vs noun. While there may only be slight differences between definitions and usage of defensiveness – adjective vs noun, there are other words where there’s a bigger gap. Learning this can help you understand the right usage of the words to use and the right times to use them.
Remember, you can have fun while you learn, learn new words by trying the following:
Word of the day calendar
Study words to choose a “word of the year”
Practice finding a synonym of the day to replace some words you commonly use
Grab a paper and do the daily crossword puzzle, learn new words as you find the right answers
Make it fun and get friends involved. Keep a game of Words with Friends going. Look for quizzes, crossword solver, scrabble, and other activities using words that you can do.
Getting creative with the arts, writing, writing, writing, and writing some more forces you to look for new words to get your point across
If you have a child in school, it can be easier to help them learn new words. Parent-teacher center tips for parents can be a place to start looking. It’s also important to know that emoji, slang, acronyms, pop culture, memes, gender, and sexuality have given new or secrete meanings to some words.
How can I learn new words?
If you’re ready to expand your vocabulary the best thing to do is learn, learn new words that you can start to use in your daily life. There are many different things that you can do to get started. Some apps will send you a new word of the day each morning. You can also study a synonym of the day to start to replace your commonly used words with better choices.
If you’re interested in improving creative arts, writing, writing, writing can help you. You can find tools, writing prompts, Grammar 101, writing workshops, and other classes that can help you. The more you’re able to learn, the more you can avoid mixed-up meanings, word errors, and mistaken pronunciation. This can help you in life and studies including English, science, technology, literature, and more.
Studying new words is different now than it was in the past. You may want to pay attention to the association with emojis, slang, acronyms, pop culture, memes, gender, sexuality, and more. There can be alternate meanings for some words and it’s important to make sure you’re saying what you think you are.
What causes defensive behavior?
A wide variety of things can contribute to defensive disorders. Any time that your mental health or physical health is compromised, it can lead to defensive behavior.
Symptoms of certain mental disorders may cause defensive responses. Bipolar disorder, panic disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders like binge eating, or sleep disorders which are called parasomnias, are some of the types of disorders that may cause a defensive response as part of their symptoms.
A defensive person may have developed a chronic defensive response as a result of the way they’ve been brought up as it was modeled by their parents or other adults in their lives. In other words, a defensive reaction may be a result of learned behavior. While people that react defensively can be difficult to relate to, chronic defensive communication is highly treatable.
Because the causes of most of these behaviors are social rather than chemical, when you approach an expert about becoming less defensive medicine is seldom the answer. Instead, various forms of talk therapy will attempt to get at the life experiences that led you to adopt this defensive approach in the first place.
How can you tell if someone is defensive?
A defensive person has trouble accepting responsibility for their speech and actions. They have difficulty with constructive criticism and may mistakenly take it as a perceived threat.
Anyone can be triggered by a personal issue that causes them to have a defensive reaction. But, it’s not normal to spout off a defensive response daily. If that’s a problem for you or someone that you know, you may want to find a therapist to help you respond to others and interact with them in more appropriate ways.
What is an example of defensive behavior?
As mentioned earlier, certain mental disorders can cause someone to react defensively.
Bipolar disorder causes alternating bouts of depression and “mania” – a state that some people experience as a form of anxiety. People living with bipolar disorder may deny things that are true or false to someone else, even when they’re presented with evidence to support the truth. When someone with bipolar disorder gets pushed too far, they may react defensively, or even aggressively.
Binge eaters and people with other eating disorders often react defensively when someone confronts them about eating too much or too little or purging after eating. Many people that deal with binge eating find that support groups can be very helpful.
Defensive people also tend to vent on social media to help support their positions.
How do you deal with a defensive person?
Clinical psychology is helpful for people that react defensively regularly, as well as other people that are in a relationship with a defensive person. A qualified therapist can put together an anxiety treatment program for people dealing with a panic disorder or other mental disorder. Goal setting ensures that you’ll make progress in your treatment program.
Many clinical practices offer support groups to supplement individual treatment.
How do you communicate with a defensive partner?
A marriage and family therapist that has either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree makes a wise choice for a therapist to help someone dealing with relationship issues. Your therapist can also help you to find an appropriate support group if you need one.
Marriage and family therapy is designed to help people feel safe and non-defensive as they work on problem-solving together. A therapeutic session is a safe place where partners don’t feel intimidated or criticized. Typically, after a few therapeutic sessions, people feel like they can communicate better.
Do liars get defensive?
People that lie very often get defensive. Chronic liars may appear fidgety and uncomfortable. Not only do they get defensive, but they may also go on and on. They tend to give an excess of information in an attempt to try to justify their position. They believe that excessive talking will motivate others to believe them.
Note that this won’t necessarily be the case for compulsive liars. Compulsive liars are often able to spin their yarns without the usual telling – often because they don’t know themselves that the things that they are saying aren’t true.
How do I stop being defensive and argumentative?
Social media has become a haven for controversial discussions and public arguments. If you’re struggling with being defensive and social media is one of your weak spots, you might try to cut yourself off from it until you can get your behavior under control. Many people find this difficult at first but realize after a couple of days that social media made them feel worse rather than better.
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