Understanding Defensive Behavior 2

ORGANIZATIONAL AND BUSINESS

Understanding Defensive Behavior 2

Living in Survival, Without Knowing It

We age, but we don’t all mature. We have some idea that when you reach a certain age we should know better, act mature, not be emotional, and certainly not show any fear or vulnerability.  Many people are so busy judging themselves for not attaining their idea or image they have for the way they should be, that they ignore their gifts, talents and potential.  Living in survival, they never feel good enough, because they are constantly telling themselves that they aren’t. In order to thrive, to live life from the Self-Actualizing System of the brain (rational, emotional and instinctual brains with connecting neural pathways) we have to learn how to work at developing the neural pathways that allow for constant communication between impulses, thoughts and feelings.

As adults, we have the potential to shift from living in our Self-Protective System, but first, we have to realize that we are living in survival mode. We have to know what this looks like for our particular brain organization or Striving Style. Our brain doesn’t develop automatically and if we don’t think of development as changing our physiology the same way going to the gym and exercising does, we can believe that we only need to learn what to do and we will magically change. This is not the case. If you want the Self-Actualizing System of the brain to develop so that you can live your life in the pursuit of your hearts desire, experiencing and dealing with everything life brings to you and achieving your potential, you have to strengthen the neural pathways from your emotional to your rational brain.

Working on shifting from automatic self-protective behaviors and strengthening your Self-Actualizing System requires that you develop your observing self; the self that notices how you are feeling and reacting and is curious about why. This ability to observe one’s own feelings and intervene on your own behalf requires that you exercise self-awareness and know your automatic defensive behaviors.  Too often we keep defending ourselves even when there is no threat. It might feel that way, but that doesn’t make it true. It’s the automatic nature of the self-protective System that causes us to keep living in survival despite having already survived.  Living life from the Self-Actualizing System allows us to experience ourselves and our lives to the fullest, without apology and without having to defend ourselves.

How often are you Self-Protective?

Check in with yourself when communicating with others and notice what your self-protective behaviors are.  Here are some things that you might notice you do.

  1. Rationalize - Explain, Defend, And Make Excuses: You find yourself saying “Yes, but…” to comments about yourself, explaining why you have to do things the way you do or explaining why the other person is wrong. You always feel that you have to justify your behavior and act as though questions are attacks on you. If someone expresses a feeling, i.e. “I am disappointed you won’t be coming to the company picnic.” you get upset with them and explain again the reasons why you can’t rather than just knowing you will be missed.
  2. Agree with Your Attacker:  Someone tells you something negative about yourself that you know isn’t true (i.e. you always want to be the center of attention or you always want your own way) and rather than correct them or create conflict, you agree with their perception. You might even defend the person’s right to treat you negatively as a result of their idea of you.
  3. Undermine or Devalue Others:  Rather than asserting yourself and negotiating to get your own needs met, you say yes and give in, appearing to be cooperative. You then feel victimized by them and go around talking about this person behind their back, calling them names like “selfish” or “control freak”, undermining them to others. You might also fail to do what you agreed to, negatively impacting the other person who was depending on you to get what you agreed to finished.
  4. Withdraw, Deny or Avoid Conflict:  You protect yourself by going inside yourself and not saying anything about what you think or feel about a situation. You might also leave the situation physically by calling in sick or not showing up to a meeting. You avoid people that make you feel nervous or who expect something from you. You might also avoid talking to someone about something you are having difficulty with.  When you do talk about the issue, you deny that it is a problem and tell the other person it must just be them.
  5. Passive-Aggressive Position:  When you feel someone has power and authority over you, you find a way of combating this by refusing to be helpful to them when you know they need help; you hold on to information that someone else needs so that they will make a mistake or have to work harder on their own to find it; or saying you will do something, knowing that you have no intention to at all.
  6. Attack, Counterattack:  You complain about a problem that you are having and when someone gives you some insight into your part in the problem you attack or judge the other person. You feel wounded, misunderstood or victimized by the suggestion that you might play a role in your own problems. You might accuse them of being mean and insensitive or you counter by drawing their attention to something that they are struggling with and how ineffective they are being.
  7. Long-Suffering, Martyr:  You experience interpersonal conflict as a burden that you have to bear. You talk to others in a way that makes them feel that by raising a legitimate issue with you that they have mortally wounded you or caused you suffering. Somehow, your emotions become more important than the actual issue and the other person is forced to think about how you are feeling.    
  8. Blame:  You shift the focus from yourself by making the other person the reason for your behavior or the way you feel. If you didn’t get to work on time, it’s because you just missed the bus and the insensitive bus driver didn’t stop when he saw you. You don’t think it’s because you didn’t give yourself enough time. If you treat a coworker or friend badly and are confronted, you let them know it’s because of the way they have treated you.

When we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we use these behaviors more frequently than we like to admit. However, recognizing them for what they are — your automatic self-protective behaviors — allows you to start shifting your behavior and strengthening your Self-Actualizing System.  

To Be Continued Next Week with Part 3

Anne Dranitsaris, Ph.D.

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