From what? Defensive people seek to intimidate others, prove their supposed superiority, prove they have been wronged – all to deflect from their own shortcomings. They feel a need to defend themselves against others’ perceived slights (even if imagined).
There are those who are defensive solely in order to protect themselves from experiencing their own failures, and those who go further, to vindictive defensiveness.
Defensive people lob emotional hand grenades at others, who they (often erroneously) believe are attacking them. In fact, it is they who know themselves to fall short. It’s difficult to face one’s own shortcomings;
defensive people do not have the courage to do so, instead punishing others who they see as pointing to any of their weaknesses.
A defensive person who is capable of real emotion and relationships will be appalled by his behavior after his defensive outburst. He doesn’t intend to irrevocably harm his child, his spouse, his assistant. He acts instinctively to protect himself from perceived threat, and can see, after the fact, that the other person was never really attacking him at all. He seeks help with “anger management” or learning how to control his reaction to stress. With therapy, there is real hope for him. By facing his own perceived failures, and his automatic defensive behaviors that hurt those he cares about, he takes a crucial step toward self control. By his willingness to address the root of his defensive behavior, he takes a crucial step toward self awareness. By his courage, he can see the difference between real threat and his fear of failure. Through therapy he can accept himself – and others, and experience deeper connection with those he loves.
But for another sort of defensive person, a normal desire for love and intimacy is replaced by a drive toward a kind of protective vindictive triumph. Why? The arrogant, vindictive person cannot tolerate anyone who wields more power, knows more or achieves more. He feels a need to humiliate or defeat anyone he considers a rival. When hurt (which occurs any time he feels exposed or weak) he retaliates by hurting, even destroying, the supposed enemy. Cynical and ruthless in relationships, he prides himself on exploiting and outsmarting others. He trusts no one. He scorns real feelings: tenderness, dependency, emotional closeness, friendship. For him, relationships exist solely in order to enhance his own social and economic position, to “get others before they get him”. He is proud of being self-sufficient, needing no one. In fact, he is isolated by his own hostility and fear of real attachment to others.
For the vindictive person, any tenderness or compromise is experienced as vulnerability. Since he assumes others will exploit him as he would exploit others, he avoids rational discourse with those with whom he might disagree. Terror of being humiliated or played for a fool colors his behavior. His is a vision of life as war, a war in which he is bound by neither human emotion nor morality. I have yet to figure out how therapy can help him.
Recognize yourself or anyone you know here? Any suggestions welcomed by all who deal with defensive co-workers!
Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.