Defending yourself, but at what cost?

August 23, 2016

You don’t know what you’re talking about! Sound familiar? It’s a snide comment, insensitive and hurtful. It can cause us to impulsively defend ourselves. When we think we are being criticized, we typically feel we must justify our behavior. But at what cost?
How do you defend yourself when someone disapproves of something you did? And how did you learn those protection mechanisms?


My guess is you learned them as a child by watching your family argue. Over time, the defensive behaviors became habituated through conditioning. Now when someone criticizes you, you automatically respond according to a set behavioral pattern.

What are the consequences of your protection mechanisms? When you try to protect yourself by putting up mental walls, you create a distance between you and others. Those psychological barriers build up over time and before you know it, you feel disconnected and lonely.

Defense mechanisms can also be a form of manipulation. Sure, part of you wants to protect yourself when you are criticized, but isn’t there another part of you that wants to change the other person’s behavior? This is especially true when you use anger as a defense mechanism.

Let’s say you are in a meeting at work and your colleagues are expressing their disapproval of your proposal. You may feel like a cornered animal and it seems perfectly natural to verbally lash out. For a time, that may succeed in getting them to back off, which gives you a sense of relief. But that short-lived reward only reinforces your hostile behavior. Is that really the type of person you wish to become—the person with the short fuse who snaps at people and can’t take negative feedback?

Here’s a way to sidestep this social landmine: Give yourself the approval you seek from others. It’s called self-validation. In the privacy of your own mind, silently validate that you are a worthwhile human being, deserving of love and respect.


When you stop seeking the approval of others, you become more comfortable with yourself. How can anyone make you feel bad when you have self-acceptance? Do you get embarrassed easily? Well, the best way to overcome embarrassment is to accept yourself as an imperfect being. Be humble and no one can make you feel humiliated.

Ok, right about now you are probably thinking, “That’s all fine and good, but what can I do when I am being unjustly criticized?” Act assertively, not aggressively. Assertiveness does not step on others’ rights.

When people are upset with you, ask them to explain what you did or said that got them so upset. This way, they need to be specific about your behavior and not just transfer all their baggage onto you as if you were to blame for their problems. If they continue to verbally abuse you, be assertive and say, “I don’t think I deserve to be spoken to in this manner. I want to be treated with respect.”

If you are not assertive, you are inadvertently enabling the aggressive person to continue being aggressive. Then the aggressive person has less respect for you because you are not standing up for yourself.

Sometimes people are afraid to stand up for themselves because they think the aggressive person will get even angrier. And that might happen—at least at first. Then he or she will either adjust to you or stop interacting with you.

In a romantic relationship, this could mean that the aggressor moves on, looking for an easier target. If the aggressive behavior continues, it’s time for you to move on.

In an employment situation, if the aggressive behavior violates laws or company policies, you have an obligation to report the misconduct. If things are intolerable for you, you may need to find a more suitable job somewhere else.

Today’s Loving Suggestion: Close your eyes and mentally tell yourself that your desire for approval is not worth defending. Your self-worth, on the other hand, is worth defending. Meditate on the thought that your self-worth cannot be shaken when it is anchored in a sense of inner value rather than on being liked by others.

If you have followed any of the suggestions in the Sir Rennity feature, I would love to hear your stories. Please email me at I will keep your letters private unless you request that they be published.

The Sir Rennity feature is intended to provide gentle guidance for your life. These articles hold no intrinsic meaning. You give meaning to them based on the value you place on them, so the words here are meaningless unless you put them into practice.

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