Defensiveness occurs when we attempt to contradict or reject criticism in areas where we are sensitive. This is a means for many of us to protect ourselves emotionally. When we believe we are in danger, our brain goes into "fight or flight" mode, which can result in overpowering feelings such as rage and fear. These same feelings may also be expressed verbally through defensiveness.
Defensiveness is a form of argumentation that only makes matters worse. It doesn't lead to any kind of resolution because it does not acknowledge the other person's point of view. Also, defensive arguments tend to be narrow, focused on small parts of the whole issue at hand, whereas effective arguments consider the entire topic.
Defensiveness is a sign of weakness. It shows that you do not have confidence in yourself or your ideas. It is better to be direct instead of using defensiveness as a shield. Directness leads to clarity and openness, two essential ingredients for effective communication.
To be defensive means to respond in an overprotective manner to a circumstance that may or may not deserve it. Defensiveness is an immediate and reactive reaction to a circumstance or discussion. Rather of listening with an open heart, we reply by raising our metaphorical shields and drawing our weapons. We shut out what they have to say because we don't want to feel their pain or see their point of view.
Defensiveness can be used as a defense against uncomfortable feelings, especially anger. If I'm feeling hostile toward someone, I might be quick to defend myself by saying things like "You shouldn't judge people by the color of their skin" or "That's not fair." These statements are meant to make me look good instead of the person who's angry with me. The more I talk, the more I distract from my own feelings and the more I hide them.
Sometimes we feel defensive about things that have nothing to do with our actual safety. For example, if you walk down the street looking sad, some people will feel compelled to tell you how awesome you look or comment on your apparent loss. This is called "cat-calling" and it makes most women feel extremely uncomfortable. Even if you're doing everything else right (which you aren't) then just walking down the street looking sad is enough to make some people feel threatened and therefore defensive.
There are two types of defenses: active and passive.
Defensiveness is described as being highly sensitive to or forcefully responding to perceived criticism. When someone says that you are talking a little too loudly, you feel upset and promptly respond, "I am not talking too loud!" Even though this might be true in the moment, it doesn't help your situation. Talking too loudly is seen as a problem by others, so avoiding such conversations makes sense from their perspective.
People who are defensive tend to believe that others are out to get them. They may accuse others of being judgmental or mean, when actually they are just trying to understand them better. Defensive people also like to control situations, which can make relationships difficult. For example, if you ask someone to go for a walk with you and they say yes, but then don't show up, they may have been defensive about agreeing to go with you in the first place.
People can tell how defensive you are by looking at your body language. If you pull away when someone tries to hug you, or if you start to raise your voice when someone questions something you do, then you are showing signs of defensiveness.
Defensiveness is a problem when it comes to emotional intelligence. You need emotional intelligence to manage your own emotions and those of others.
External events, as well as emotions of worry, uncertainty, and sensitivity, can all provoke defensive responses, which frequently arise in situations when people feel harshly assessed, controlled, or influenced by others. Common defensive responses include anger, denial, humiliation, intellectualization, passive-aggressiveness, rationalizing, self-pity, and sublimation.
Defensive responses are reactions used to avoid feeling pain, discomfort, or anxiety. They may be appropriate under certain circumstances; for example, being angry with someone who has offended you is a defensive response because it prevents you from feeling ashamed or humiliated. On the other hand, expressing anger by shouting at someone else or using physically aggressive behavior is not a defensive response because it does not aim to hide anything.
People sometimes use defense mechanisms even if they know this isn't necessary. For example, someone who is afraid they might be seen as incompetent may try to appear intelligent by arguing about irrelevant topics or forgetting what they were going to say next. This type of behavior is called "intellectualization" - taking your mind off the problem by thinking about something else. Although this mechanism is useful in some cases, overusing it can lead to becoming psychically numb - that is, lacking interest in life and love - a symptom commonly found in depressives.