A defensive personality is a symptom of brokenness. It’s a person deeply afraid that the words of another might steal their self-worth and affirm their fear of rejection. Words that might reveal a reality that they can’t handle. That their resisting ownership of a problem, that they’re prideful, and that they’re in need of correction.
As many of you have likely noticed, defensiveness, offensiveness, and sensitivity typically run in the same crowd. A community so hurt that any criticism is treated as if you’re stealing the last crumbs of a meal they need to survive.
And it’s true. A defensive person is someone who can’t take another blow at their inner-value. They feel as if your words are a threat and they must defend themselves from being harmed. And because of that, your correction or criticism whether helpful or hurtful, is shot down with an almost hostile response.
The takeaway is this: Defensive personalities are broken personalities. Broken personalities who don’t seek healing are almost never successful.
If you’ve followed me long, you know I focus less on the ever-changing tactics of entrepreneurship, and more on the timeless lessons of leadership development. It’s my belief the majority of the struggle in launching a business stems from our personal immaturities, not our tactical incompetencies.
From where I stand, defensiveness is an immaturity. One definition I found was “A devotion to resisting or preventing growth.” A dangerous character trait, especially when entrepreneurship might as well be a synonym for constant correction.
I can’t tell you how many times as an entrepreneur I’ve been pulled aside and corrected to the point of tears. I can’t describe the mortifying experience of sitting in a board room full of investors criticizing my leadership to the point of rebuke.
Growth is rarely comfortable. But it’s taught me an illogical lesson: The secret to speeding up success is to enhance our ability to embrace correction regardless of how awkward, painful, or humiliating it might be.
So if you’re defensive or easily offended or overly sensitive, I have provided three lessons from my life that healed my need to fight back, to resist ownership of my problems, and to prevent growth as an entrepreneur.
1. You’re only as mature as the number of times you’ve been corrected.
We must end the fight against helpful correction. When we’re defensive against someone trying to help us, we’re vaccinating ourselves against what we need. An unproductive tactic for trying to get ahead in this world.
A few years ago I read a sentence in the Bible that changed my outlook on critique. It read, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you for it. But a fool despises correction.” Love you for it? What? The idea that someone might invite reprimand was foreign to me. And to call it “wise” seemed ridiculous.
But years later, I crave correction. I’ve learned the value in knowing my flaws always outweighs the pain of not knowing them.
Task: Give a one or two safe, willing people permission to correct you on a regular basis. Consider scheduling a time to hear constructive criticism that might help remove unseen personal flaws and accelerate your pace as an entrepreneur. Do this practice for three months.
2. Your defensiveness always looks worse than what you’re trying to hide.
It can be very difficult in the midst of hearing criticism to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. The urge to defend yourself might come in strong. Your heart might race with indignation, and your adrenaline might start to churn in preparation for a “fight.” But you must stop these physiological reactions in their tracks.
Instead, look at their heart and decide if their words are intended to be helpful. If the moment is painful but not harmful, push away own need to react. Focus on listening. Remind yourself that listening to what someone else says is not the same as accepting or agreeing with it. You will have time to respond later. The better you listen now, the more you understand, the better equipped you will be to reply productively.
Watch your facial expressions. Keep a poker face if you can. Studies show that eye-rolling and smirking at your partner during a disagreement is one of the top indicators of divorce in married couples. Respect your critic’s opinions, even if you don’t share them.
Task: Identify why you’re defensive. What are you trying to hide, protect, or avoid? By understanding the cause of your defensive state, you’ll be able to control your behavior when the stakes are high.
3. The way You handle correction tells me a lot about how successful you’ll become.
When people are defensive in the face of helpful correction, we see three common responses:
1. They move away: The correction is too difficult to face, so they disappear or withdrawal from the conversation either physically or emotionally. Psychologists call this passive avoidance.
2. They move against: The correction is perceived as a threat and triggers a need to challenge, reject, or deflect the conversation and is often done with aggression.
3. They join in: The correction is too much for the person, so they passively surrender. Similar to playing dead during a bear attack, they believe, “Maybe if I don’t react, they will leave me alone.” Often, this form of deflection comes with a victim mentality. “I’m terrible. I know… I’m a complete idiot.” Which turns out to be another crafty form of defense.
At this point, the person has made themselves out to be so horrible that you’re no longer discussing the problem and now you’re rescuing them from the pool of guilt and shame.
The bottom line is this: Solving problems requires us to come out of our invulnerable state. When we want to move away, we shouldn’t. When we want to push against, we can’t. And when we want to play the martyr, we’re just avoiding growth.
Success requires a person willing to own the conversation, manage their behaviors in the moments of conflict, and understand which wound from their life is causing them to react a certain way.
Task: Identify which path of deflection to which you default. Then determine how you can remove that habit and embrace the correction, grow from it, and move on.
A regular state of defensiveness comes with great consequences. From the loss of relationships and careers to death of a dream. If your intention is to become successful in building the business and family you love, then you must learn to enjoy correction and make the necessary changes required to advance.
Are you defensive? Do you struggle with correction? If so, what’s worked for you in overcoming this behavior? Let me know in the comments below.