My boyfriend went silent and a chill set in between us. We’d had an argument. One of those little spats had always ended with disconnection and loss of “that lovin’ feelin”.
What had gone wrong?
My first response was to blame him for the clash, because it couldn’t have been my fault. However, as I replayed our conversation in my head, and heard myself reacting to a comment he’d made about my past as it related to today. My knee-jerk “THAT’S NOT TRUE” reaction had shot right out of my mouth. Then I had mounted my defense and accused him of not really knowing me.
My reckless rebuttal and fierce attack had sucked the intimacy and connection right out of the room. Damage to our carefully built trust had resulted. I could see we were on a destructive path that would ultimately disintegrate our partnership. I wanted to stop this continual chipping away at the foundation of our relationship and repair our communication. So, I set out to explore my defensiveness.
Where did my impulsive reaction come from? Why was I so determined to prove myself right?
Digging deep, I saw I held a belief about myself – that I had left my old ways behind – and this belief had been challenged. I was reacting to the uncomfortable idea that maybe I hadn’t changed. If that was true, maybe I was what I feared most: gutless and unworthy of love.
Was I really that insecure?
The answer is YES. I was.
My boyfriend’s challenge sent me to the battlefield when I could have calmly listened and heard something else. It’s possible his remark was motivated by his own insecure feelings delivered in the form of criticism. Or maybe his comment wasn’t a challenge at all, but just my fear-triggered misinterpretation.
Since that evening, I have come to understand something vital that I wish I had understood long ago: Nothing in life is as destructive to good communication and healthy relationships as defensiveness. Nothing blinds us to our long-term goals more than acting impulsively and defensively in the face of perceived criticism. Nothing is better at making us commit acts of self-sabotage than lashing out when we feel attacked.
It was time for me to choose. Was I committed to a healthy relationship based on communication and trust? Or was I going to hold fast to my shield of self-righteousness and continue toward destruction?
This was not my first serious relationship. I had been in a 25 year marriage that had ended, in part, because my insecurities had ruled my actions. The defensive pot shots I’d continuously lobbed had eroded the good in that relationship.
After my divorce, I’d made a pact with myself to be a new and improved ME the next time around. Now, confronted with that vow, I was forced to look my fear of being vulnerable right in the eye. Was that cagey nemesis going to keep me on the same old, familiar path?
I was NOT going backward. If I wanted a true partnership with my boyfriend, I had to take a new, courageous action. That meant I would have to feel the fear AND be vulnerable.
After a deep breath, I took the plunge.
With my heart beating out of my chest, I told my boyfriend about my fear, my impulsive reaction, and my discoveries. This turned out to be one of the best conversations we’d ever had. And I gained some invaluable insights:
Revealing my insecurities gave rise to intimacy and strengthened our bond of trust.
♥ Lesson #1 – Baring my heart and soul = intimacy and love
Once I’d revealed my dark view of myself and the shame I’d felt about reacting defensively, my boyfriend shared similar reactions he’d had. This heart-opening interaction repaired the cracks in our partnership.
♥ Lesson #2 – Being authentic is healing
The resulting closeness and love that flowed from this conversation showed me that I was strong enough to express my deepest secrets and come out standing tall in my worthiness.
♥ Lesson #3 – Being vulnerable is empowering!
How do I manage my defensiveness today?
I still have defensive reactions, but I’m more aware of them now. I notice my racing heart, an angry swell in my gut, and a tensing of my stomach, neck and shoulders. These are clues that I am having a reaction and I must slow down and get present.
Slow, deep breaths are my access to being in the moment. As I breathe, I drop into my body and check in with my senses. What am I feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting right now? What is my intuition perceiving?
When I’m present, I can step away from the emotional surge and remember my commitment to healthy relationships and authentic communication. This allows me to shift to calm and defenseless.
WHAAAT!?! Defenseless, you ask? Yes, defenseless!
We make false assumptions about the motives of our friends, family, and colleagues that lead to unnecessary hurt and unhappiness. We suffer when we take their actions or comments personally.
The communications coming from others are not personal. Ever.
People are self-focused and ego-driven, and any attack (or perceived attack) on you or me is a projection of their own insecurities, fears and unhappiness. They’re having their own reactive response to some upsetting feeling. In other words, it’s about them.
We have no need to defend ourselves. It’s not about you or me.
A common misconception is that being defenseless equals weakness. Actually, defenselessness grants us strength; strength that comes from acknowledging our frailty, and presenting our imperfections as something deeply human which we all share. When we reveal our vulnerabilities, we awaken this humanness in others.
Being defenseless takes us out of the war and into creating kinship, affinity and grace.
When I am defenseless, I am able to have compassion for another person’s insecurities, vulnerability, and desires. I am able to stand in their shoes and see their reality. Only then am I able to respond from my higher self.
The self that knows I am worthy.
The self that genuinely cares about others and wants connection.
The self whose love knows no bounds.
After all, love is what it’s all about… and it must begin with me.
What happens when you’re being defensive? How does it impact your relationships? Please share in the comment box below.
Wow! I really felt the shoulder tension, the swelling in the pit of my stomach. You so keenly describe the things I feel when I react defensively, which seems to be so often in my relationships – even with my kids. My marriage, the trust & levels of communication are the complete opposite of what you have achieved in your new relationship. On a personal note, we still need that cup of coffee one of these days. Xo
You’re so in tune with your body sensations, Debi! Keep noticing your reactions. And yes let’s get that cup of coffee!
This was very moving and authentic. Looking this deep inside ourselves is so scary but you are leading the way with compassion and tenderness.