Being defensive means the walls of the castle are high, the alligators are in the moat & it is very unlikely you can take in another point of view. Protecting your point of view is really all that matters. Where are the archers & the guys with the vats of boiling oil?

Defensiveness makes it hard to be honest with yourself. Defensiveness means it’s harder to absorb honest feedback from others. Defensiveness means you easily & quickly feel “attacked” or misunderstood.

Defensiveness,self defense,the best defense,personal defense,personality disorder,manipulation
“It wasn’t alcoholism, it was self-defense.” from Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Defensiveness is all about not allowing anyone to add to our vast pile of insecurities.

The truth is: you don’t want to understand something about the dark side of yourself. The truth is: that you feel so bad inside you can’t tolerate adding anything more to the pile of bad. The truth is: that you’ve created a pile of beliefs about yourself over time and many of those beliefs distort your sense of self like water seeping into a badly built basement.

You’re overprotecting a pile of rot that ends up with you feeling fragile & full of defensiveness.

Growing up is honestly facing painful situations. It can be very painful to learn the details of your dark (or shadow) side. This is crucial to the process of learning how to develop character. Defensiveness prevents this from happening.

Integrity can only evolve through self confrontation.

Defensiveness is a skillful tool if it is chosen carefully. If you grow up with a critical parent then you can tune him/her out; and not absorbing it all is a good thing. I had a friend whose mother had Alzheimer’s and when she went to the day program she decided it was her job to be there and help out. Brilliant because instead of helpless & confined she felt useful.

Mental health means being choiceful, and there are times when defensiveness can be productive. There are many more instances when defensiveness interrupts personal growth.

When someone is very black and white in their thinking and feeling, it is another way of being chock full of defensiveness. “You’re either with me or against me” is the sum total of their experience in relationships. The reality is relationships are far more complicated than that.

Relationships require disagreements in order to remain authentic. People who are black and white in their thinking need to be right and never want to be questioned which is a very defensive position. This impairs any possibility of longevity. Relationships by their nature, require dialogue, instead of one person caving into the other’s long monologue.

Relationships mean incorporating two points of view. In between the black and white is the gray of compromise. In between the numbers 1 & 10 is the land of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 where problems are solved. It’s simpler when one person simply caters to another which is also more boring.

Defensiveness and black & white thinking/feeling go together hand and glove. It’s all about “I don’t want to think about the bad parts of me and I really don’t want to hear about it from you and maybe they’ll just go away.” We all can recognize that wishful thinking.

A constant refrain on this website is that love means growing into being a better person. Only through the pain of self-awareness is it possible to grow and change. Being defensive squelches feedback from others which is how we improve self awareness.

A fragile sense of self means you feel either good or bad about yourself. So you occasionally feel great and on top of the world and the good erases the bad. There is such a sense of relief.

Most often you feel the bad piled up erasing any possibility of good. Defensiveness is a way of preventing the pile of bad from becoming overwhelming.

Mental health, through self-awareness, means embracing both sides of yourself and knowing they are both always there. They quietly sit next to each other. They’re both part of all of us. The key is acceptance instead of the defensiveness of pretending the bad is not there.

Core Beliefs to Encourage Defensiveness:

Core beliefs lie at the heart of insecurity and self-hatred. Core beliefs feel deeply true. Feelings are not evidence of fact though we all lose sight of this truism.

Core beliefs are built within, based on many layers of experiences. So if you grow up with a parent who treats you badly and then go on to marry an active alcoholic, these experiences may feed on an inner belief of worthlessness.

Core beliefs can be changed with a lot of honest hard work. Old, stale beliefs deserve to be altered because they are defensive and preventing growth. Learning to think through your beliefs and interrupting them means moving to a more complex sense of self which embraces both the good and the bad within and being less defensive.

Core beliefs come in many shapes and sizes. Three examples:

  • “My feelings are in charge of me.”
  • “My worth depends only on what I can do for others.”
  • “My shame erases anything worthy.”

Core beliefs interfere with flexibility, adaptability and lie at the heart of being defensive.

Many partners set themselves up in bad marriages because unconsciously they know this person will help them maintain their self-hatred. This other person will add fuel to the fire and confirm their core beliefs.

There are core beliefs that feed manipulation like “I want to be loved no matter what.” People play games because it’s easier than being authentic. People refuse to even consider compromise or negotiation because they “must be right at all costs.” Core beliefs interfere with relationships being successful.

Core beliefs are broken down into seven categories. Skim through them to see which ones fit you. Remember, greater self-awareness of your dark side can lead to better relationships with others.

There is a wide range within these 9 personality categories. Some people have only 5% and some have 95% while most are somewhere in-between. My belief is that everyone favors some of these traits.

If you are in the 95% category then you most likely struggle with a personality disorder. People with personality disorders tend to find relationships mysterious because they spill over onto people with very little self awareness. Their level of self absorption strangles relationships.

The Healing Goals listed after each personality style are the opposite of the core beliefs listed. Knowing where you are lopsided is the start of the hard work of change. Having more range to the whole of who you are is the ultimate goal and you will be less defensive.

The Avoider Personality Defense:

I don’t want to be hurt, ever, because I really can’t bear it.
defensive,self defense,the best defense,personality disorder,manipulation
Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo
  • I only want to be in relationships with people who will always like me.
  • I can’t bear to be criticized.
  • Disagreement feels like an attack.
  • I know I’m not good enough.
  • Taking risks is to be avoided.
  • I’m scared of any conflict and avoid it at all costs.
  • I can’t really bear being judged.
  • I am extremely shy.
  • I’m afraid of being embarrassed and avoid any possibility of that.
  • I’m pretty isolated.
  • I can’t tolerate rejection.
  • I only like texting to communicate. I don’t want eye contact or telephone conversation.
  • I avoid finding a job because I am afraid of dealing with people I don’t know.
  • New situations make me feel bad about myself.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Learn to cope with being awkward and uncomfortable in small steps. Go to a party where you know some people & try talking to one person you don’t know.
  2. Make fear and worry bearable by thinking through these feelings more clearly. Very rarely are your fears accurate a majority of people are indifferent to you.
  3. Don’t indulge your negativity. Interrupt it & consider how fear distorts & contaminates everything.
  4. Learn how to soothe yourself. Try using a simple breathing exercise. Breathe in & out thru your nose & focus on the temperature difference.
  5. Learn to tolerate being judged, understand that you exaggerate all of this to yourself. Ask yourself how much do you judge to prematurely protect yourself.

The OCD Personality Defense:

I act right and the world would be a better place if everyone else did too
defensive,self defense,the best defense,defenses,personal defense,personality disorder,manipulation
  • Part of me enjoys punishing others because they don’t act right.
  • My “shoulds” hold my world together.
  • I like rules and order.
  • I don’t delegate to others very well.
  • Everyone should follow the rules.
  • Fun is really not that important in the overall scheme of things.
  • I don’t like getting rid of things.
  • Perfectionism is the right attitude.
  • Things are right or wrong, there is no gray area.
  • I can be extremely stubborn.
  • Everything must have its place.
  • Being “anal” keeps the messiness of life at bay and that’s a good thing.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Work to be less rigid by learning to imagine where the gray areas might be.
  2. Work to value greater flexibility and spontaneity. Say yes to something not planned.
  3. Learn to have greater compassion for others.
  4. Listen to someone else’s ideas and try to find merit in a new point of view.
  5. Value mistakes & vulnerability.

The Dependent Personality Defense:

Please take care of me
defensive,self defense,the best defense,personal defense,personality disorder,manipulation

If Cinderella had walked to the ball instead of depending on a pumpkin she could have stayed past midnight!

  • I can’t make decisions.
  • Other people seem so much more competent than I am.
  • I’m helpless & overwhelmed.
  • I feel so vulnerable in the world.
  • I lack courage.
  • I can’t get enough reassurance from others.
  • I’m afraid to disagree.
  • I can’t begin new things on my own.
  • I can’t bear to be alone.
  • If one relationship ends I have to lurch into another quickly.
  • The world is a dangerous place.
  • It’s important that other people support and nourish me. I count on it.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Learn to be OK when alone. Try a bargain matinee movie or an early meal at a restaurant.
  2. Establish more independence. Make some small decisions on your own & follow thru. If you like purple buy socks that color or paint your closet.
  3. Find out who you are separate from your relationship with others. Sign up for a class in something you are curious about. Take a drive somewhere no one else wants to go.
  4. Try to initiate some new ideas. If you would like to learn to cook risotto, find a recipe & go for it. Try disagreeing with a friend about something that matters to you.
  5. Do NOT leap from one love to another. Slow it down & date for a year or more.

The Narcissistic Personality Defense:

Please help me achieve success because I’m special.
defensive,self defense,the best defense,defenses,personal defense,personality disorder,manipulation
Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang
  • I really want others to admire me.
  • It’s hard to identify with or understand others’ feelings. I’m not empathic.
  • It’s hard to recover when I lose any success.
  • I think people envy me.
  • I deserve a lot in life.
  • I’m not really interested in others unless they are useful to me.
  • Others are generally less deserving and that’s why I should have more privileges.
  • I deserve financial success, power and perfect love.
  • I can be hypersensitive if disagreed with.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Learn to be have more empathy for others. Imagine their stories.
  2. Be more realistic instead of being overconfident. Accepting life on life’s terms.
  3. Give up your relentless standards. Expectations kill relationships.
  4. Accept being disagreed with. Disagreement is spice in a relationship.
  5. Develop the ability to be alone & without an audience. Try being an audience for someone else. Become a volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

The Borderline Personality Defense:

No one is allowed to leave me, no matter how I mistreat them.
defensive,defenses,personal defense,borderline personality disorder,manipulation
Winona Ryder suffers with Borderline Personality Disorder in this 1999 film, Girl, Interrupted
  • I can’t tolerate any rejection.
  • I have a profound sense of emptiness inside and feeling unable to have a sense of self.
  • I often feel abandoned by others.
  • I initially am very excited about who somebody is and then usually end up disappointed.
  • I can be impulsive in ways that can hurt me.
  • Relationships don’t seem to last very long.
  • I feel worthless.
  • The world should be a more generous and understanding place.
  • My feelings are very intense and I feel them very often. “I feel everything big.”
  • I have episodes of intense rage.
  • I can’t be alone. I’m only OK if I’m with someone else.
  • I feel abandoned.
  • I’m not lovable.
  • I should be loved no matter what.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Give up wanting to be rescued & begin to fill your own empty space inside.
  2. How can you think differently to not end up feeling great tragedy so easily. Begin by making a distinction between what’s bad, terrible & tragic.
  3. Learn to interrupt black/white thinking/feeling: It’s not accurate. Work on the gray.
  4. Intensity is not truth. Reduce your expectations which fuels the intensity.
  5. Remind yourself of previous consequences of your behavior. Your loneliness is connected to your own wanting to much from others & not enough from yourself.

Communication with someone with borderline personality disorder might improve with SET: Support, Empathy & Truth


The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Eggshells
by Randi Kreger

Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder by Shari Manning.

The Paranoid Personality Defense:

It’s important to keep myself safe; people are not trustworthy and the world is dangerous.
defensive,self defense,the best defense,personal defenses,defenses,personality disorder,manipulation
Richard Nixon
  • I’m suspicious of people around me.
  • I often feel unforgiving and punishing.
  • I keep grudges.
  • I doubt other people know how to be loyal.
  • I do not confide in others because what I share will be used against me.
  • I often feel attacked.
  • It is crucial to be independent because depending on others sets you up for trouble.
  • I believe others are most often to blame.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Attempt to allow small glimpses of vulnerability. Share a story with someone you suspect might be trustworthy.
  2. Learn to explore the beginnings of the idea that you are likely to be unnoticed more than attacked.
  3. Recognize your suspiciousness is exaggerated, whether it feels that way or not.
  4. Reduce anger, blame and grudges by learning truth is complicated & there really are two sides to every story.
  5. Consider the idea that life requires connections to be lived well & that your fears are exaggerated to keep you lonely.

The Hysterical Personality Disorder Defense:

Please pay attention to me.
defensive,the best defense,self defense,defenses,personality disorder
Scarlett O’Hara
  • I feel like the world is my stage.
  • I’m blessed.
  • I find my moods shifting rapidly.
  • Flirting is fun to play out.
  • There is a lot of drama in my life.
  • Often I struggle with feeling ill.
  • “Hissy fits” are a part of my life.
  • Some people may see me as a drama queen.
  • I identify with Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
  • I will not tolerate being or feeling invisible.
  • Other people easily influence me.

Healing Goals to be less Defensive

  1. Use thinking to defuse drama and learn to problem-solve instead.
  2. Worth can’t be based only on attractiveness. Determine what else makes you tick.
  3. Recognize that being impulsive has long term consequences.
  4. Learn to be more restrained when interacting & ask questions of others.
  5. Reduce emotionality by being less reactive. Consider thinking & feeling at the same time.

In Conclusion

Just a word about two other personality categories:

There are also schizoid personalities characterized by being very much like hermits. They don’t want to deal with relationships, consider them messy and too much trouble. People with this disorder seem very flat in their affect and are perceived as cold in nature.

Anti-social personalities are characterized by lacking remorse, they do not care about the suffering they cause others. These are people who often end up in prison. They lack a heart and do not have a desire to change. They love the power of manipulating others.