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Blog: A “Quick” Diagnosis of Defensiveness

By Dr. Laura on May 6, 2024
Man and woman face each other with their fists raised

What would make someone treat the love of his life with anger and defensiveness whenever she's critical of him regardless of the substance of that criticism? Fear. Fear of being left. Fear of losing out on the best thing that ever happened to him. That was the answer I gave on-air in response to my listener Paul's “quickie” email asking how he could change his reactive ways before he lost his sweetie.


You see, for some people, just the slightest bit of criticism gets their back up like a scared cat. I call it horriblizing – taking whatever the admonishment or critical communication is and pressing the panic button with thoughts like, “She doesn't love me as much anymore” and “I'm going to be left.”


When faced with criticism, Paul's instinct is to take a defensive posture, like a frightened cat would hiss and show his fangs. So what should people who react this way do differently?


Instead of responding out of emotion, try to deal with the content of the criticism. Calmly restate the communication like, “So, you're thinking I do XYZ. What would you rather I do instead?” If you did that without an emotional reaction, you'd show that you were listening instead of just acting defensively. You might even learn something about the person you're hoping to hold on to. You could then respond, “Ok give me some time to think about that.” No running away. No angry outbursts, just a mature, considerate and communicative response that shows you're willing to hear what she has to say. Be patient with yourself, practice this technique and let this new style of reacting to criticism save you from yourself.



Do you have a quick question you'd like to hear me answer on-air? Send an email to quickie@drlaura.com, and I may answer it during a future program.



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