Tame Your Defensiveness

If you find yourself jumping down someone’s throat when there’s even a hint of accusation, it might be time to take a closer look. It’s easy to get defensive, especially if you feel unappreciated, attacked or unsupported. But this reaction is a lose-lose proposition that will damage your relationships, along with your self-respect.

Keep in mind that defensiveness is a form of self-protection. It’s a valid attempt to preserve your self-esteem and explain your perspective. But even if stemming from a protective instinct, defensiveness is much less empowering than a calm, open response.

What Leads to Defensiveness?
Hearing negative feedback is never easy. Yet criticism is especially demoralizing if you’re trying really hard and have the best of intentions. Feeling misunderstood or defeated are common for those with ADHD when an oversight occurs despite great effort. It’s natural to jump to your own defense.

Guilt and shame are other causes. If you’re aware of your shortcomings, having them pointed out is painful – like salt in a wound that makes you want to lash out.

Being treated like a child is another trigger. No one wants to be undervalued or disrespected, yet it’s easy to fall into a parent-child dynamic when one party is consistently more on top of things than the other.

Avoid this Cycle
Instead of a starting in on a defensive rampage, imagine remaining calm and receptive. Now picture doing so even (and especially) when you feel misunderstood, underappreciated, frustrated or blamed. It’s powerful!

To help you do so, remember that the other person has a point, just like you do – even if it’s hard to hear at the time. We all have our own versions of reality, along with our feelings about them! While you ultimately may not be able to change how others talk to you, you can decide to respond differently.

STEPS to Eliminate Defensiveness

Remember that people with ADHD have a tendency to respond impulsively, especially when triggered. Consider these commonly occurring thoughts that arise when confronted:
“She thinks I’m an idiot and I’m not!”
“I feel guilty that I forgot but he’ll get angry if I admit it.”
“She’s so righteous when she points out my mistakes that I just want to scream.”
“Hearing all the ways I fall short makes me feel like a failure.”
 “I can’t stand that I messed up again and I just don’t want to face it.”

Remind yourself that a defensive response begins a spiral of anger, greater distance… and (later) guilt about how you handled the situation. Instead, FLIP your typical response by saying, ‘I hear you’. You might even join in, by adding, “OMG, I did it again, how unbelievable!” This gets you on the same page. Others will be surprised, and while they might add in a few more digs to get their point across, your agreeable response will disarm them. Remember that others have a legitimate need be heard!

While a quick explanation might be helpful, going on too long can feel like an excuse to others. Remember that others need to be heard and that focusing on your experience only detracts from their need. At the same time, you have a right to speak up if you disagree. Just time it such that you have listened first, and then share your concern calmly.

If you agree with the feedback, then thank others for letting you know. By speaking up, the people in your life are being direct, which, when you respond favorably, can reduce resentment later on.

5. DO SOMETHING TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION IF THE CRITICISM IS VALIDThis is tricky but necessary to avoid doing the same thing again and again. You’ll likely find that it’s easier to address the issue at hand once the defensiveness is gone! If you don’t know how to change, ask for the other person’s suggestion, teaming up to find a solution.

Living with ADHD requires a certain level of acceptance. Despite all the strategies and efforts to be on top of things, there will be times you will be inconsistent. Educate the people in your life about ADHD so they understand how your brain works. When they see that you are equally frustrated and want to change, together you can come up with ways to deal with these issues in the future.

Additional points to keep in mind:

  • Watch for any tendency to make excuses, deny the facts, or blame others for being unreasonable – you’ve been triggered!
  • When you feel your hackles going up, that’s the sign to STOP engaging. Stall with a comment such as, “I hear you and need to think for a minute.”
  • If a comment is said in a way that makes you feel belittled, say something about it. First, receive the content of what was said; then let others know how their wording or tone felt to you.
  • See the humor. If asked why you left your car keys in the refrigerator, laugh at the absurdity!
  • If you try these techniques and are still met with anger, resentment may have built up for too long. If it’s hard for you to live with ADHD symptoms — it’s likely hard for the people in your life as well! Professional help may be needed to get on the same page.

You’ve likely had the defensive habit for a very long time. Let’s face it; these responses are an effective, though undesirable, solution to get people off your back so you might be a little reluctant to stop!

Learning to live non-defensively is a powerful step well within your control.  It takes some practice and might even feel a little strange at first. But being able to listen to feedback and remain open can improve your relationships and will bring a great sense of empowerment to your life.