Today’s meditation opens with a quote to which I very much relate: “I’m defensive even when what’s going on has nothing to do with me. I just know I must be wrong somehow.” That insistence that we must be wrong, regardless of whether or not we know how, underpins the feelings of inadequacy that define defensiveness. A defensive person is one who attempts to justify, defend, or otherwise protect themselves from criticism and attack. When we constantly feel as though we are not good enough or we are always wrong, we become hyper-sensitive to criticism. We believe that any hint or suggestion of advice implies an unspoken criticism that lies beneath the surface. We take the critiques of others as proof of our incompetence and ineptitude. We are always trying to justify our existence to ourselves and others, because we don’t really believe that we deserve to exist.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Being on the defensive is part of this cunning, baffling, powerful, and patient disease. If somebody offers some advice or constructive criticism, we immediately feel we are being attacked and need to defend ourselves. Or we feel we must always apologize when anything goes wrong. If it is going wrong, it must be our fault. Sometimes we almost seem to be apologizing for our very existence. It’s as if we don’t have a right to exist.
Our defensiveness, like our other character defects, will lessen as we progress in our recovery. We have but to follow the Twelve-Step program and do our work.”
It’s interesting to finally realize that the reason I am so apologetic is because of my lack of self-esteem. I believe I am always wrong, I don’t know best, I am incapable of doing things myself and doing them right… therefore, anything that goes wrong must surely be my fault. I take personal responsibility for any misfortunate or unhappiness that befalls the people around me, regardless of whether or not I am actually to blame. Defensiveness, it seems, is my natural state of being. I feel threatened or attacked as soon as someone points out a minor flaw or suggests there might be a better way to do something. I view any such comments as proof of my inability and shortcomings. I am flawed, I am not perfect, and I hate to be reminded of it. Defensiveness, though, does not define me; it is not who I am. It is merely a sign of my addictive disease of perfectionism. If I wasn’t so hung up on ideas of perfection, if I was a little kinder and cut myself some slack now and then, I might be more open to feedback from others. I would be willing to take some criticism now and then, without taking offense or feeling the need to defend myself as if from an attack. It’s not a crime to be imperfect; it’s just human nature. We can learn from our mistakes, but only if we’re willing to hear out the people who point them out to us.