You were born with the innate ability to protect yourself. Your internal wiring tells you whether you need to fight or flight. Being defensive allows you to safeguard yourself in the face of danger, but sometimes, your senses kick into overdrive. When you’re always in survival mode, your brain is in a state of defense or you deny responsibility for your actions. In turn, this can cause those around you to walk on eggshells. These behaviors are challenging to deal with, but it’s even worse when someone is being defensive in a relationship.
When you’re always on guard, you’re unable to communicate, live mindfully, and enjoy the company of others.
Ten Common Causes of a Defensive Person
Why are some people so ready to jump on the defense bandwagon than others? Have you noticed that you tend to have your guard up more than you like? Here are ten common reasons someone lets their defensiveness interfere with their life.
1. A Defensive Person May Have an Underlying Anxiety Disorder
There are several types of anxiety disorders, and each one of these disorders can impact you significantly. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one such condition that puts you in a defensive mode. PTSD is often known as being shell-shocked, affecting soldiers or those who had been through incredible traumas.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can develop PTSD from genetic links, traumatic events, or another mental illness. With anxiety, your senses heighten, and you live most of your life waiting for the next catastrophic event.
It’s challenging to be in a relationship with someone with PTSD, as you may feel that you’re always walking on eggshells. Even simple things like having music or TV too loud can intensify their anxiety. Thankfully, many beneficial treatments help those with PTSD live their everyday lives.
2. Poor Self-Esteem May Cause Someone to Be Defensive
People who have poor self-esteem tend to be especially sensitive. Things like walking through the mall might be challenging when you think all eyes are on you. When folks feel they are less than others or stand out from the crowd, it causes them to put on their defensive shield.
According to Medical News Today, a borderline personality disorder can alter your self-image and cause you to feel that everyone is out to get you. There’s a lot of denial about this condition too, but seeking help is the best way to combat this mental concern.
However, not everyone who has a poor self-image struggles with mental illness. Often the events of the past can dictate the present. It’s essential to love yourself as it effects so much in your life.
3. Feeling Vulnerable
Karen was bullied in school. There wasn’t a day when someone didn’t call her a horrible name, and she dreaded each day. Her parents were less supportive, often telling her that she needed to toughen up.
When she reached adulthood, having a healthy relationship with anyone was challenging. Karen felt uncomfortable when she was alone with anyone as she was responsible for communicating and opening up to them. She tried to hide her scars like battle wounds, but she was so afraid of being made fun of that she lived in a state of defensiveness.
People often become wary when they’re outside their comfort zone. However, you are responsible for working through these issues to have friendships and romantic relationships that keep you fulfilled.
4. Feeling Manipulated
No one likes to be a puppet on a string. Being manipulated can cause someone to be too defensive towards others. When you’ve been taken advantage of, it’s only natural to put up your guard to protect yourself from being hurt again.
It’s good to set healthy boundaries, but you can’t think that every person is out to harm you. The worst thing you can do is to resort to passive-aggressive defense mechanisms to try to defend yourself. Healthy communication is the key to resolving all issues. Additionally, it would help if you learned when situations are toxic and you need to move on.
5. Refuses To Be Accountable or Take Responsibility
Some folks refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They live in denial about everything, making it challenging to be around this person. Someone who can’t admit their wrong will often become very defensive about anything and everything.
The truth is they need to justify their actions, so they create a scenario in their mind that brings the justification they need. For instance, Cindy had an affair with her husband. She knew it was wrong, but she felt justified in her decision because he worked long hours.
In her mind, she knew that if she could blame the situation on him, she wouldn’t be consumed with guilt. It would be much easier to admit she did wrong, ask for his forgiveness, and decide if she wanted to stay or go.
6. Trauma and Abuse in Childhood Can Cause a Defensive Personality
Children who’ve been through abusive upbringings often will keep up their guard to protect themselves. These people fear the sky will crash, so they’ve learned to be on guard.
According to the Innocent Lives Foundation, abuse rewires the brain, and the person who’s suffered from such things won’t think or react like everyone else.
The hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are all affected by trauma, and it can take a lifetime to repair the damage from one single event. Be kind, as someone who is too quick to put up their guard may be acting from past trauma that’s inhibiting their life.
7. Taking Responsibility Is a Learned Behavior
Your childhood taught you many things, but did you also learn how to be defensive towards others? Some parents inadvertently teach their children things by allowing them to observe their behaviors. Some parents lack responsibility or the ability to overcome trauma. If your mom or dad had insecurity issues, an anxiety disorder, or had been through a trauma, they might have been overly cautious.
While they didn’t mean to transfer these behaviors onto you, it’s something you picked up over the years. Take, for instance, Tommy. Every time the doorbell rang, his mom would go and hide.
When he was a toddler, he would go with his mother to hide in another room whenever someone came to the door. Now, Tommy is 25 years old and still feels the need to run and hide when the doorbell rings. It’s not that he had anything to fear, but he is only reacting based on learned behaviors.
His mother ran from the doorbell because she was robbed one night and couldn’t get past the trauma. Tommy was following his mother’s lead, but he has a great responsibility to his family to ensure he doesn’t pass this behavior on to them. Counseling is a great tool to work through learned behaviors you may not understand.
8. Hiding The Truth
Covering a lie will undoubtedly bring up someone’s defensive nature. When a person becomes moody or dismissive when confronted about a situation, it’s usually because there’s something to hide.
Remember the writings of Shakespeare when he stated, “the lady doth protest too much.” Someone overly defensive about a situation is usually trying to cover something up.
9. Guilt or Remorse
There’s not a person alive who hasn’t made a mistake. Some people will live in denial about these issues, but it’s best if you stand up and take responsibility for these actions. This can cause many problems if you have unresolved feelings.
Take, for instance, Jean. She is a workaholic who rarely spends time with her family. She tries to be a good mother but feels terrible guilt that she’s at work for 12 hours a day. Jean hasn’t been to one of her daughter’s many school events, which is a sore spot for her family.
Jean automatically becomes defensive when anyone mentions lousy parenting or not being there for their kids. She uses her guilt-ridden defenses, even if people aren’t talking about her situation. It would help if she could forgive herself for the past, try to do better in the future, and be there for her kid.
Consequently, whenever any parenting subject arises, the intense guilt becomes unbearable. Guilt is just an indication that you need to fix something. In this instance, the decision is Jean’s, and she has the power to change the future.
10. Defensive Behavior Can Stem From All or Nothing Thinking
Some folks only see things as all or nothing, and they can’t see the middle ground. If these individual feels judged unfairly by others, it can cause their defense mechanisms to go wild. Suppose you told your spouse it was their turn to do the dishes because you’ve done them for the past two days.
They automatically jump into defense mode. They feel attacked because they feel you’re saying they’re not holding up their end of the housework. You’re not saying that at all, but you want some help.
The problem is that they lash out because they are frustrated and know they can improve, but they feel you’re judging them. Finding good ways to communicate without being on guard is essential in any relationship.
Final Thoughts on Taking Responsibility for Your Behaviors Without Being Defensive
It’s challenging to figure out people, primarily when each person communicates their defensiveness in various ways. Some will use denial or responsibility for their actions, while others will become aggressive or show oppositional behaviors. Then there are the folks who have righteous indignation, even though they’re clearly in the wrong.
When someone is overly cautious and always seems to have their guard up, you can rest assured there is a reason for these actions. If it’s you or a close family member, counseling or learning effective boundaries can help resolve some of these defensive behaviors.