11 Red Flags Reveal a Defensive Person (and how to deal with them)

11 Red Flags Reveal a Defensive Person (and how to deal with them)

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Each person is hardwired with a survival instinct to protect themselves. Sadly, some folks tend to have defensive behaviors that are in overdrive. Do you walk on eggshells around your partner because they’re always on guard and in defense mode?

Keeping your brain in a state of defense puts you on the offense, which means communication is challenging. Plus, these behaviors can be very harmful to the relationship.

Eleven Red Flags That Unmask a Defensive Person

The self-protecting impulse is normal, but why do some people tend to be more hyperactive with it than others? If you’re dating someone suffering from defensiveness, you need to learn how to help them dismantle it.

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If you want to connect healthily, you need to be free to communicate and explore one another. Here are eleven red flags that indicate a defensive person.

defensive person
1. A Defensive Person Wears Their Emotions on Their Sleeves

Someone who is overly defensive has their mind programmed to be in an overprotective mentality. Sadly, in many instances, the situation doesn’t warrant their response. These folks walk around with their figurative shields up and weapons drawn, but there isn’t a battle.

They become so upset over the smallest of things, and you may shut down and stop talking so that you don’t offend them any further. To handle this situation, you need to confront them about their overly sensitive nature. When communicating, make sure you talk through things and don’t leave anything up for interpretation.

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2. Refuses to Acknowledge Their Behaviors

Jesse was an eight-year-old foster child adopted into a loving home. As a defense mechanism, he learned that lying would get him out of trouble. Over the years, he would never acknowledge his behaviors as he didn’t want anyone to think ill of him.

However, his actions were laughable in adolescence, but the lies became more damaging as he grew. He would lie about anything and everything. He went through three wives and is estranged from his four children because he was always innocent and never acknowledged his behavior.

When you’re fighting a defensive person who has a troubled past, it’s something you cannot do alone. This person needs counseling to help rewire their brain. These habits don’t die easily, and they can make your life miserable.

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3. The Defensive Person Has an Exaggerated Startle Response

There is a reaction for every action, and this reaction is a combination of things like your self-esteem, temperament, and history. It would help if you remembered these facts when confronting your partner about anything. If they jump when you walk into a room, it’s clear they’re on edge.

According to the National Library of Medicine, having an exaggerated startle reflex is a big issue, and you often see this with people who have post-traumatic stress disorder. This is something that they need to work through in counseling, and you must learn how to approach them to try not to trigger the already overstimulated response.

4. Is Overly Defensive to Normal Disruptions

All relationships go through hard times, and everyone suffers from a breakdown of communication on occasion. For instance, you may ask your partner to pick up a dozen eggs on the way home from work, but they heard that you wanted milk instead. Rather than laughing off the simple mistake, they become irate and want to prove that you were the one in the wrong.

Okay, so they made their point that you were wrong. How do you handle the person who refuses to accept any responsibility, and is it worth arguing about? Is it worth an evening of arguing because you got milk instead of eggs? Letting go is the best thing you can do, but they need to work on that defensive attitude because it will get them into a lot of trouble.

5. Can’t Take Any Criticism

Being free to express anger and complaints is part of what makes a relationship work. However, what if your partner can’t take any criticism? Sitting calmly and quietly while you tell them about their faults is torture to the defensive person.

To handle this situation, you must learn to change your approach. First, you must learn to quiet the inner lawyer’s constant stream of banter that you’ve prepared. Second, you must ask yourself how you would want to be approached about the matter. The key is to get your point across without them taking their defensive nature into overdrive.

defensive person
6. A Defensive Person Carries Excessive Baggage From Their Childhood

Their childhood is a big indication of why you’re dealing with the issues of the defensive person. In many instances, they’ve been neglected, abused, or experienced trauma. The key is to get them to process the things that happened to them in the past, or they will never be able to move on and have a healthy future.

7. Their Protection Mode Overrides the Connection

Each human has both wirings for connection and protection within their brain. Once the honeymoon is over in a relationship, you learn to make a sustainable connection. However, with this person, their defensive nature overrides the connection you’ve developed.

As a natural defense, you want to protect yourself from their insinuations and accusations. To fix this issue, you must tap into your coexistent desire to connect. Try to remember the first stage of “puppy love” you experienced when you met and remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place.

8. Smolders With Resentment

Does your partner tend to sweep issues under the rug rather than deal with them? While that’s a great short-term fix, it’s not going to help you in the long run. How can a wound heal if it’s always covered up?

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A relationship with lots of pent-up anger will begin to smolder. The key in this situation is to handle the issue first and try not to bury things.

9. Engages in the “Conflict Cycle.”

An ideal conflict occurs when someone protests something, and then you work on a repair solution. However, when someone is stuck in a conflict cycle, they want to do things like:

  • Connect
  • Explode
  • Walkout
  • Fix
  • Reconnect

They add unnecessary steps into a dispute that make conflict resolution challenging. How can you build the resiliency of the relationship if you can’t resolve anything? The key to dealing with this situation and the defensive person is to never punish or shame them for how they feel or act.

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Instead, you want to show them a better way to resolve issues. Let them know they’re safe, to be honest, and acknowledge how they feel. Take the reason for the defensive nature away and allow them to experience freedom.

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10. The Defensive Person Withdraws and Disconnects Often

If your partner feels you’re a threat to them, they will naturally withdrawal to protect themselves. Sadly, this will only create more trouble for your relationship. Their vulnerability comes from being hurt by someone they loved before.

Don’t let them isolate themselves over something silly. Instead, find a way to communicate and work through these feelings. They may be apprehensive and feel you’re going to hurt them initially. Thankfully, once you do it a few times and put them at ease, they will realize you have their best interests at heart.

11. Never Gives the Benefit of the Doubt

If your partner is late coming home from work, you should be able to express that you’re upset because dinner is cold. They should have called you rather than leaving it up in the air. You give your partner the benefit of the doubt because you know they were caught in traffic or late at the office.

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However, if the roles are reversed, they would be suspicious of you and fuming mad. When they blow up at you and act furious over a simple misunderstanding, then you need to ask them questions like:

  • “How can I handle this situation better next time?”
  • “What do you think is a viable solution?”

By asking questions on how to fix it, you lessen their defenses and input how to handle things.

defensive person
Final Thoughts on Identifying a Defensive Person

Everybody has a defense system that helps protect them in life. For some folks, their system is in overdrive, which makes them overly defensive person. While you love them and want to be with them, there is much work to do to make a situation like this work.

In most cases, an overly defensive individual is someone who’s gone through some challenging things in life. According to Psychology Today’s David Woodsfellow Ph.D., it’s one of four issues that lead to divorce. The next time there’s a concern that needs to be discussed, try starting soft with them.

Please don’t come in yelling and raising the roof, blowing them out of the water. Remember that a kind word can turn away wrath. It doesn’t mean that these issues should be pushed under the rug; quite the contrary.

You must adjust your approach to them so that you can try to avoid triggering their defensive system any more than it already is. Lastly, you need counseling as a couple and individually to deal with all these matters if you want to make your relationship work.

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Deborah is a full-time editor, blogger, and children's book author. Her book series helps children with anxiety overcome the challenges in everyday life using kindness and courage. She holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Secondary Education English and a Spanish minor from the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. When she's not working on one of her many writing projects, you will find Deborah working in her herb garden. She is currently completing her master herbalist certification and can't wait to share the knowledge.

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