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My Defensive behaviour

Community Member

Hey all,


I have been on a self growth journey for the past few years. I have changed in many ways which is good.


Recently, I have become more aware of it how defensive I become, and how it can affect other people and my partner. I get defensive + other emotions when other people are upset with me, when i think other people MIGHT be upset with me, or if I am being corrected, disciplined at work. 


Recently my partner is quite stressed, and he doesnt share with me why which is fair. I was concerned that he felt he couldnt, so got defensive about it and all it did was cause him more stress, and my stubborness made it really difficult for me to have compassion which is just not right, bevause I was too scared of all the reasons why he didnt share with me, and it was me being quite selfish / self-centred. 


The emotions cloud my rational thought processes, and then I loose the information that I require to rationally process my behaviour and the issue at hand. 


How would I go about working through this? I want to be able to be there for my partner without all these emotions coming in. I want to be able to take on criticism and use it as a tool. 

7 Replies 7

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi, welcome


You actually have a gift, that is- self assessment and drive to improve. The only risk that this can sometimes result in is it being seen as a weakness and a partner taking advantage of that so just FYI.


I'm defensive also. I am well aware that a domineering/narcissistic mother caused the problem from a young age. What made it worse was that she also possessed nurturing so that conflicted with the nasty side and caused me to feel often guilty, Very complex but it feels good knowing the origin. Also something to ponder as our childhood and/or previous relationships, trauma etc can and usually do make up our personality.


The problem with reactive behaviour is that it is usually automatic, reaction are immediate. So they are not easily changed in our make up. My wife can be reactive also and we have developed a plan to combat it. Well, when we react quickly and raise our voice the other person says "hey, please dont raise your voice" and that person simply says "sorry" and we move on. It can be that simple. It is a way of accepting ourselves for the warts and all that we have rather than expectations of perfection. This is the key to the issues you are experiencing.


As for loosing information write it down. When we write it is visibly seen and stored more easily.


Men are different to women so your partner not sharing is quite common. I'm not saying its ideal but we tend to compare our partners to how we conduct ourselves where we should accept and allow our partners to react the way they feel best as in terms of comfort. Not much verbal can be a means to contain what he might project as an argument, especially if it happened recently on the same topic. That is fine, when we let things go when it just isnt worth seeking the perfect relationship. A rubbery fluid relationship is the best you can get where you let go of the warts and embrace the hugs. Silence however can be used as a weapon, that is only relevant if they dont talk and they know you are suffering because of such silence, not the case here.


Here is a link that might help with disputes.



As for self growth let me praise you for that effort. Life can be an amazing tripand I began by new journey some decades ago. Here is a post that might indeed change you life, it was writtren many years ago, seek the link inside it and enjoy the works of Prem Rawat Maharaji on many youtube videos.








Thanks Tony!


Yeah I have been slowly learning and growing over the past 4/5 years, after I left a very toxic relationship (that went both ways). I am now 28 and really am starting to wake up to alot of my behaviours.


I am incredibly grateful for my partner now, he is a beautiful man who is driven, supportive, fun and just makes me feel warm and happy. We are nearing 3 years together, and I just seem to be constantly falling more inlove with him.

This defensive reaction of mine I think does stem from my childhood. I had a rough go at school, bullied alot when I was young and we moved around a few times, so had to pick up and restart alot with making friends, which was difficult because of my intorverted nature. 

Mum was emotionally absent and Dad was verbally abusive and an alcoholic. (He is now my best friend, he got them help he needed and we are very close). 

My mum is still very much self-centred and doesnt really talk to me much, and when she does, she isnt overly interested in hearing about me, just talking about herself and her life. 

First boyfriend when I was 15-18 cheated on me a few times, and I was unhealthily obsessed with him. He compared me to other girls sometimes. Other than that he was funny and nice. 


Second boyrfriend, 19-23, was a pothead, i fell into that daily ritual too. We would have massive screaming matches. He would yell at me for being lazy and not doing things etc. I sold my piano that my dad gifted me to pay for more weed. It was horrible. One day I just stopped because i didnt want it anymore, it wasnt who I was, and then the veil lifted and I realised i didnt know him nor did I even like him - so I packed all my stuff and left when he was at work. I still feel bad about how that would have hurt him, but I was scared to say to his face, and being around him made me feel sick. 


I am wondering if maybe my defensiveness comes from a fear of abandonment? 

Well as lived experience Community Champions we arent qualified to assess the abandonment question. However certainly your past experiences would have had a big effect, some positive (eg meeting a better kind of guy) and some negative eg defensive. It all depends on the severity of the problems on your relationship. Most times time heals and we tend to laugh at our past which I'm sure one day you will.


Parental issues, well eg I had a wonderful father that worked so many hours I barely saw him. Bipolar was in all of us 3 kids but not realised until decades later etc. But childhood trauma, had that once when my brother had a seizure in our pool that effected me forever. So yes, your defensiveness can follow you around forever and if severe seek therapy if not then seek that flexibility and co understanding with your partner towards acceptance for your individual quirks.


My wife and I developed a system when we joke about things. Eg I'm the cook at home, I love it. Every time a meal is served, whatever she is doing she wont drop it and come to the table, she has to complete the task at hand eg hanging up clothes even though they wont leave the area on their own while she eats lol. Today at lunch I made hamburgers and yes I always go to a great effort. 5 minutes before ready I forgot to yell out ":its ready"... this usually allows for her delaying habit. So I ate my burger and then she arrived. "Oh, you've eaten already" .. "yeh, but I had wonderful conversation with Daisy so you werent missed". Daisy our puppy. We both laughed then I told her I forgot my trick of calling for her 5 minutes early.


Really these imperfections arent a big deal and developing a joke around these things will prepare you for a wonderful older age with the same person. It is so often now that I laugh to myself when these things happen eg "the Debbie door" is the only door she slams in the house... dont know why, but early on I misinterpreted it to her being angry with me. "there goes the Debbie door again".  lol. So recently I told her I'll tickle her everytime she slams it. But I delay cause I know she is now doing it on purpose lol.


It's been lovely talking and I hope you have got some value out of this. I'm here daily, so anytime post away.


Its not the gate that is amusing

its the squeak of its hinges

for without that squeak

its isnt home...


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi Claremary


You're an amazing person, being so determined to become more conscious as you go along through life, for your own sake and the sake of others. This 'becoming more conscious' business is so much hard work at times, hey. I can recall, when I was younger, thinking how much I wanted to be a highly conscious person, believing it was going to make me all zen-like and blissfully happy. Truth is that while the revelations that positively raise us can have a happy zen-like vibe to them in some ways, in other ways waking up can kinda feel like a form of torture at times. It's tough stuff.


When it comes to better understanding myself, I found a helpful book to be 'Insanely Gifted: Turn Your Demons Into Creative Rocket Fuel' by Jamie Catto. Catto offers the idea that we are multifaceted. With there being so many facets that go toward making up who we are, the question can sometimes be 'Which facet of myself am I dealing with?'. I have a facet of myself which I sometimes fondly refer to as the 'Intolerant Cow' in me. She is a take no prisoners facet of myself. She'll tell it how it is and question without fear, which a can sound a little like 'Do you know what's leading you to be such a ********? I know you're a ******** because I can feel it'. Coupled with my inner sage that may insist 'Tone it down so no bridges are burned here', the intolerant cow in me can be tamed. Catto would be inclined to ask when the cow first came to life and what triggers it to come back to life in certain cases. While I used to see it as a horrible part of myself, what I came to release is...it is the part of me that is my greatest defender. It is also the defender of others too. It will be triggered through intolerance. Whether someone else or myself is being abused in some way, for example, I can feel it coming to life as it rises through anger. If I need it at times, I may even channel it by working up to a positive and constructive sense of anger. The key is...it has to always be coupled with some other facet of myself that keeps the reigns on it. What brought it to life in the first place involved me reaching the point of no longer being able to tolerate abusive, insulting, degrading, self serving, depressing, highly stressful people. So you could say it came to life to serve me.


The defender or warrior in us can be a fierce facet to deal with. It really can be a 'go on the attack, take no prisoners, fight to the death' part of us. How to tame it, how to use it or channel it when need be, how to get it to stand down, how to love it for serving you, how to talk to it and listen to it and how to breathe through some of the rage that comes with it are just a handful of the many things that come with proudly and happily living with it and even relying on it.

Community Member


Thank you for sharing your story with us.


You are not alone. I am/have been in a similar boat regarding defensiveness, rejection sensitivity and abandonment wounds. There are so many factors that play into these deeply embedded responses, including earlier development and attachment. Although, this isn't everything. It is of course individual. There are certain differences and conditions that can lead to these default responses and behaviours e.g., ADHD (namely Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria), Borderline Personality Disorder, experiences of trauma etc. Not sure if any of these apply (and that is your business) but worth mentioning as some of this exploration may be warranted to help to understand yourself better and your needs. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Dependent Personality a few years ago and then ADHD last year - personally, I found this diagnostic clarity to be sooo healing and helpful forr me in better understanding my unique needs and why I do what I do sometimes. Diagnosis is not everything nor is it helpful to all - this is for you to consider based on your own individual needs. It can just be a piece in the puzzle for understanding yourself better.


Based on my own journey thus far, this is what I feel and have found helpful......


The first step to embarking on this journey of inner work is AWARENESS and INSIGHT. It sounds like you have these. Your insight and willingness to do the work is such a strength. Remind yourself of this. Defensiveness and reactivity in communication are conditioned stress responses based on earlier development, life experiences, attachments and relationships. It is not your fault, do not shame yourself, this is to be expected and natural.


Next is INTROSPECTIVE REFLECTION and LEARNING more about yourself and how this conditioning has played out in your life domains e.g., relationships, work, family, communication style etc. You have described some of this. Then, what is your desired outcome instead? How can you go about achieving these? Try to break that goal (e.g., communicating openly without becoming defensive) down to smaller bite size chunks into tasks of how you can go about this. I would suggest your partner also needs to come onboard for this. It takes two to tango, and not only is it helpful to have his support along the way, but he may also have some work to do with regards to supporting you in a way that you respond best to and is less likely to give rise to defensiveness. Gentle and intentional conversations about how you are each feeling e.g. "When you do this.... it makes me feel like this....." the action/behaviour is the trigger for the response as opposed to blaming the person. This could lead to receiving defensiveness back, which is counterproductive to your goal of reducing defensiveness. It sounds like some work in assertive (but respectful) communication would be useful here including "fighting fair." 

I have personally used these in my relationship and through my own personal inner work and found it to be very helpful in 'training' me to re-frame and relate differently interpersonally with less defensiveness.


Another thing that may be useful to learn about and be more attuned to is your own personal ATTACHMENT STYLE. This can be handy for further context and background understanding of how and why we view things the way we do (like relationships, communication) and subsequently how and why we respond by default in certain ways. There are some great online resources on how attachment style affects relationships and you can do a quick quiz (free) to find out what your attachment style is, in conjunction with suggestions and recommendations on how you can navigate this for yourself and your relationship with your attachment style in mind. This clarity can also be really validating, I found that it was for me.


To be continued below.....

Community Member



I too have difficulties with reactivity and emotional regulation, mostly owing to my relational and interpersonal trauma. I have found that MINDFULNESS and GROUNDING are really helpful when I am in the red zone communicating with my partner, to bring me into the present moment and to help support regulation. For example:


  • Leaves on a Stream meditation: a mindfulness based meditation taken from ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) designed to help us notice thoughts without fusing or attaching to them 
  • REGULATE: identify each other's needs in conflict e.g. one of you may need space to regulate, and the other needs closeness. Then come up with a plan of how you will meet these needs positively through strategies that work for you. This grounding and regulation is important so that you both can come back together and communicate in a non-reactive way to achieve your desired outcomes from the interaction. I have found free emotion regulation toolkits online to be really helpful. Adults need calm down corners too! (I have one that I love)
  • In the moment, grounding strategies can be really helpful. It's up to you to find what works for you.

Another factor to consider for difficulties with reactivity and communication can include DISTRESS TOLERANCE. This is a concept taken from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) where you are supported to learn and refine skills for coping with uncomfortable emotions, to help cope and survive during a crisis, and to tolerate short/long term pain (physical or emotional). The goal of distress tolerance is to distract the mind just long enough to intervene in an emotional response to a stressful situation - “The goal is to just not make it worse.”

(Source: Empowered Life Counselling)


I recommend having a read of the DBT 'ACCEPTS' distress tolerance. 'Wise Mind ACCEPTS' is the acronym used for remembering strategies for redirection and learning to sit with and manage difficult emotions. 

A - Activities

Get physically busy e.g., hobbies, chores, listen to music. Anything to mindfully distract and detach.

C - Contributing

Helping others helps us to feel good while also distracting us enough to calm down

C - Comparisons

Compare the situation now to a time when things were worse to regain gratitude

E - Emotions

Act opposite to your emotion. Watch a funny video to combat sadness, find a calm place to relieve anxiety

P - Pushing Away

Take total control of your thoughts, like writing on paper and then shredding it. Push away what doesn't serve you.

T - Thoughts

Try a puzzle or word game to distract the mind and give space to process the newfound stress.

S - Sensations

Use physical sensation to snap you out of the stress and momentarily distract you e.g., run your hands under cold water and notice the sensation, smell a fresh scent.

(Source: Empowered Life Counselling)

to be continued below...

Community Member

Continued from previous comment.....


I would also suggest perhaps some input and support by a professional on an individual and/or couples level such as therapy to walk along this journey with you. Sometimes this can be inaccessible and unaffordable (I know this from own experience) so you can also access free resources online and services like free counselling from your local community organisations like Anglicare and Relationships Australia. Therapists and counsellors all practice with different approaches and modalities, so be patient with finding the right fit for you as well as therapy approach. Listen to your gut about how a therapist is helping you (or not) and don't just settle for anyone. I would suggest someone who practices with a cognitive- and dialectical behavioural lens with experience in relationships, communication styles, and attachment would be useful here.


Lastly, remind yourself that you are not alone, how you are feeling is valid and natural, and give yourself permission. Accept without judgment. Your responses to things is a message to you, be sure to listen to it. There is so much learning, growth, and healing if you see it as an opportunity. Be patient, honour the process, reach out to supports through your journey, and be sure to be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion! There are lots of resources on the web. Never underestimate the value of this! It has done wonders for me and pulled me out of a slump when having difficulties in my relationship and communication.


I wish you all the very best, and hope that you are able to find some of this info and resources helpful.


Please reach out if you would like to chat further, I am more than happy to. Take care.


(PS Sorry about the essay, this is an area I am very passionate about!)