DEFENSIVENESS & SHAME
Are you feeling defensive lately?
Are you afraid of being called out, or maybe you have been called out and think you’ve been misinterpreted or misunderstood?
Defensiveness and fear are very common when we gain new awareness.
But they happen all the time in other contexts too. Maybe it’s not a comment about current events on social media, but feedback from your boss, or criticism from your partner.
No matter what the cause, defensiveness can teach us something important if we delve into the thoughts that are creating it.
We tend to think we feel defensive because other people are wrong about us – that they’re misunderstanding us or misconstruing our intentions.
But in fact, defensiveness doesn’t come from thinking other people are wrong about us.
We feel defensive when we fear they are RIGHT.
Agreement, though, is the opposite of defensiveness. So why would subconscious agreement give rise to feeling defensive?
Because it’s being filtered through SHAME.
And shame is what makes us want to hide or lash out.
Let me give you an example from my own life:
The past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed myself feeling defensive and afraid of being called out about certain actions or inactions when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equity in my coaching and my business.
But contrary to what you’d predict, my defensiveness wasn’t really tied to areas where I have experienced external criticism.
For example, I can acknowledge that there are valid reasons for people to critique my decision to address white people’s feelings in some of my anti-racism content. But because I have explored my reasons for doing so and made a conscious decision to show up in this way, I don’t feel defensive when someone calls me out on it.
On the other hand, I have experienced a lot of anxiety and fear and defensiveness around the mere possibility of being called out for not having enough diversity and inclusion on my team, or having not talked about racial justice as often as I could have in the past.
Because these are places I actually AGREE I should have been doing better and – until a few days ago when I worked this out – hadn’t yet taken action to remedy my mistakes. No one had even called me out on these things, but because I subconsciously knew I hadn’t shown up in full alignment with my values yet, I was feeling ashamed – and so I was feeling defensive.
Defensiveness can be particularly tricky, because it can feel like we are standing up for ourselves from an attack. “Defend” is literally written into the word.
But actually, the opposite is true.
When we lash out or hide, when we give into our shame and defensiveness, we cut ourselves off from growth.
Because truly having our own backs means never making ourselves feel that we are unworthy as a human, no matter what our blind spots have been, no matter how much we’d like to change, no matter what others are saying about us.
It also means being open to learning.
When we allow our defensiveness and shame to go unchecked, we make loving ourselves contingent on whether we are “right” or “wrong.”
But when we can remove the shame and look clearly at whatever triggered our defensiveness? When we can commit to having our own backs no matter what?
That’s when we can ask ourselves, “If I knew I was allowed to love myself no matter what, what would I want to think and feel about this tender area?”
That question will change everything.
When I asked myself that question, I was able to see that I was out of alignment with my beliefs and values. I was able to see that prioritizing racial justice in my business and my life were important to me, and I was able to start the work of doing more to align my actions with my values.
So if you notice yourself feeling defensive, I want you to consider that your defensiveness is both a signal and an invitation.
It’s a signal that you are experiencing shame, that you’re believing that if what you’re being called out for (internally or externally) is true, it means that you are wrong and bad and unworthy.
It’s an invitation to let go of your shame and to do the work of opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong or being out of alignment with your beliefs.
It’s an invitation to work on loving and accepting yourself no matter what work you choose to do or how you’d like to grow.
It’s an invitation to get curious about what you actually want to believe and how you’d like to prioritize your values.
Coaching is about clarifying who you are, what you believe in, and what you want to do. It’s about consciously choosing your reasons for taking action in the world, and then having your own back no matter what.
It’s about having such radical compassion and love for yourself that you are able to consider where you’ve been wrong, without shaming yourself.
It’s about being able to live in integrity with yourself, face your discomfort, and grow.
If you’re feeling defensive or ashamed this week, I encourage you to get curious about it. Ask yourself why you’re feeling defensive, work through the shame, and explore some of the foundational beliefs that you are feeling out of alignment with.
You may not be living up to your ideals yet – but you can change that in an instant if you are willing to love yourself through it and move forward anyway.