How Being Defended Stops You From Being Close in Your Relationships
PHIL: If you’re defended, you can’t get closer than a certain distance from another person. This isn’t a problem in day-to-day interactions with people, but it affects your closer relationships. When you’re undefended, it can lead to those moments when you have a strong sense of connection with another person, as well as retaining a sense of self and autonomy. The two coexist.
But how can you remain undefended if your partner criticizes you or makes unreasonable demands on you? Doesn’t that hurt? Does it sting because it is true, or because you are being unjustly accused or described or put upon? Either way, the question is what do you do with your reaction. If you offer a defense or a counter-attack, it will create distance, the very opposite of closeness; instead, offer your response, whatever it might be – anxious, bothered, criticized, disappointed – naming it will help.
And then there’s the opportunity to look at why you’re reacting at all. It’s not easy, for me at least, to take this extra level of indirection, especially at the time. Thinking about it afterwards is good, but it’s catching it in the moment that will make changes for the better.
Turn this around and look from the other side . What do you do when the dissatisfaction arises from you? How do you respond when your partner disappoints you, flakes on you or does something the wrong way, whether it’s burning the toast or cooking the books? Some things are so egregious that they merit a stand, but that’s a subject for a whole other discussion about values. Here, we’re not talking about deal-breakers, just differences. The same responses apply: look inside, and speak personally and gently.
But reactions like this arise from being defended, from feeling that you have some vulnerability that has to be protected. If you can take an undefended attitude, much of this melts away and becomes part of the exchange between you.
The complement of being undefended lies in total acceptance of the other person – that’s just how they are, and all the responses are yours to deal with. This allows the other person to be completely undefended in turn, because they are not going to be criticized or corrected. Total acceptance and being undefended go hand in hand. Talk to your partner about this, and shake on it.If you’re defended, you can’t get closer than a certain distance from another person #quote Click To Tweet
MAUDE: What happens when you raise defenses between you and your partner, friends or relations? When you act to defend yourself, you erect a barrier to being close. And yet, there may be situations where you feel unwarranted criticism, blame, or a disrespectful tone being directed at you. What are productive ways of responding?
A feeling that it is necessary to defend yourself within a relationship, often accompanied by a withdrawing from that person, even just a little bit, is important to address. It provides an area for lots of personal growth, as well as an area where more intimacy rather than more distance can be created. (I am not referring here to clearly abusive situations, which always warrant an immediate response.)
I have a dear friend who, when responding to me, often exhibits a behavior which I find irritating and quite off putting. I have been reflecting about this recently. At first, I was going to approach her and talk about her behavior and its effect on me. Then I thought of my own reaction. What was that about? Why did I care and what could I do with my own feelings without demanding some change or alteration in her behavior?
On reflection I realized that her response is not about me, and as such, doesn’t call for any reaction on my part. Nor is it necessary for me to comment upon or try to change her. It only calls for love, kindness and acceptance. At the same time, the communication may provide an opportunity for me to share something about myself and my feelings that the situation has brought up. This is only fruitful when I can talk about myself and not the other person. It excludes anything like “I feel bad because you…”
Shifting blame for what you feel onto another person does not result in positive interactions. It creates defensiveness.
One clear way to avoid setting up defenses, is to evaluate whether there is really a need to defend against anything. Phil and I use and teach a radical approach we refer to as total acceptance (and again, this does not apply to accepting abusive behavior). When you both share a total acceptance of each other and your differences in expression and behavior, a wonderful absence of any need to be defended is created. The resulting togetherness becomes deep and open, allowing you to share yourself freely.
This is not to imply that such a way of being together is easy or comes naturally. We have evolved successfully as a species because we have learned how to defend against predators and larger animals. Many people have been raised to behave in exactly the opposite manner by the society and culture they were raised in, always being on the alert to defend, to blame, to change the other’s behavior.
When you use the experiences you have to deepen your understanding of yourself, you become open to new, more productive responses. Dropping the need to defend, like most transformations, is a complete shift in perspective and intention. And yet, the only way to do it, is to do it.
Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Kids in a medieval play
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