Defensiveness: Understanding Its Roots and Finding Healthier Responses

Hello, dear readers!

I'm Kelly Michalidis, and today I want to talk about defensiveness—an instinctive reaction many of us experience when we feel threatened or criticized. Understanding the roots of defensiveness and finding healthier responses can improve our relationships and overall wellbeing. Let’s explore how to recognize defensiveness and cultivate more constructive ways to handle challenging situations.

The Roots of Defensiveness

Defensiveness often stems from a desire to protect ourselves from perceived threats or criticisms. Here are some common roots of defensiveness:

Fear of Criticism

Fear of being judged or criticized can trigger defensive reactions. We may feel the need to protect our self-esteem and avoid feelings of inadequacy.


Insecurity about our abilities, worth, or appearance can make us more prone to defensiveness. When we doubt ourselves, we may interpret feedback or comments as personal attacks.

Past Experiences

Previous negative experiences, such as being harshly criticized or misunderstood, can make us more defensive. These past experiences can create a heightened sensitivity to perceived threats.


Perfectionism can lead to defensiveness when we feel that any criticism or suggestion is a sign of failure. The need to appear perfect can make it difficult to accept feedback.

Recognizing Defensiveness

Being aware of our defensive reactions is the first step toward finding healthier responses. Here are some signs that you might be feeling defensive:

Emotional Reactions

Feelings of anger, frustration, or anxiety when receiving feedback or criticism can indicate defensiveness. These emotions often arise from a perceived threat to our self-esteem.

Justifying or Explaining

Responding to feedback with explanations or justifications, rather than listening and understanding, is a common defensive reaction. It’s an attempt to protect ourselves from criticism.

Blaming Others

Shifting blame to others instead of accepting responsibility is another sign of defensiveness. This behavior deflects attention away from ourselves and onto others.

Withdrawal or Avoidance

Withdrawing from conversations or avoiding difficult discussions can also be a defensive reaction. It’s a way to escape uncomfortable feelings and protect ourselves from perceived threats.

Finding Healthier Responses

Here are some strategies to help you respond more constructively when faced with feedback or criticism:

Practice Active Listening

Focus on truly listening to the other person without interrupting or planning your response. Active listening involves being fully present and trying to understand the speaker’s perspective.

Take a Pause

When you feel defensive, take a moment to pause and breathe. This can help you calm down and respond more thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively.

Reflect on the Feedback

Consider the feedback objectively and reflect on its validity. Ask yourself if there’s any truth to it and how you can use it to improve. Remember that feedback is an opportunity for growth.

Express Your Feelings

Communicate your feelings calmly and assertively. Use “I” statements to express how you feel and why. For example, “I feel upset because I worked hard on this project and it didn’t meet expectations.”

Seek Clarification

If you’re unsure about the feedback, ask for clarification. This shows that you’re open to understanding and willing to learn. It can also help prevent misunderstandings.

Focus on Solutions

Instead of dwelling on the criticism, focus on finding solutions and ways to improve. This proactive approach can help you feel more empowered and less defensive.

Benefits of Healthier Responses

Responding to feedback and criticism constructively can lead to numerous benefits:

  • Improved Relationships: Constructive responses foster healthier and more positive relationships with others.
  • Personal Growth: Embracing feedback as an opportunity for growth can lead to self-improvement and development.
  • Reduced Stress: Healthier responses to criticism can reduce emotional stress and enhance overall wellbeing.
  • Increased Resilience: Developing constructive responses builds resilience and helps you handle future challenges more effectively.
  • Enhanced Communication: Active listening and thoughtful responses improve communication and mutual understanding.


Understanding the roots of defensiveness and finding healthier responses can significantly improve your relationships and overall wellbeing. By practicing active listening, taking a pause, reflecting on feedback, expressing your feelings, seeking clarification, and focusing on solutions, you can respond more constructively to criticism and feedback. Remember, feedback is an opportunity for growth, and responding thoughtfully can lead to personal development and stronger connections with others.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration of defensiveness and constructive responses. Stay tuned for more insights and tips on living a happy, sustainable life.

With love and understanding,

Kelly Michalidis

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