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Why Do People Get Defensive? 14 Reasons & Ways to Handle Them

Why do people get defensive? It’s your chance to learn the answer and how to handle defensive behavior in loved ones and acquaintances.

If you’re feeling stung by someone’s defensive behavior, you’re probably asking yourself why do people get defensive. Before ending the relationship, learn how to handle their behavior.

There’s nothing worse than talking to someone who’s continuously defensive. It feels like you can’t make any progress. Whatever you say is wrong; they’re always right, and you feel like you’re playing a bad game of chess. And right now, you’re in checkmate.

How can you move on from this? Well, when you’re dealing with someone defensive, it’s not an easy task. The good thing is there are reasons why people get defensive. No one is defensive without cause. By understanding why they’re defensive, you’re one step closer to overcoming their behavior. [Read: How to know if the people around you are taking advantage of you]

7 answers to why do people get defensive

Traditionally, defensive behavior occurs when a person perceives something as a threat. As a result, they become defensive. But there are other reasons why we become defensive.

In this article, I’m going to talk about why people get defensive and how you can deal with it. Yes, defensive people are hard to handle, but once you know how to deal with them, your life will become much easier.

The best way to handle defensive people is by looking at your own actions and changing your behavior. Who would have thought, right? There’s always a reason why.

#1 You’re a threat to them. When people feel threatened, they become defensive. We’re no different than all the other animals walking around this earth. When there’s a threat, the automatic response is to defend yourself. If someone is acting defensive towards you, figure out what’s triggering them. [Read: 10 tips for how to set boundaries with the difficult people in your life]

#2 They’re overly critical. When someone is overly critical, they relish in defensive behavior. They’re constantly looking at the negative aspects of any situation, which causes defensiveness. If you make suggestions or provide constructive criticism, defensive people easily become sensitive and, well, defensive.

#3 They’re guarding themselves. Why would someone guard themselves against you? They’re trying to keep specific information away from you, that’s why. They’re scared of you finding something out about them, so they’re always on guard. You’ll notice this when you ask them a question, and they quickly switch the topic. [Read: Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about justifying your life choices] 

#4 They’re dogmatic. Dogmatism is when someone expresses an opinion as if it’s a fact. In most cases, it’s not a fact. But, they want you to take it as one. They’ll act defensively if you question their statement or disagree with it because they want to be right.  

#5 They feel inferior to you. Rather than listening to you, they become defensive. Why? Because they feel inferior to you. Now, they may not act defensively right away, but as time passes their defensiveness comes in the form of gossip. They would rather point out your flaws and mistakes. That way, you look smaller and less of a threat to them.

#6 They want to manipulate. When someone wants to manipulate you or a situation, they’re going to act defensively. Why? Because they don’t want to be called out for their actions. When they feel you know what’s going on, they’ll act distrustful and guarded. But in reality, you’re the one who should be acting like this.

#7 They’re impulsive. There are many moments where we act impulsively. Sure, we may think about the situation for a split second, then we make a rash decision that may hold consequences for us. We know we made a mistake, but admitting it is an entirely different issue. If someone doesn’t want to admit their mistakes, they’ll act defensively and try to rationalize their behavior. [Read: 10 types of toxic friends that may be lurking in your life]

7 ways to deal with defensive behavior

It can’t go on like this.

#1 Change perspectives. You’re seeing the situation in a very specific way, which isn’t bad but isn’t going to help you deal with defensive behavior. Try to take a step back and look at the situation in a new light. Perhaps they’re reacting to behavior in you that’s coming across as aggressive. Switch your perspective, and you’ll see results.

#2 Work on self-awareness. No one wants to look at themselves when trying to handle someone who’s behaving defensively. Now, I’m not saying it’s your fault, but there may be certain actions you do which act as a trigger. Become self-aware and look at the moments when they are defensive. What triggered their reaction?

#3 Apologize when you don’t express yourself properly. Acknowledging your behavior and actions can make a huge difference when dealing with a defensive person. If you said something overly critical or aggressive, acknowledge that with an apology. Then, re-explain yourself.

#4 Take deep breaths. Dealing with someone who’s defensive isn’t easy. You may find yourself becoming angry and defensive as well. But two defensive people aren’t going to solve any conflict. Instead, count to three and take a couple of deep breaths to unwind. It’s not easy to do, but try your best not to lose your temper. Slow down and breathe.

#5 Give the person space. Nothing positive is going to happen if you are in each other’s faces. While you take a step back to breathe, give them space as well to calm down. Sure, they may keep talking, but they may also take a chance to refocus themselves. They need time to think.

#6 Never say, “don’t be so defensive.” It’s the equivalent of saying, “calm down,” to someone who clearly isn’t calm. The only thing it’s going to do is cause an explosion. Tell the person you’re sorry for the misunderstanding and either clarify or ask for clarification. [Read: The power of your words can make or break your relationship with people]

#7 Speak up. Ignoring or avoiding someone who’s defensive may seem like a good idea, but it’ll backfire quickly. Eventually, you’ll explode out of frustration, and that’s not going to help the situation. When a situation occurs, instead of avoiding it, make sure you voice your thoughts and feelings. Most likely, you’ll be at your calmest.

[Read: Simple ways you can calmly deal with difficult people]

If you felt you were losing your mind, you can take a deep breath now. Knowing why do people get defensive and how to handle this behavior is essential if you want to overcome it.

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