I have a friend named Chuck who’s a pain in the……, well, you get the picture. Chuck is always on the defense, worried about how people will think of him. He is never wrong and carefully takes the time to rip apart anyone who challenges his vast knowledge. Chuck’s intelligence quotient is well above 140, but among those closest to him, he often uses his brain power to hurt, to remain the alpha-dog. Chuck knows how to argue his point but would rather win the argument than preserve the dignity of his adversary. The trouble is almost anyone can become Chuck’s adversary upon whom he heaps his sarcasm, judgment, condescension and rage, including his wife, his siblings, and anyone who gets in his way.
Chuck is defensively offensive. I wonder how Chuck got this way, so full of anxiety and always ready for a fight. His extreme self-protection, never being wrong, rarely apologizing, has put a wall around him that even he can’t see over.
Such men live in fear of being hurt. Defensive offense pushes people away to prevent this. It can evolve over time into a manipulative narcissism whereby everything in the world is judged by how it affects him. He is able to be charming when he chooses so that friends think he’s a great guy, but those closest to him wonder why they are not worth a bit of kindness and so must share in a constant diet of negatively and moodiness.
There are degrees of defensive offense. It often manifests in spouses and partners who just don’t listen. They seem incapable of taking in fresh information without feeling as if it is an affront to their intelligence or self-image.
Coaching can assist people to actively listen, where the focus is on the speaker and not on the words. Coaching can also help clients to be more conscious about the feelings that well up inside them when others they are feeling attacked. Thus, by stopping for a split second, rather than reacting automatically, and breathing through the moment, a defensive person can transform the negative energy. This extra time forestalls the auto-attack offense wired into many defensive people’s brains. But it takes practice….and a patient coach.
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