Defensive

If you respond to a question or comment to correct someone else’s wrong assumption about you/your work/your relationship with someone etc., what does it do other than steal your energy, your time, and sometimes make you look petty?

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash
Image of neon sign with hot pink letters saying “Simply a misunderstood genius”

Genuinely? This week, I had someone point out a wrong cross-reference in a document I was working on at work. In an unfinished section of the document–where I knew the new material would cause the cross-references to need updating. Not only that, but I also have as part of my drafting process that spellcheck happens and all numbers are checked at the end of each draft pass. But this person doesn’t know that. So I responded to the comment with just that. And, it didn’t feel good. Because acknowledging that comment that way suggested that *i* think they think I’m not good at my job. Because that’s a noob level thing to screw up. After I made the comment back I thought – numbers in this section are really important and need to be correct. As in, if they aren’t, it’s our tushies later. And thought for a second, I’d probably point it out in their draft or anyone else’s too.

But the big point here is that I spent too much actual time and mental/emotional energy on “do they seriously think I’m not good at my job or what? Because I’m TOTALLY good at my job. WTF?!? In fact, I’m going to tell them I’m good at my job. So there!”.  Now pause, in the unlikely event that “she’s not good at her job” is what that person was actually thinking, does my saying that I am actually change their POV? No. Now pause again, In the highly likely event that this person was just trying to be helpful because it’s critical and it can be easily missed when things get crazy at the end of a draft pass, does my saying that I am do anything other than make the commenter think, um, ok? Or “damn, she’s defensive [and/or petty].” Either way, what a total waste of time and energy. I got nothing out of it other than a little adrenalin from outrage and then the fun ghosts of self-doubt creeping in.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Image of woman in a black sweater, close up with the back of her hands covering her eyes.

I used to be a gold-medaling, world champion defensiveness-er. I think I got the gold in my first 5-8 years (YEARS) of dealing with my ex-husband post divorce about things related to kiddo. The years of my life I wasted planning conversations in advance with him so I’d be ready for anything, prepared, he will see he can’t rattle me and his assumptions are WRO-O-ONG!!! Only for the first sentence of the actual conversation to be the only one that matched anything I prepared. Sigh. He still thought what he was going to think. He still said the things he was going to say. He still behaved the way he was going to behave. And I made myself SO unhappy preparing for and so anxious to start those conversations. Even later when I stopped doing that, and took a “I’m informing you so suck it or like it” approach, the defensiveness wound through all of my tendons and contracted leaving me hunched over, aching, pulled too taut to feel good.

Photo by Bobby Mc Leod on Unsplash
Image of a monkey? tilting its head and looking straight at camera with wide open mouth.

Over time I realized that defensiveness just hurts me and never improves the issue I had that I chose to be defensive about in the first place. Usually, I remember that I am the one who validates myself. That my thoughts and feelings are mine and I can think and feel whatever I want to on my own without anyone else agreeing with me or even understanding it. But some weeks I forget. There’s usually a moment about something wholly unrelated that I handle without using the grown up tools I’ve learned and then I feel like crap about that and defensiveness is like “oh hey – comeback tour time?”. No. Hard pass. Go crawl back under that rock please. I don’t want to waste my muchness on fruitless endeavors like defensiveness anymore.

My latest party trick I’ve been practicing has been to be kind to myself when I slip and to resist judging my humanness and mistake making. We all do it. How about I use all that defensiveness energy (and shame for slipping into it again) for almost literally anything else? Yes. Two helpings of that please.

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