Listen to what makes you defensive

Photo courtesy of Feans

 

When discussing my experience on the Slow Carb Diet, I mentioned getting upset when I first read that the best way (purportedly) to lose weight was to eliminate/minimize grains and eat lots of meat.

And I mean actually upset. Almost a bit angry. I spent a good week or two calling the whole thing out as total garbage. And it took me a long time to figure out why. I mean, why would reading about a diet be upsetting? And why would I expend energy to try and discount it?

Why indeed.

What makes us defensive?

We all feel strongly about things, or at least I hope we all do. It’s a good thing. Passion is like fuel; it allows things to happen.

But sometimes feelings arise that are a bit stronger that just “feeling strongly”. Sometimes the intensity of an emotion (usually negative) can be surprising, out of place and scale. You can find yourself even lashing out in response.

This is what happened to me when reading about Slow Carb.

It’s hard to hear that your lifestyle might be counterproductive to your goals. No one wants to hear this, and it leads to people getting defensive. There’s a strong element of judgement here too, which is why the defensiveness can be so strong.

In my case here, there was the claim that eating grains was how people gained weight. And here I was a huge grain fan. In fact, it was a large portion of what I ate. But I never thought that grains would affect weight or health, and in fact I thought that it was part of what we needed to be healthy!

I started to feel like someone was calling me stupid. And from there, it’s pretty easy to want to lash out and push back.

But the other part to it is that there may be the latent realization that the claim is correct. And that’s where the defensiveness really kicked in. Because, again, in this case, it took a lot of soul-searching before I realized that I probably was eating an excessive amount of grains, that maybe it was inhibiting my nutrition.

But before I came to that realization, it was “who the hell does this guy think he is?

Defensive omnivore bingo

You see this sort of thing in the proverbial vegetarian/omnivore conversation. I’m not going to deny that many people who eschew animal products can be a tad preachy, but I’ve seen first hand how just mentioning that one is a vegetarian can cause people to leap toward a defensive stance. Without any prodding, you may be confronted with a series of reasons why vegetarianism is silly, unhealthy, or just not for them.

I wonder if it’s because there’s a realization that maybe there is something to the claim that there are advantages to avoiding animal products. After all, no one wants to think of themselves as lacking compassion, or being wantonly wasteful.

As a humorous aside, the rebuttals to vegetarians are so common and played out that some clever person actually created a “bingo” card containing some of the most obvious and tired responses.

Defensive omnivore bingo! Click to enlarge. Thanks to Sean Bonner

Defensive omnivore bingo. Click to enlarge. Thanks to Sean Bonner

(I can personally attest that I would be quite pleased if I never heard “But where do you get your protein?” again. But I know I will.)

Defensiveness can be anywhere

But defensiveness can show up in other areas too, all of which can hit very close to home for some people.

Ever known someone who was so overly anti-drug that it bordered on mania? Is it that much of a step to wonder if this person in fact is envious, desiring of the altered states of consciousness that these drug users are pursuing? Or that this person is envious of the ability to buck societal norms without fear of reprisal? It can’t just be a desire for the well-being of others.

Or, what about the person who is so colossally, over-the-top, against people who don’t identify as heterosexual? Not just in a “I’m not into it” way, but in a venomous “God hates fags” kind of way. I’m not suggesting that this person is a latent homosexual, only that perhaps again, it’s the ability and ease with which others are able to resist convention. Maybe, just maybe, these “heathens” have found happiness and peace. That can be painful if you haven’t found the same. Thus the defensiveness.

Now, these are extreme examples, but my point remains: when you feel this intense level of defensiveness in your life, hold on to the feeling and examine it. There is probably something important there to learn about yourself, buried underneath.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on August 13, 2015