When someone behaves defensively, we generally take offense and perceive it as an intentional slight against us. However, in such instances, we fail to realize that, as human beings, we’re also capable of causing offense unintentionally. We’re hardwired by nature to react to our environments, which is why we try to protect ourselves when we feel threatened. So, if this is basic instinct, can it actually be controlled?

Defensive behavior is typically a natural response to a perceived threat. However, as all of us are unique in terms of how we react to various stimuli, defensiveness can manifest in our behaviors in a number of ways. The type of defensive behavior that is triggered depends upon the type of threat perceived.

However, excessive defensiveness can potentially become a serious problem. According to John Gottman, it’s one of four patterns— defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling—that lead to divorce.


Impulsive individuals have a tendency to act before they think. In instances when they’re wrong, or make a mistake, they find it difficult to own up, which is why they’ll try to rationalize their actions or shift blame by becoming defensive.


Being dogmatic means to express your opinion like it were a fact. To dogmatic individuals, you’re either right or wrong—there’s no in-between, no gray area. This type of mindset can make people act defensively in certain situations. This is most apparent when the person gets into an argument or confrontation.

Being Critical

People who like to criticize will always attract defensive behavior. Concentrating on the mistakes or the negative aspects within a situation will lead to more defensive behavior in the future, as people have a tendency to being sensitive to criticism or being told that they’re wrong. This typically manifests in the form of dismissing the criticisms or impatience.

Dealing with Defensive Behavior

The best way to overcome defensive tendencies is to accept that there’s something wrong. You can see the situation in a different light if you take in the perspective of others and re-frame the situation. What you may assume to be defensive behavior may be an instinctive response to threats in our own behavior.

By viewing things from someone else’s perspective, you’ll learn to regulate and control your own behavior. This will help you become calmer and respectful and will help you achieve better results in the future.

One of the most experienced psychodynamic therapists in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. David E. Myers specializes in depression and anxiety therapy and relationship counseling. If you want to learn more, call us at (205)-251-8808 or connect with us online.

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