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Ep #169: Transforming Defensiveness into Deeper Connection | Becoming You Again Podcast



Ever found yourself in the throes of an argument, feeling defensive and misunderstood? What if you could transform those moments into opportunities for deeper connection? This week on "Becoming You Again," I tackle the intricate and often misunderstood topic of defensiveness in relationships. I share personal stories from my own marriage, revealing how quickly defensiveness can arise when we feel unheard or dismissed. You will discover how evolutionary biology plays a role in our defensive reactions, and learn how to navigate these moments with greater self-awareness and patience.


I'll take you through the journey from reacting to responding, uncovering strategies to foster healthier communication. By paying attention to our bodily cues and recognizing our defensive patterns, we can make intentional choices that lead to more open and loving interactions. This episode is not just about identifying defensive behavior, but about celebrating the small victories as we practice patience, kindness, and self-compassion. Join me as we explore how to let go of what's no longer serving us and take steps toward building stronger, more reflective relationships.


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Grief and trauma are the two biggest struggles women deal with as they go through their divorce. It's highly likely that you are experiencing both and don't even realize what you're feeling. I'm here to tell you that it's okay for you to grieve your marriage (even if it was shitty) and it's normal to be experiencing some kind of trauma (which is essentially a disconnection from yourself - your mind, body and soul). I can help guide you through the grief in all of the forms it shows up so you can heal. I can also teach you how to ground yourself in healing so you can ease through the trauma. Schedule your free consult by clicking here.


Featured on this episode:

  1. Interested in the Divorce Betrayal Transformation? Learn more here.

  2. Are you lost and confused about who you are after divorce? Don't worry. I've got 51 Ways to Get to Know Yourself Again. Click here to download.

  3. Want to work first hand with Karin so you can stop worrying about what your life will be like after divorce, and instead begin making it amazing today? Click here to schedule a consult to find out more about working 1:1 with Karin as your coach.

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to Becoming you Again, episode number 169, and I'm your host, karin Nelson. Welcome to Becoming you Again, the podcast to help you with your mental and emotional well-being during and after divorce. This is where you learn to overcome the grief and trauma of your divorce. We're going to do that by reconnecting with yourself, creating lasting emotional resilience and living a truly independent life, so that your life can be even better than when you were married. I'm your host, karin Nelson. Welcome back to the podcast. I am so happy that you're here this week.

 

This week I am going to be talking about defensiveness. We all know what this feels like. We've all showed up in our life at one time or another being defensive for whatever reason right, and I think there are times and I'm going to talk about it all today in this podcast episode but I think there are times when defensiveness can serve you and can be really useful, and there are other times when it really backfires and it really creates dissonance and disconnection from relationships and the people in our lives that we are not trying to feel that way with. And so I'm just going to kind of talk about it, lay some things out there, give you some suggestions if this is something that you want to work on in your life, in your relationships now, in your future relationships, that you want to work on in your life, in your relationships now, in your future relationships, and then, obviously, like with everything that I talk about on this podcast, you get to decide if this is resonant with you, if this is something useful for you in your life, moving you toward the goodness. Whatever it is that you are working toward in your life, being defensive in your reactions may feel very useful, and I think sometimes this can feel really useful if this feeling is something that might be coming from your inner child or a part of you that learned that you needed to be defensive to survive. And if that's the case, then what I want you to do for that defensive part of you, if this is something that you want to work on and get better at, is dropping the defensiveness when you have conversations with people, when you feel like you're always having to stand up for yourself in situations that maybe you don't actually need to stand up for yourself, right. So to that part of you, if you recognize that there's a part of you, if you've done some inner child work, perhaps one way to help move you forward is to just acknowledge what that part has done for you so you can validate that part.

 

You could say something like listen, part of Karen that gets so defensive over certain things and in certain situations. I just want you to know thank you, I'm so grateful to you for showing up in this defensive way. You have helped me stay alive. You have helped me Stay alive. You have helped me stay safe in some way and I love you for that. And also, I'm an adult now and I am learning more and more about how to keep myself safe, protect me in new ways. And you can just lay off the reins a little bit when it comes to showing up as defensive, because I've got us, I've got us, and you can say something similar to what I just said, or you can come up with something that feels more resonant for yourself. But a really nice way to remind that part of you that you're grateful for them, that you see them and that also it's okay for them to back off a little bit, for you to back off a little bit, is to just validate love and ask them to let go, tell me you've got it, you've got things, and when I say like them and you it's. We all know that this is like it's all parts of us Right, but it is my responsibility, belief and you don't have to accept this belief if it doesn't feel right for you. But it is my belief that there are parts of us who need certain reassurances, who have stood up for us in ways that maybe felt protective at that time when we might've needed it and maybe it's not as useful anymore and those parts just want to be recognized and know that things are safe and that you're taking over from here.

 

But the interesting thing about getting defensive or feeling defensive in certain situations, in certain moments, is that defensiveness is actually a very human reaction. It does feel very protective. The problem can come when getting defensive, especially toward people in our lives that we don't always want to be defensive toward, that can end up building a wall between us and them. And if these people are your children, if these people are other people in your family that you love and want to have good, strong relationships with, if this is your new partner or if this is your current partner and you're starting to see the defensiveness start to pop up, or you might even look back at your previous relationship and see habits and patterns of you showing up as defensive in those old relationships that you don't really want to repeat.

 

Moving forward, this is where you can start to take a look and decide do I want to continue showing up with this defensive armor on? And so this is where you get to get curious about the defensiveness that you've maybe been reacting in or carrying around with you. And you get to get curious without judgment. That's the really great thing about curiosity and I talk about this quite a lot, I think, on the podcast but curiosity really helps us step out of judgment, helps us step out of judgment. Curiosity helps us like I mean, it does exactly that. Right. We start to open our mind up to like why might I be reacting this way? Why might I be showing up this way? What would make me feel defensive in certain situations? And the more curious you get without judgment of them, of you, of the situation, of all of it, the more understanding and more clarity you can gain. Curiosity and understanding and clarity is going to put you in a place where you can develop strategies to help you change the way you react. And actually reacting is probably the wrong word, because I think what really happens is when you show up with that curiosity and that understanding. That's when you can choose strategies to help you respond in a way that is more intentional, that is more chosen.

 

Now, listen, I totally understand, I know who my audience is and I totally understand that so many of us especially you who are going through a divorce or who are struggling with your current partner, with your ex-partner, with your co-parent, with your parallel parent, whatever it is right we may have adopted a defensiveness to serve as emotional armor, and especially if you're coming out of a marriage that has been really challenging, right, the armor that you've been carrying around, your emotional armor, may have been used to protect your self-esteem. Maybe you constantly felt attacked, like being told your opinions weren't valued, being constantly judged, being basically treated like you weren't valued or shown that you weren't valued, even maybe not even more than just treated like actually shown I don't value you, I don't respect you, I don't think much of you. There have even been women whose partner, if they don't think they're paying attention to them, will throw food at them or will abuse them in some way or treat them truly unkindly, and so I just want you to know that, like if you're coming from a space like this where you've had to put up that emotional armor to protect yourself in some very real way, it makes total sense that you would want to be defensive in those moments. It feels very protective.

 

I remember personally many, many, many years ago when I was married to my then husband. At the time I was barely pregnant with my first child and at that time we were living with my husband's mom. We were both students in college at the time. We were going to school full-time, both of us were working part-time. I was pregnant with her first child. We did not have a lot of money, right. This is why we're living with his mom. We're having our first baby. We're a few months away from that and we had kind of planned on for the duration of our school at least. We would most likely be living with family, either his or mine, to help save money and to also help us raise our daughter, as we were both trying to finish school. So we're living with his mom. Her place was not very big and I really felt like moving in with my parents, especially after we have our daughter, was going to be a better fit. They had more room. My mom only worked like part-time so she could help babysit, you know, with childcare, while I went to school, while he was at school, while we're both working all the things.

 

However, up to this point in our marriage, I did not feel like my voice or my opinions held much water in our relationship and I often felt like if I said things, if I said my opinion, he just kind of had the final say and that things would just be glossed over and if it wasn't his idea, then it wasn't an idea. That's how I felt. I don't know if that's how he was feeling or if that's how he came across, but that's definitely how I was feeling. But I really wanted my opinion heard about moving in with my parents. But I was so very often overrided or I felt attacked in a lot of ways when I would offer my opinion, that instead of trying to have a conversation and really laying out the points or however you want to do it right, when I brought up this idea for the first time, I just went like from zero to 100. I just literally was like straight defensive to protect my opinion, to protect my reasoning, to protect my self-esteem.

 

And the problem was, is that everything that I said because I went from zero to 100, came off as exactly that. It came off as defensive, it came off as aggressive, it came off as overbearing and mean-spirited. And let me just tell you that conversation did not go over very well. It did not go over the way that I had hoped that it would go over, because I showed up in such an aggressive, defensive manner, which was not at all what I wanted. What I wanted was for him to listen to me. I just didn't know how to do that. I didn't know how to do that without being defensive, because I felt like my voice had never really been listened to before. I didn't know much about communication. I didn't know much about using my own power, stepping into my own power, trusting myself, having conversations, listening and allowing myself to speak. I didn't know any of that, and so all of my defensiveness created more anger from myself and from him. It created disconnection. It created resentment on my end, maybe resentment on his end, I don't know.

 

But this is the really interesting thing about being defensive is, even though we are turning toward defensiveness to try to protect ourselves in some way, it very often can backfire and create exactly the opposite of what we want. Now, one of the reasons that we tend to naturally lean toward defensiveness is because of our evolutionary biology, our amygdala, which resides in the more primal part of our brain, which is kind of the back of our brain. That is where our fear center lives. This is the part of our brain where we feel threat, where we whether it's perceived or real that defensive lioness is just going to kick in when the amygdala kicks in, lioness is just going to kick in. When the amygdala kicks in, it's very often going to override our prefrontal cortex. Our prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain, it's the front part of our brain, it's like the part that's like in charge of our rationality. It's the part where we make decisions. It's the part where we can assess things. It's the part where we can choose intentionally whether or not we're going to show up defensive or not, emotionally defensive or not.

 

But because our amygdala has kicked in, because we haven't created a habit of understanding what's going on, in these situations where we might feel defensive, the prefrontal cortex gets overrided by that amygdala, by that threat response, and this is why it can feel so hard in stressful situations like divorce to do thought work or to get to mindfulness when we find ourselves in a situation where we are habitually feeling like we have to show up as defensive, like we have to defend ourselves. Knowing this about ourselves and how our biology actually works and how our biology is showing up in these types of situations is going to help us show up with some compassion for ourselves, some patience for ourselves, as we learn how to let go of some of the defensive states that we have typically shown up, as in the past. When we are in this defensive state where we are just reacting and it's coming out and we don't feel like we have any control over it, it's habitual. That is our evolutionary DNA kicking in. We are not responding in the way that we might want to or that we even think might be possible. Right, we might just be like, well, I have to defend myself, I have to show up and protect myself in this way, because what else is going to happen? This is I can't just let them walk all over me. I can't just let them say those things, I can't just do this or do that. Right, it might even feel like this is the only option we have, but I am just trying to show you that you might be wrong about that. There might be another way that you can show up. You just haven't been able to see it because your evolutionary DNA is just kicking in every time.

 

So how do we learn to respond instead of react? Because what you've been doing in the past is reacting, and what I'm saying is it's possible for you to learn how to respond. Respond means you are choosing, and, let's be real, you might choose in the future, if you get really good at this, that you want to stand up for yourself, that you want to say something, to defend yourself in a specific way. But when you're doing it habitually, every time and you feel like you don't even have any choice, there is no other choice. Let's move past that and recognize that that's maybe not true. Maybe you do have a choice and maybe there's a different way of going about it. Don't know, that's totally up to you to find out, but it's worth finding out, I think.

 

So back to this question how do we learn to respond instead of react? How do we respond in a way that is reflective rather than reflexive? And so I want you to maybe ponder on that for a minute. Like what does that even mean Reflective rather than reflexive. That's so smart. Okay, let me think about this. What does reflective mean? Maybe that means I analyze some things that I've done in the past and ways I've shown up in the past, and has it just been a reflexive, habitual response and do I want to continue reacting that way, or do I want to respond and show up differently? And if I did, what would that look like? What could that possibly be? But some ways that we can show up reflective rather than reflexive is we're going to do it with patience with ourselves, because we're not going to be perfect right, especially when we're trying something new, something we've never done before.

 

We're going to do it with practice. We're going to keep trying, even if we don't do it right the first 10, 15, 20 times or I don't know how many times it's going to take us right. We're going to practice. We're not going to be great and perfect at something the first time we try it. We're going to do it slowly. We're not going to expect that we're going to be like amazing every time. We're not going to expect perfection. We're going to do it with kindness with ourselves. We're going to be compassionate and loving when we do it right when we get it wrong, when we're trying, when we get something's right, something's wrong maybe right and wrong isn't even the right word when we show up, sometimes responding and sometimes reacting, we're just going to give ourselves kindness and we're going to be gentle with ourselves. That's how we're going to do it Patience, practice, slow, not expecting perfection. Kindness and gently Okay. Kindness and gently Okay.

 

We're going to start to listen to our bodies, because our body is the cue to when we are feeling defensive. It's almost immediate when you start to feel defensive. I want you to start to pay attention to what happens in your body, because that is immediately when your nervous system is going to be heightened. It's almost like if you watch a cat fight or a dog fight or something, and you see their cackles on their back, rays and their hair stands up. That's basically what is happening in our bodies, but we don't necessarily manifest it on the outside. It's more on the inside.

 

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you start to feel defensive, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Start to pay attention to moments when you feel defensive. What were you doing in that moment? What was happening? How did your body feel? Where did you feel it and how would you normally react or how did you normally react the last time this happened? And then I want you to just write all of that information down. And when you start to pay attention and when you start to take note of the times when you felt defensive and you recognize what's happening in your body and you recognize what you were doing in the moment and you recognize how you normally are reacting, you start to see patterns. And then you start to notice times when you're not showing up as the person that you want to be, when you are not responding but rather reacting, and that's when you start to give yourself moments of grace. You start to notice the moments where you didn't show up as necessarily the person that you wanted to be, or you continued to just allow yourself to be the habitual, in that habitual primal reaction mode. And then you start to also notice moments where maybe you did something a little bit different, maybe you responded in a way that felt a little bit better than straight, pure defensiveness, and you start to celebrate those moments as well. As you notice the patterns. That's when you can get curious with yourself even more, because that is when you get to start to decide oh, maybe the next time this happens, instead of yelling or instead of freaking out and I'm not saying you shouldn't be yelling or freaking out, I'm just saying we just start paying attention. Right, it's what we're doing. We're just paying attention and you just question, like, maybe next time, instead of reacting in the way I normally do, maybe this is where I just pause and take a breath. Maybe this is where I decide and take a breath. Maybe this is where I decide okay, I'm just going to put up a boundary right here and walk away. Maybe this is where I am going to say my opinion and I'm going to trust that, no matter what they think of me, I'm still going to have my own back, I'm still going to love myself, I'm still going to support myself and validate me in these really tough moments. i Maybe this is where I choose intentionally what I want to do, what I want to say, what I want to be, who I want to be, instead of what I have always done, what I have always said and who I have always been in the past. I know that this might seem impossible or ridiculous or like some kind of crazy pipe dream. But I promise you that if you start trying this and if you start recognizing patterns and if you start celebrating the moments when you show up differently than you had in the past, you will start to create more moments like that. You will start to celebrate yourself more. You will be so much more compassionate with yourself when you show up as the old, habitual pattern self, and that's totally fine. But you start to notice more and more that you are changing the way you're showing up and, instead of reacting, you start to notice more and more that you are changing the way you're showing up and instead of reacting, you start responding in a way that you are choosing, in a way that is intentional, where you feel more in control of what is happening in the situations, and it's a beautiful thing. I watch this with my clients all the time. I have clients come to their sessions and they will be like you will never guess what happened this week and they will tell me and they'll be like remember when I have been really struggling with this and I usually show up like this and then I did it. I did it the way that I've been hoping, the way I've been wanting the person that I wanted to be and I did it. And they're so excited and we celebrate and it's amazing. I promise you this is possible. It might not feel like it right now. What's the harm in trying it and see, because you might be wrong about that. You are powerful. You are worthy of being the person that you see yourself being, that you want to be, and you are incredibly capable of having relationships where you don't have to feel defensive at every turn. All right, my friends, that is what I have for you this week. Go and have a beautiful week. I will talk to you next time. i Hi, friend, I'm so glad you're here and thanks for listening. I wanted to let you know that if you're wanting more, a way to make deeper, more lasting change, then working one-on-one with me as your coach may be exactly what you need. Together, we'll take everything you're learning in the podcast and implement it in your life, with weekly coaching, real-life practice and practical guidance. To learn more about how to work with me one-on-one, go to KarinNelsonCoachingcom that's W-W-W dot K-A-R-I n nelson coaching dot com. Go to karennelsoncoachingcom that's wwwkarinnelsoncoachingdot com. Thanks for listening. If this podcast agreed with you in any way, please take a minute to follow and give me a rating. Wherever you listen to podcasts and for more details about how I can help you live an even better life than when you were married, make sure and check out the full show notes by clicking the link in the description.

 

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