Today I was reminded about the cost of defensiveness. I was driving with my wife and she was sorting through the mail. She asked about a letter I received. I wasn’t certain what was inside, so I asked her not to open it. Certainly not a great move in creating trust.
It did give me an opportunity to look at how defensiveness is automatically activated. I was so committed to preserving my identity with her (aware of everything that’s going on around me), that I risked her trust. This wasn’t a product of any extensive cost/ benefit analysis. It was done at the speed of light.
My good fortune is that I work with people every day helping them live in their greatness. Just after my conversation with my wife, I was sitting with a client. My own story unfolded as I listened. I could see myself in them and observe why I felt defensive. After the client left, I shared with my wife what I learned and apologized for pushing her away.
This type of situation isn’t personal. We all face it at times. We have an image we want to protect. An image we aren’t completely aware of, but one that we will pull out all the stops to uphold. In personal relationships. this type of behavior can be devastating. Often, we don’t see what’s happening and conceal our actions (at least we think we do). We separate ourselves from someone who is important to us. The root of this action is not that we don’ t love the other person, it’s that we don’t love ourselves. We have not accepted ourselves as we are and want the illusion of who we are to be defended at all costs.
Think about the impact of this tendency in business. When there is a problem with a business contract, for instance, the first response, for many of us, is to see how we’ve done what we promised and how the other person hasn’t. Not much trust is going to be built with that kind of activity is it?
Whatever identity we want others to have of us becomes territory for the defensive mechanism. We fear if we admit we made an error, others won’t think we’re smart or trustworthy, not realizing that our defensiveness creates a breach of trust. This happens even when the other person doesn’t know details of our deception. They sense something doesn’t feel right. This unease lowers trust.
The lesson is that defensiveness is always active when I don’t love myself. Loving ourselves is valuable not only for the reasons we already know, but because relationships in all areas of our life will be filled with ever increasing trust.