If you took driver’s ed when you were sixteen, you likely learned about defensive driving. It’s great when you’re on the road. But defensive living when you’re not behind the wheel can be a toxic habit. Choosing not to live defensively usually consists of trusting people and of opening yourself up to being vulnerable so you can connect with others. This choice can result in beautiful relationships that bloom as you feel known, understood and accepted by people you share yourself with.
Not being defensive is championed by many people these days as courageous and a healthy way to build authentic connections. From my own experience I know that opening up to others is what creates deeper relationships and I don’t know how I would survive without those relationships with my friends and family.
We make choices to trust others and often it results in knowing that we aren’t alone in our feelings and building deeper connections. We also make choices let ourselves be open to being hopeful. I wrote a blog post last year about allowing yourself to get your hopes up, even about jobs or unlikely opportunities, because it’s better to experience hope than try to defend ourselves from the possibility of disappointment. It sounds great, yeah?
One of the harder things to accept about being open and vulnerable is that we can still get hurt. To be totally honest, it is sort of the ugly side of vulnerability that we like to glaze over in the self-help books. But it is true, we can open up, be vulnerable and fall on our ass. Yet, despite that reality, I believe it is valuable to keep making the choice to be open to that possibility anyway.
Getting hurt sucks. When we get our hopes up and let our guard down, and things don’t work out – well that is something that can be pretty hard to sit with. Brené Brown says the root of anger is pain. And like most things, I agree with her. So what do we do when we get hurt, and a natural response is to be mad (at ourselves or others) about it?
There are a whole slew of thing we might relate to being hurt. And it is okay to admit when you’re feeling mad or disappointed, but it is also important to work through those feelings so that we don’t become bitter. Sometimes we might feel foolish- like we should have known better. But we don’t always know better, we simply do the best we can with the information we have. Being vulnerable still counts when it doesn’t result in a new best friend. Being honest still counts when it backfires. Courage is still courage, even when we fall down and get a little bruised.
When we are let down or disappointed by something it is also important to let go of the feeling like you “should have known better”. We were not created to live our lives on constant defence. When you get hurt, it’s still better than never being open to the possibility of connection.
Renowned relationship psychologist John Gottman has dubbed four toxic behaviours in relationships as ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. And wouldn’t you know, one of the four worst behaviours is defensiveness. If defensiveness is unhealthy in relationships, think how it destructive it can be if it is part of your relationship with the world around you.
When we are defensive we are trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt by others, we don’t let down our guard and it looks for ways to blame or assume the worst about others. We basically paint ourselves as victims and run away from things that might hurt us rather running towards them. This could be as simple as trying not to get your hopes us about a dream you have, not opening up in relationships or just not being vulnerable with people out of fear of their reaction.
Think back to the defensive driving I mentioned earlier, on the road it is important to be defensive and aware that other drivers might unexpectedly swerve into our lane. However, to respectfully disagree with Tom Cochrane, I don’t think life is a highway, and living defensive at all times is no way to live.
Defensiveness may be a strategic way to help you avoid disappointment or feeling hurt but it stops you from giving people the chance to surprise us with goodness and we miss out on friends or relationships. We can’t assume that we will choose vulnerability and never get hurt. Yes, at times it can be a risky choice. But I still think it is a better choice than defensive living. If you’re always trying to avoid being let down you won’t get excited about possibilities floating around you.
If you’ve fallen on your ass recently, have been hurt or disappointed, then this blog is dedicated to you. Even though it’s not great to feel that way it is a sign that you’re on the right track. You’re letting people in, getting your hopes up about life, and courageous choices always count even if they don’t work out the way you thought they might.