You Can’t Change What You Don’t Own One of the biggest red flags in a relationship is defensiveness. This is when a person refuses to own responsibility for their behaviors by defending, rationalizing, justifying, blame shifting and minimizing. It sounds something like, “Well, you provoked me, anyone would react that way to what you said, you do it too, you’re just over-reacting” and so on. Dr. Hawkins explains why defensiveness is the number one reason people stay stuck in their problems and why you can’t change what you don’t own.
Defensiveness Prevents You From Solving Your Problems
In the realm of relationships, be it between couples or within any human interaction, there exists a pattern that plagues our ability to grow and evolve. This pattern, often subtle and insidious, is the tendency to defend ourselves at all costs, even when it means not owning up to our own role in conflicts. In this article, we will delve into the damaging consequences of defensiveness and explore why it’s crucial to confront this behavior head-on in order to foster personal growth and build healthier connections with others.
The Pitfall of Defensiveness
Acknowledging the Problem
In my extensive work with countless individuals and couples, I’ve observed this concerning pattern repeatedly. Defensiveness, the reflexive act of shielding ourselves from blame or criticism, prevents us from taking responsibility for our actions and behaviors. The implications of this defensive posture are far-reaching, affecting not only ourselves but also the relationships we hold dear.
The Cycle of Non-Ownership
Picture this scenario: when we fail to own our part in a conflict, we inadvertently rob ourselves of the chance to change and grow. After all, it’s a universal truth that we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. When we become defensive, we engage in a variety of behaviors that obstruct personal growth:
- Minimizing Wrongdoing: We downplay our actions, often convincing ourselves that our behavior wasn’t as problematic as others make it out to be.
- Rationalizing Wrongdoing: We craft justifications for our actions, searching for reasons that make our behavior seem acceptable in our own eyes.
- Justifying Wrongdoing: We convince ourselves that our actions were justified under the circumstances, ignoring the potential harm caused to others.
- Blame Shifting: We deflect blame onto others, creating a smokescreen to hide our own contributions to the problem.
- Playing the Victim: We adopt a victim mentality, casting ourselves as the injured party and shirking responsibility.
Each of these defense mechanisms, while momentarily shielding us from criticism, ultimately hinders our personal development. If we continue to repeat these destructive patterns, our relationships stagnate, and our partners come to understand that we won’t take ownership of the problems at hand.
The Ripple Effect of Non-Ownership
When defensiveness becomes a recurrent theme in a relationship, it acts as a poison. The toxic cycle of defense leads to stagnation. Partners feel stuck, unable to make progress or resolve issues because one or both parties refuse to admit their contributions to the problems.
Furthermore, this lack of ownership erodes trust within the relationship. When one person consistently defends themselves, their partner knows they can’t confide in them. It sends a clear message: “I won’t listen to you, and I won’t acknowledge the issues you bring to me.” Over time, this erodes the foundation of trust that relationships are built upon.
As a result of the breakdown in trust and communication, emotional connections suffer. Partners emotionally distance themselves as they learn to distrust the defensive party. The once-strong bond weakens, and the connection begins to fray.
In extreme cases, the emotional separation can lead to physical separation. People may choose to exit the relationship because they see no hope for change or growth in their partner. This tragic outcome underscores the profound impact defensiveness can have on the longevity of relationships.
Embracing Ownership and Growth
The Power of Ownership
The flip side of defensiveness is ownership. When we take responsibility for our actions and acknowledge our mistakes, a transformation occurs. We experience what can be described as “godly sorrow” for our behavior, feeling genuine remorse not only for the specific incident but also for the broader pattern of behavior that led to it.
The Drive to Change
Ownership fuels the desire for change. We recognize the need to grow and seek ways to improve ourselves and our relationships. This active pursuit of personal growth is the antidote to the stagnation caused by defensiveness.
As we own our actions and demonstrate our commitment to change, trust can be rebuilt. Partners see the sincerity in our efforts and are more likely to extend forgiveness and grace. Trust, once broken, can be mended, and relationships can be restored.
With trust reestablished, emotional connections can be rekindled. Partners rediscover the joy of open communication and collaboration. The relationship can evolve into a vibrant, healthy, and loving connection once again.
In the grand tapestry of human relationships, defensiveness is a pervasive thread that can unravel even the most tightly woven bonds. It prevents us from solving our problems by shielding us from the harsh truths we must confront to grow and evolve.
As we’ve explored in this article, the consequences of defensiveness are profound and far-reaching. Relationships stagnate, trust erodes, emotional connections break down, and sometimes even physical separation becomes inevitable.
However, by embracing ownership, we can reverse this destructive pattern. Owning our actions and taking responsibility for our mistakes opens the door to personal growth and transformation. It rebuilds trust, reignites emotional connections, and paves the way for healthier, more loving relationships.
So, the next time you find yourself tempted to defend your actions in the face of conflict, remember that true growth and resolution can only come when you’re willing to own your part in the problem. In doing so, you not only mend your relationships but also evolve into a better, more self-aware version of yourself. After all, the key to change and growth lies in the power of ownership.
About Dr. Hawkins:
The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.
Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.
He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.
In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.