Have you ever had the experience of telling someone that they are hurting you only to be met with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.
Have you ever been the person who responded to a hurting person with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.
There seems to be something very deep in us that reacts to even the mildest suggestion that we are less than completely perfect in all our ways by becoming defensive. I used to think that this was somehow related to being punished and shamed as children, but having been a mother to 6 kids for 19 years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that being defensive is our default position.
I suspect the issue lies in the fact that we humans are so vulnerable to each other. We are vulnerable to our parents who may or may not have the skills to raise us without causing severe damage. If they are willing to raise us at all. Humans have a long, pervasive history of infanticide.
We are vulnerable to those who we are in community with. If they tell us we are worthless, selfish, lazy and unlovable, we will absorb their ugly lies as our reality. Throughout most of human history shunning was a death sentence and our psyches still process rejection as a form of severe physical pain.
A spouse that rejects us could result in the loss of position, community and even our ability to survive. Being turned out by family can cost us relationships with those we depend on and even an inability to care for our own children.
All in all, it’s really no wonder that there’s something very deep in us that recoils at the possibility that we will be condemned or rejected. In fact, it’s one of those automatic responses from our reptilian brain, much like fear, anger and shame. All it takes is someone pointing out that your shoe lace is untied and you find yourself launching into a ridiculous litany of explanations about how you like having your shoe laces untied because unlike the sort of person who goes around pointing out untied shoe laces, you aren’t a brainless sheep.
The problem, of course, is that when we allow our reptilian brain to send us into a self-defensive frenzy, we hurt people. Continue reading