Developing yourself is the most challenging and rewarding job you will ever undertake, and in my case, it meant overcoming a defensive mindset. I committed to God and my family to not stop working on my personal growth. Besides praying and seeking God, the next crucial step in helping me overcome this mindset and develop myself was to enroll in college to finish my degree that was put on hold to raise my family, become a pastor, and plant churches. For years, finishing college has been my goal, and since I started taking classes, I’ve learned so much about myself. However, the most significant step I have taken to overcome the defensive thinking was to begin seeing a Christian counselor. Yes, even pastors sometimes need therapy. Through this process, I discovered a lot about myself. God has shown me it is okay to love Jesus and go to therapy.
So, if you’re like me and take things too personally and become defensive, this blog article is for you. I hope that my journey will empower you never to give up working on yourself.
The following are some things I have learned about being defensive.
Defense mechanisms are normal inherent behaviors and part of human nature found in the subconscious to protect against fear, anxiety, and potential harm or perceived threat to self-esteem. People usually do not even realize they use defensive behaviors. However, the more emotionally mature a person becomes, the more aware of the variety and combination of defensive behaviors they employ. If left unchecked, these harmful defense mechanisms can cause more unwanted anxiety, frustration, and depression. According to Psychology Today, “If you want to keep the social support that we know is critical to health throughout life, the key may be to moderate your defense mechanisms to become the type of person to whom others will offer their love and support.”
It is essential to identify which type of defense mechanism you and those around you utilize to help you better understand yourself and your loved ones. I have personally observed five defense mechanisms: Denial, Projection, Rationalization, Displacement, and Sublimation.
“Denial is a defense mechanism that involves denying the existence of an external threat or traumatic event” (Schultz, 2017). In my years of ministry experience, I have seen many people deal with this. One of the most damaging times is when people deny problems with their marriage. Instead of dealing with their marital issues by seeing a therapist and talking through them, many pretend the problems do not exist. This creates more unresolved marital issues.
Projection is another way of defending against disturbing impulses by attributing unwanted emotions to someone else rather than admitting it exists within yourself. Projection sometimes includes blame-shifting and falsely accusing others of wrongdoing. For example, consider a husband who cheats on his wife with a colleague but suspects she is doing the same, accusing her instead of infidelity. Jesus warned against projection over two thousand years ago in Matthew 7:3, and he states, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your eye?”
Rationalization is a defense mechanism in which people justify and reinterpret behavior and action to make it more reasonable and acceptable. Examples of Rationalization are making excuses, minimizing, making a comparison, and explaining away. Surely I’m not the only one who has rationalized their lousy behavior.
Displacement occurs when we shift our emotions and actions from the desired target to a substitute target. For example, your boss makes passive-aggressive comments, and instead of maturely communicating with him, you stuff your anger. You then come home in a cranky mood and take it out on your family. This is an immature way of dealing with anger. It can cause severe complications in your personal life if you do not recognize it and channel more healthy ways of coping with stress.
Finally, a healthy defense mechanism that we can attempt to use is sublimation. Sublimation involves directing unwanted or unacceptable impulses into an acceptable or productive outlet. I have used this technique when I decide to go for a stroll in the park because I feel frustrated about work, school, or family. Exercising releases my frustration and healthy endorphins and helps me not take my anger out on others who do not deserve it.
Unfortunately, more often, people negatively use defense mechanisms to protect themselves. In doing so, they damage relationships and opportunities. However, there is a healthy set of defense mechanisms that can help you check the anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and discouragement that life throws at you. When people channel frustration into running, working, gardening, writing, meditating, dancing, or another productive outlet, it could lead to an overall happier life. If you struggle with being defensive, pray and ask God to give you the courage to find new ways to cope with stress and remember it is ok to seek professional help from a pastor or counselor.
Schultz, S. E. (2017). In Theories of personality (p. 50). essay, Cengage Learning.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). How healthy are your defense mechanisms? Psychology Today. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201603/how-healthy-are-your-defense-mechanisms