Us Against the Problem
A few months ago, a friend of mine stated, "I've learned to not always trust my feelings." This particular conversation had to do with responding instinctively to situations that call forth defensive or aggressive reactions. I thought this was pretty profound because the older I get, the more I become aware of the complex spider web of experiences I hold in my mind and what my emotions react to… notice how I basically personify my emotions.
In classical psychoanalytic theory, when people respond to something defensively, it's often because anxiety has set in and their ego has been challenged. Despite the obvious narcissistic attributes, our egos are a reflection of how we display ourselves to the world. Furthermore, it's important to realize that you are partially conscious when you react to situations, but many of your reactions come from an unconscious place as well.
Take a moment to think about this— if the vast majority of folks, including you, instinctively take offense to situations that conflict with:
Who you are
Who you want to be seen as
The situations that remind you of past traumas
What percentage of conflict is misinterpreted? How much conflict could be avoided if situations were approached with tolerance and objectivity.
As a person becomes increasingly guarded, accurately understanding other people's motives becomes more difficult. In these situations, defensive people give some attention to the common task, but the higher priority is to protect themselves. Common defense mechanisms include:
Holding back (information, feelings, etc.)
Falling back into old habits
Defensive behavior also leads to defensive listening. When this occurs, the aggravated person may also become more protective when interpreting body language, facial expressions, or tone.
While unrightful defensive behavior is unacceptable, it's important to note that these mechanisms emerge because the ego is trying to protect itself from feelings like anxiety or guilt. That is, more often than not, the person dishing out this behavior is not striving to hurt you— that's not the goal.
And if you're the one dishing it out, becoming aware of when you're doing it is the first step. The next step is to ask yourself why. When I started practicing this, I'd take out a piece of paper or open up a notes document on my phone and literally start brainstorming where it came from. When you're doing this, it's important to remind yourself that it doesn't matter if the reason is petty or ugly, selfish or wrong. What matters is uncovering the root, the truth of why you behave the way you do, so you can work towards being better.
Us Against the Problem:
Most conflict reverts back to an issue with communication and I've been working relentlessly to become the sort of person who's accurate and intentional with my words. A while back, I told my beau, "It's not me against you. It's us against the problem." In that moment, statements were being said was taken out of context. I wanted to hit the reset button and remind him of our constant intentions, the culture of our relationship. He had this "ah-ha" look on his face and we were able to have the same conversation in a constructive way.
When you're on the road to self-discovery and growth, you are also discovering and growing with the people you surround yourself with. Keep in mind that your circle includes both personal and professional relationships. You all are together for one common cause or another, so it's important to realize that, at the root of it all, intentions are never to harm.
We are human. Growth will not be perfect. I repeat, this process will not be perfect. So, remember that you can stop at any moment, reflect, hit the reset button, and apologize. People who believe in an "us against the problem" mindset will accommodate your mistake. But, make sure you do the work to improve that behavior to avoid taking advantage of someone's ability to see past your shit.