Articles

DEFENSIVE PEOPLE
by Karla Downing

All of us have had experiences with defensive people. No matter what you say or do, they take your attempts to have healthy communication as a personal attack and respond by attacking you back. It can be exasperating as well as confusing.

Defensive people are sensitive to the threat of criticism and to their ego being injured which they respond to by attacking their opponent.

Defensiveness can come from self-pity, narcissism, an unstable self-image, a passive aggressive personality, an abuse mentality, victimhood, mental illness, addictions, and more. It can be manipulative to keep the person from having to take responsibility for their stuff in the relationship. It can be a tactic to keep you from being able to address your concerns and to maintain the status quo. It can stem from poor communication skills and dysfunction. It often originates from a deep sense of shame from prior emotional wounds that make it difficult for a person to face anything bad about themselves.

So how do you deal with a defensive person?

  • You don’t let them manipulate you to where you never speak your truth; instead, you recognize no matter how perfect your approach is that they will be defensive.
  • You speak directly, use I statements, keep your message short, and stick to your issue.
  • You shift your expectation from the person “getting it” and being able to talk about the issue to you speaking your truth because you need to.
  • You keep yourself from being defensive by detaching emotionally from their attacks so you don’t argue, attack, or defend in return.
  • You set boundaries for yourself including how much time you want to spend with the person and how much you will engage them.

You can’t make a defensive person stop seeing you as an opponent; you can only choose how you engage them and refuse to get drawn into the battle.

By Karla Downing


Relationship Prayer

God, Help me to recognize that defensive people see me as an opponent because of their own issues not because I am doing something wrong. Help me to detach emotionally so I don’t get involved in the battle.


Relationship Challenge

    ☐   Recognize that the defensive people in your life see you as an opponent.
    ☐  Don’t allow them to draw you into a battle.
    ☐  Stick to your truth, detach, and take care of yourself.

Scripture Meditation

Luke 7:31-35

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children”(NIV).

John 8:40

“As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (NIV).

Jesus was misunderstood too. People were defensive with his truth and dealt with him as an opponent because of their own issues not because he was doing anything wrong.


Karla Downing offers relationship help as a speaker, author, Bible study teacher and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Her books include 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages, When Love Hurts: 10 Principles to Transform Difficult Relationships, and The Truth in the Mirror: A Guide to Healthy Self-Image. Karla’s passion is to see individuals, marriages, and families set free from the chains of dysfunction, misunderstanding, and emotional pain personally and relationally. Her messages provide practical and biblical truths that bring balance and clarity to life and relationship issues. She is the founder of ChangeMyRelationship.com.

If you have any questions you would like to ask Karla, please feel free to email her at karla@changemyrelationship.com.

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