Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dropping The Defensiveness

I experienced a powerful moment with a couple in my counseling office last week. One of the partners is stuck in an angry mode much of the time in relation to the other. That person is hurting, mostly, as it turns out, about childhood wounds from parents who were broken and wounding, rather than able to parent. In a flash of insight, soft tears came, and with them, the realization that the walls and defensiveness that were adaptive and necessary growing up aren't helpful or needed in the marriage now. What a shift in awareness. My partner is not my enemy, and is here to help me heal. I can trust.

How things can change when we lower our defensiveness. It allows us to listen from the heart to our partner, our children, our parents, and others we want to be closest to. We can't even hear the other person or take in what they are communicating if we are defensive. It's like wearing big, bulky football pads and then trying to hug someone. Stuff gets in the way.

To put down our defensiveness, we need to calm our own mind. It helps to remind yourself not to take anything you are hearing personally. Don't prepare a counterattack internally. It doesn't mean you agree. You are just giving the gift of listening with an undefended heart, and no agenda.

It can help to ask the right kinds of questions, those that help you understand them and the other person understand themselves better. Don't ask questions that distract or change the subject, but instead deepen what they are trying to express. For example, "Is there more you can say about that?"

In Imago relationship therapy training, we realize that no one escapes childhood without a few wounds. Everyone had some unmet needs while growing up. Until we are parents ourselves, it's hard to understand what a big job being a parent is. Where we heal from childhood wounds is really not with our parents. We heal, if we choose to, in a committed, loving relationship with a partner.If we can put down the defensiveness and the walls, and let someone in to trust. Why would we settle for anything less?

No matter what sadness, loss, or hurt are a part of your story from childhood or earlier adult relationships, you still have time to do the emotionally brave thing. Take down your own walls, defensiveness, sarcasm and quick anger. Lead with your listening ear and your compassionate heart, and watch for the magic that happens.

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