17 Ways To Stop Being Defensive When Someone Triggers You

17 Ways To Stop Being Defensive When Someone Triggers You

Admittedly, it kind of sucks when someone criticizes you or takes issue with something you say, do, or think. It’s easy to be triggered by negative feedback and get defensive, but in the end, that only makes you look bad, not the person doing it. The next time you feel your blood start boiling, do these things to preserve your peace and stay cool, calm, and collected.

1. Take a minute before reacting.

When you feel triggered, take a minute to breathe before lashing out. This helps you gain control over your immediate emotional responses. By not reacting impulsively, you give yourself the opportunity to assess the situation more pragmatically and choose a more considered response that you won’t regret down the line.

2. Identify your triggers.

two friends chatting in a kitchen

Recognizing the specific topics or phrases that elicit a defensive reaction from you is a must. This level of awareness enables you to prepare for and navigate discussions revolving around these topics more skillfully. Understanding your triggers helps you maintain your composure and respond more rationally, even in conversations that touch on sensitive areas.

3. Try to hone your listening skills.

friends having a conversation

Make a conscious effort to listen actively to what the other person is saying without interrupting or formulating your snappy comebacks while they speak. This approach not only helps you understand their perspective better but also demonstrates respect for their POV. Active listening can diffuse tension and open the door to more meaningful and respectful dialogue, and isn’t that what every mature adult should aim for?

4. Actually reflect on the feedback you receive.

young man and woman chatting on park bench

Consider the feedback people give you as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth rather than an attack on your character. Trying to objectively pick apart the comments lets you extract valuable insights and identify areas for improvement (and throw away the garbage). Shifting your mindset in this way can turn potentially defensive situations into learning opportunities.

5. Ask for clarification if you need it.

If the things people are saying are unclear or seem unfounded, ask them nicely to explain a bit more. Wanting clarification shows your willingness to understand the other person’s perspective fully and can prevent misunderstandings. This approach can also uncover the true intent behind the feedback and help you distinguish between constructive criticism and baseless remarks.

6. Acknowledge the valid points people make.

male and female friend chatting on park bench

If there is truth in what the other person is saying, acknowledge it. Not instantly undermining the things people say shows maturity and openness to self-improvement. This acknowledgment can de-escalate potential conflict and shift the focus from defending yourself to resolving the underlying issue. And who knows? It might actually be helpful to you too.

7. Communicate your feelings — they’re valid too!

two male friends talking at restaurant

Express how the feedback or situation makes you feel using “I” statements. This method allows you to convey your emotions without placing blame, reducing the likelihood of the other person becoming defensive in turn. Communicating your feelings can encourage empathy and understanding on both sides.

8. Set boundaries if necessary.

man and woman talking on city street

If you feel the feedback is becoming personal or aggressive, it’s appropriate to set boundaries. Clearly communicating your need for respectful and constructive dialogue can help maintain a healthy interaction. Setting boundaries is a sign of self-respect and ensures that conversations remain productive and focused on the issue at hand.

9. Practice self-compassion.

Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to be imperfect. Treating yourself with kindness and understanding when faced with criticism can lessen the impact of negative feedback and reduce the impulse to respond defensively. Self-compassion encourages a more balanced and less reactive stance in challenging situations.

10. Try to find peaceful resolutions.

Focus on finding solutions or reaching an understanding, rather than “winning” the argument. Approaching feedback to achieve a positive outcome encourages cooperation and reduces defensiveness. This perspective promotes problem-solving and strengthens relationships by prioritizing mutual respect and resolution over conflict.

11. Focus on the present.

Concentrate on the current issue without bringing up past conflicts. Focusing on the present helps prevent the accumulation of unrelated grievances and keeps the conversation relevant. This approach ensures that discussions are more manageable and solutions are tailored to the immediate situation, facilitating a clearer path to resolution.

12. Use neutral language.

Choose words that are neutral and non-accusatory to convey your thoughts and feelings. Using neutral language reduces the chance of the other person becoming defensive, making it easier to maintain a constructive dialogue. This communication style promotes a more objective and less charged exchange, helping both parties remain calm and focused on the topic.

13. Recognize your own body language.

Be aware of your non-verbal cues, such as crossed arms, eye-rolling, or sighing, which can convey defensiveness even when your words do not. Adopting an open and relaxed posture encourages a more open and receptive atmosphere. Mindful body language can significantly impact the tone of the conversation, making it more conducive to positive interaction.

14. Separate intent from impact — they’re not always the same!

Understand that the impact of someone’s words on you may not align with their intent. Acknowledging this difference can help you respond less defensively and more constructively. This realization fosters a more forgiving attitude towards misunderstandings and promotes a focus on clarifying and resolving the issue at hand.

15. Embrace vulnerability.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be powerful in reducing defensiveness. By openly expressing your uncertainties or admitting when you are wrong, you demonstrate humility and openness to growth. Embracing vulnerability can disarm potential conflicts and encourage a more genuine and empathetic exchange between all parties involved.

16. Prioritize relationships over ego.

Value the relationship and the person you’re interacting with over the need to defend your ego. Reminding yourself of the importance of your relationship can help you choose responses that nurture connection rather than division. This priority helps keep conversations constructive and ensures that maintaining mutual respect and understanding takes precedence.

17. Engage in self-reflection.

Regularly reflect on your reactions and the reasons behind them. Understanding your own patterns can help you anticipate and manage defensive feelings more effectively. Self-reflection fosters personal growth and improves your ability to handle criticism and conflict with grace, leading to more mature and constructive interactions.

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Brad grew up in St. Louis and moved to California to attend Berkeley College of Music, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Music Production and Engineering. He still plays in a band on the weekend and during the week does a lot of writing and coffee-making to pay the bills. He's also been married for 7 years now, so he figures he must be doing something right.