I rarely admit this (and frankly, I wonder why I'm doing it now), but I am a very defensive person. I can be quick to feel challenged or threatened by perceived criticism. When that happens, my typical responses range from somewhat testy to downright hostile. It's not an attractive quality. I'm not proud.
I have wanted to do something about it for a long time, but I figured that in order to stop being so defensive, I'd have to do something drastic, like stop caring about what other people think. That sounds great, but it's an awfully tall order for most of us, and not a realistic option for me.
Thanks to a recent set of studies of defensiveness, I now have a far more practical strategy for dealing with my defensive tendencies. When I suspect criticism may be coming my way (for instance, when I send my editor a new chapter for feedback, or when my husband comes home from work to find that I've redecorated the bedroom), I take a moment to reflect on something I really like about myself.
I remind myself that I am exceptionally well-organized, that I am a sympathetic listener, that I make a killer baguette, or that I'm fun to have around at parties. This is called self-affirmation, and it can take many forms. Usually, we self-affirm through thinking, talking, or writing about our most important values, skills or characteristics. We do it when we reflect on our past successes, and the lessons we have learned. And when we do, we provide a boost to our sense of self-esteem, and a buffer against any incoming threats.