Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

On a Carl Rogers Quote

When are you defending yourself versus being defensive?

© 2011 Shelly ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ . Licensed under CC-BY.
Source: © 2011 Shelly ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ . Licensed under CC-BY.

Next to Freud, Carl Rogers was ranked the 2nd most eminent clinical psychologist of the 20th century. He wrote:

In a person who is open to experience, each stimulus is freely relayed through the nervous system without being distorted by any process of defensiveness.

Of course, Rogers isn't implying we never should defend ourselves. He's only saying that, to grow, we need to remain open to the possibility that criticism of us is deserved. The question is: How do you know when you're being defensive, that you're wrong yet defending your position anyway?

These questions may help you decide:

  • How confident are you that you're right and your criticizer is wrong?
  • Have you often received similar criticism? The more often you have, the more likely that your defense of your position crosses the line into defensiveness.
  • Do you have more expertise than does your criticizer?.
  • Are you particularly sensitive on this issue? For example, some people are particularly sensitive to being criticized for hypocrisy, for not walking their talk.
  • Is your reaction calm or emotional? The more emotional, the more likely it's defensiveness, not just defending. Of course, that's not necessarily true. Let's say someone proclaims, "Jungian therapy rocks, and cognitive-behavioral therapy sucks." If you believe in the latter, your emotional reaction might be not defensiveness but an appropriate reaction to the person's dismissive, unsubstantiated attack.

The Takeaway

Some people don't defend themselves enough. Others defend themselves even when clearly wrong—that's defensiveness. Do you fit in either category? If you are overly defensive, is there a takeaway from the five questions above?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.

advertisement