How self-confidence can shine out from you and help you drop unnecessary defensiveness.
Lots of defensiveness in a personality comes from low self-confidence. Having defenses is not all bad, in fact, we need to have some. Psychological defenses are part of how we handle all the dilemmas, unanswerable questions, unpleasantness from others, and many other difficulties that are a natural part of life. But, some people are too defended. They don't ever open up to others and, thus, rob themselves and those close to them of the experience of emotional intimacy. They can never admit to a mistake. You are highly unlikely to ever hear an apology or a true one anyway, from them! They guard their inner thoughts and feelings behind an iron gate.
How does a person come to be so very guarded? Often they had parents who were very critical or they may have been reared by shaming parents. Some parents even think it's funny to ridicule children. Children are very impressionable and ridiculing makes them believe there must be something wrong with them. Many parents don't realize how much power they have, psychologically over their children; these demeaning interactions, repeated many times over the course of a childhood, can have lifelong effects on the adult personality.
A self-confident individual usually uses defenses less and only when necessary. When they do need to protect themselves, they are more likely to do it with something like humor or sublimation.
(The less confident, more guarded person will use defenses such as a passive aggressive defense, apathetic withdrawal, denial, rationalization, or devaluation - to name a few.) If you think it's unpleasant to interact with such a person, think about what it's like to live inside that armory!
If you can't ever take any feedback from anyone and think about yourself a little (self-reflect), if others can't assert themselves toward you, if you can't listen openly enough to let in a new idea, not much personal growth can happen for you.
So, build your self confidence and your defenses will automatically be reduced; you won't need them so much! How do you build self-confidence? Paradoxically, psychotherapy is a good component in a program to build self-confidence. I say paradoxically because you have to be willing to look at the tough stuff, to cry about it, to face your personal demons, to give up long-held miss beliefs or illusions. You have to be willing to question your own behavior in the presence of another. You have to be able to go back the next week and face that person (the therapist) after having revealed your deepest, darkest secret. You have to take personal risks. You have to try doing things a different way. You have to be willing to go out of your comfort zone, to function in the unfamiliar, to try new things. You will have to change.
When you have an experienced, (confident themselves), accepting, therapist, it is possible to do this and it is healing. As you go through this process, you become less of a stranger to yourself and less afraid of revealing something ugly to others. More self-knowledge leads to more self confidence leads to less rigorous use of defense mechanisms.
The other thing you can do, which I have discussed in a previous blog, is to provide yourself with positive self-talk. Start now replacing those old negative messages you were inundated with as a youngster with good, positive messages. For example, at the end of each Yoga class that I do, I say one positive affirmation to myself, like, "You did something good for yourself." or, "You spent sometime today helping your body to be healthy." Simple as that! Jack La Lanne, one of the first famous health and fitness promoters told people that he encouraged himself after every workout by saying to himself as he left the gym, "You did it again, Jack!" There are so many times during the day when you can help yourself this way. If you commute, use some of that time to review your accomplishments.
In some cultures it would be unseemly to tout your success to others. That's all right - you don't have to become obnoxious to be more self confident! Just do it mentally, in your own head. If you worked hard at something and it came to fruition, acknowledge yourself. Try to find personal qualities in yourself that you like and notice them, develop them. Try not to go through life wearing a virtual suit of armor---you will miss out on so much. Share your joy with others!
(Related post: Unfinished Business http://therapiststhoughts.blogspot.com/2010/10/unfinished-business.html )