Why Am I So Defensive?
I am a very defensive person. I don’t always look like it on the outside. At least, I try hard to hide it. But on the inside, I scramble. A lot.
Comment on my driving. Make a suggestion about my parenting. Helpfully point out that there is piece of lettuce in my teeth. And then you’ll see. I squirm; I hesitate. Eventually I come up with something to say; a lame excuse, a clever joke, a distracting counter-argument. Something. I can’t just accept your commentary and use it for good. I must justify myself.
Even with the trivial case of lettuce in my teeth – something vital is at stake. My entire psycho-muscular structure turns hot with alarm. Yes – something core is threatened. When someone sees a need in my life, I just don’t feel OK. My basic sense of OKness is in a delicate balance. When it is shaken – then the urge to self-justify is nigh irresistible.
Just the other day, while on a walk with my wife, I confessed that I’d been feeling irritable.
When she agreed with me, a wave of indignation rose within and I went silent. Agreeing with me? Who did she think she was! And then it got worse – she asked what she could do to help.
The whole reason I confessed the irritability was because I wanted help. I wanted help to stop the irritability (which hurts me as well as others) and I wanted help with the underlying stress. But when she took me seriously – well it was clear that she was implying I actually needed help. I was offended. My original humble stance did a martial arts-like back flip; I landed in the ‘on-guard’ position.
For the next 100 yards, I explained (in a reasonable tone), “…just talking to you is enough thank-you.” “I think the worst has passed.” “Yes, I’m OK now.” And then, (I said sweetly), “How’s your irritability going?”
See what I mean? Scrambling.
Even the smallest of interactions throw me into a dilemma. I am caught between a false idea (that I deeply believe) and a truth (which I don’t trust). The false idea: The Less I Need – The More Secure I Feel as a Person. But the truth is precisely the opposite; The More I Need – The More of a Person I Am.
Need is the definition of personhood. Does this sound strange? Think about it – God designed people with the largest inner need possible. He made me with a vacuum that can be filled only with Himself. Of all God’s creatures, I am the neediest. This capacity to be in-dwelt by God is what sets the human being apart. It is what makes us image-bearers. This need is the very definition of personhood.
But because I believe the lie, I feel less than a person when my needs are exposed. My identity is wrapped around the delusion that I can self-justify my existence. The threat is intolerable. So I double-down on the delusion that my needs don’t really exist or that they are inconsequential.
I find myself at odds with reality (which seems to be everywhere). Pretending that I am not what I am is exhausting. I have to stay perpetually on-guard, for I never know when one of my needs may peek out. Then the ruse will be up.
Seems to me that Jesus invites us to give up the ruse and come to His rest. He offers us God-justification. He offers us a final OKness. For real. For free. For those who admit their need.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.