Learning To Reflect Instead of React Defensively
We’ve all experienced it before – someone makes a comment that doesn’t sit well with us or feels like a personal attack. Our natural reaction is often to get defensive and respond with anger. However, there is a more positive alternative.
Instead of reacting defensively, we can choose to reflect on the situation. By taking a moment to pause and consider the comment, we can find a better way to respond that promotes understanding and empathy. In doing so, we can transform potentially hurtful situations into opportunities for personal growth and connection.
Rather than reacting in the moment when you feel slighted, make a point to capture the comment and reflect on it later. Here are some tips:
- Mentally flag it. When the hurtful comment happens, simply make a mental note that you want to revisit this later. Don’t ignore it, but don’t dwell on it in the moment either.
- Write it down. As soon as possible after the interaction, write down the comment word-for-word to the best of your recollection. Capture any other key details about the context as well. Getting it out of your head and onto paper can help diffuse the intensity of the emotions.
- Ask yourself key questions. When you’re ready to reflect, ask yourself: What was the intent behind this comment? Was it meant to be hurtful or did I interpret it that way? Is my reaction disproportionate to what was actually said? What insecurities or experiences of mine may be getting triggered?
- Consider the other perspective. Try to look at it from the other person’s point of view. What were they trying to express? Is there some valid point I’m missing because of my defensiveness?
- Examine your part. Could I have said or done something to contribute to the situation? Is there a way I can act differently next time to lead to a more positive outcome?
- Let some time pass. Don’t force yourself to analyze the comment within minutes or hours of when it occurred. Let the intensity of the emotions fade so you can reflect calmly and objectively.
- Talk to a trusted friend. Getting an outside perspective from someone you trust can be invaluable. Run the comment and context by them to see if they have any insights about the intent or any blind spots you may have.
- Consider if any action is needed. After reflecting, decide whether any follow-up action is appropriate – either clarifying the misunderstanding with the other person or making a change in your own behavior going forward.
- Practice self-compassion. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and says things they regret. Don’t beat yourself up excessively over the situation. Focus on what you can learn from it.
- Forgive and move on. At a certain point, you have to consciously choose to forgive the other person, forgive yourself, and move on constructively rather than staying stuck in resentment.
Taking this reflective approach avoids knee-jerk defensive reactions. It gives you space to process the comment from multiple angles. That said, reflection has its downsides if you overdo it:
- Over-analyzing can keep rehashing the pain instead of moving past it.
- You may second-guess yourself or wallow in regret over how you handled it initially.
- Dwelling negatively affects your self-esteem and crowds out other more positive thoughts.
- Keeping mental records of grievances breeds resentment and damages relationships.
- It takes time and energy that could be better directed elsewhere.
The healthiest approach is to reflect just long enough to gain some useful perspective, but not so long that you get mired down. Use the insights from reflection to better handle similar situations in the future, then make an intentional decision to shift your focus to something more positive.
Learning to respond thoughtfully rather than react defensively requires dedication and practice. It empowers you to engage in a manner that reflects your values, preserving your own dignity while keeping the lines of communication open with those who hold different perspectives. With time, you will become adept at recognizing and intercepting negative thought patterns, enabling you to remain poised and grounded even when faced with hurtful remarks.