3 Ways To Stop Being So Defensive & Heal The Harsh Inner Critic That Makes You Lash Out

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The other day I came home from work, walked in the door and saw my wife on her phone at the table.

“Hey honey, how did your day go today?!”

She looked up at me with a hurt expression on her face.

She told me how she felt judged and micromanaged. She felt like she was failing as a wife. She felt like she could never live up to my expectations.

I was speechless.

“What the heck are you talking about?”

Turns out my wife — along with millions of other humans all over the planet — has a brutal inner critic.

And having a harsh inner critic can be a big reason why people get so defensive at times.

Shen I asked her how her day had gone, that inner critic took on my voice.

RELATED: When Your Inner Critic Is Making You Miserable, Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

What is your inner critic, exactly, and why are you so defensive when it is triggered? 

According to Anya Surnitsky, a clinical social worker, your inner critic serves as a sort of "stern voice" in your own mind.

"The inner critic’s purpose is to keep us safe. When something went wrong in your childhood, it planted seeds in your inner critic’s mind that doing that wasn’t safe. It created conditions where you learned what was safe and what was too risky," she writes.

For instance, according to Surnitsky, "the first time you got your heart broken because you told someone how you felt? Your inner critic will tell you never to talk about your feelings with your partner that openly again. It wants to share the worst case scenario with you, as it believes it is guaranteed to happen in order to stop you in your tracks." 

When I asked, “How did your day go?” the inner critic translated that into me judgmentally asking her, “Were you productive today? Did you get everything done that you planned? Do you feel good about yourself? Did you live up to your fullest potential?”

She felt judged, attacked, and like a failure. And immediately her defenses went up.

I’ve been a marriage researcher for almost a decade. I teach people regularly that defensiveness and criticism nearly always manifest themselves together. If one partner is overly-critical, the other is often overly-defensive.

RELATED: How To Be A More Empathetic (And Far Less Defensive) Partner

But only recently did it occur to me that sometimes when we feel criticized by others, it’s really us using other people to reflect our own self-judgment back at ourselves.

We seek any opportunity to validate our deepest insecurities of not feeling good enough, loveable enough, ambitious enough, _______ enough.

My weakness? Taxes.

My wife can bring them up in the sweetest, most sensitive, and non-threatening voice ever, and I often (and almost immediately) interpret it her questions about taxes as, “I’m a failure because I haven’t taken care of this yet. I’m unreliable. I’m incompetent. I’m a disappointment…”

That inner critic is out of control.

The temptation is to retreat into my fortress and put up my defenses as if my wife was waging emotional warfare on me.

Can you relate?

Defensiveness is dangerous. It can create an enemy out of an ally in seconds. This is why learning to acknowledge and manage your inner critic is absolutely necessary.

It will keep you from going to war with your partner over something that’s completely made up in your head.

How do you deal with your inner critic and stop being so defensive?

1. Give your inner critic a voice. 

Your inner critic is often fueled by shame. And as shame researcher, Brene Brown says, “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

Take some time to write down the harshest judgments and criticisms you hear coming from your inner critic. Get them out of your head where they can remain a secret, and put them on paper.

Then, if you’re feeling brave, share them with someone you love and trust. By eradicating the secrecy, silence, and judgment, you eradicate the shame. 

Eradicate the shame and the voice will begin to lose its power.

RELATED: How To Listen Without Getting Defensive

2. Own your critic.

Ever hear the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason?”

The reason people say this is because humans love to make things mean something. We create meaning for ourselves through narratives ... stories.

So, sometimes when something bad happens, we create stories in our head to give that thing meaning. Stories are powerful, and the stories you believe about yourself literally define who you believe yourself to be.

If you find that you have a particularly harsh critic residing in your head, you need to start by:

  • Realizing that voice in your head is not you
  • Acknowledging that you have control over that voice when you want to
  • Choosing to tell yourself a different story

Ultimately, the story you tell yourself the most is the story you will believe the most.

Something powerful happens when you start to catch your inner critic telling you something unhelpful or damaging, and you consciously choose to tell yourself a more uplifting or empowering story.

3. Write a new story.

If the story you tell yourself the most is the story you believe the most … then it’s time to proactively start telling yourself the story of the person you truly want to be!

Spend some time and create a new story for yourself. Write a new identity.

If your inner voice says, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not loveable, I’m not ambitious enough, I’m not patient enough, I’m not worth enough…”

Then wake up every morning and tell yourself the opposite.

“I am loveable.”

“I am good with money.”

“I am brilliant.”

“I am worthy.”

“I am loveable.”

“I am a go-getter.”

“I can do this…”

Then, get out there and prove yourself right.

As you start to take ownership of your inner critic, magical things will start to happen. You’ll find more joy. More fulfillment. More peace.

And your relationships will deepen and strengthen… because you aren’t walking around with your hands balled up into fists waiting to attack someone over something your inner critic said to you earlier this morning.

You’ll feel safer. You’ll have more trust in yourself and others. You can let go of your defensiveness.

And it all starts with taking responsibility for what you allow that voice in your head to say to you.

RELATED: Why Your Trust Issues Run So Deep & How To Start Putting Your Faith In Others Again

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Nate Bagley is a writer and entrepreneur obsessed with ridding the world of mediocre love. His work has been featured in GQ, Business Insider, Thrive Global, and more. You can follow his podcast by visiting the Growth Marriage website

This article was originally published at Growth Marriage. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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