7 Ways To Stop Being Defensive When Someone Triggers You

Reacting defensively won't make you feel any better.

woman with arms crossed Alena Shekhovtsova / corelens via Canva

By Shreyasi Debnath

Defensiveness is a psychological and emotional response characterized by a person's inclination to protect themselves from perceived criticism, threats, or attacks. Ask yourself: do you react defensively when someone pulls your trigger?

Today, you feel light. After a long time, you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face, ready to rock the day. You reach your workplace feeling extremely motivated. People notice that you look extra positive like you are spreading good karmic energy.


Everything is rolling smoothly and suddenly, someone decides to pull your trigger. The story flips in a second and you shower the person with mean words, shaking with anger, and wishing you could harm the other person for destroying your mental peace.

But where does this thought come from? It's within you.

Interestingly, every one of us is familiar with such incidents where we have reacted in ways we wished we hadn’t. You might wonder, “So? What’s wrong if I have?” Nothing is really wrong until it makes you vulnerable to being controlled and manipulated by others, which you are highly risking yourself for.


What is the easiest choice we have when we are triggered? We simply react. We become defensive — the fastest and most feasible way to respond.

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Why do some people react defensively?

Most of us are not aware of the maladaptive way we react to a situation or stimuli in our surroundings. For us, our reaction is absolutely justified.


It wouldn’t be a surprise if, while reading this article you realize that you often react in ways that are revealing just the tip of the iceberg, the substantial part of which we don’t get to see.

Defensiveness is the action we perform to protect ourselves from being deflated. Defensiveness, to some extent, is an ego-protective measure. But, here’s a backstory.

The actual truth is oddly ironic — being defensive sounds to have a self-protecting, self-promoting connotation, which is half of the truth.

We do not get defensive to protect ourselves from others, but we get defensive to protect ourselves from our own undesirable thoughts, wishes, and desires, and to not encounter something within ourselves: fear.


Defensiveness is always based on deep-seated fear.

If an individual feels incompetent, incapable, and insignificant, he or she is likely trying to avoid an uncomfortable thought or feeling rising from within themselves.

Defensiveness is crippling for an individual in several ways. The few most common ways it diminishes the effectiveness are by projection, distortion, and compensation. It is clearly understandable that defensive behavior is internally instigated and not based on external stimuli.

But you have to stop believing that others are responsible for your defensive behavior or they are the ones that need to change. Remember: one particular person might have malicious intent towards you, but not all.


Now that you know that defensive behavior stems from inside us, you have an upper hand at doing something about your defensive behavior.

Here's how you can stop yourself from reacting defensively when someone triggers you.

1. Pause, stop, and think.

When someone attacks us, the first thing we do is counter-attack. This is where you have to stop. The moment you realize your system is about to blast, stop. Tell yourself, “I can retaliate, but not before I review the entire situation in a quick span of 5 minutes.”

Delay your wish to counter-attack. In the meantime, take a moment to calm yourself down, think about what transpired, and try to make sense of the situation.

Counter-attack often happens so fast that we do not get the time to logically think the situation over. So, calming oneself down in such a situation is an ultimate necessity.


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2. Practice responding; give up reacting.

What’s the difference, you might ask? A reaction is typically quick, happens within a flash of a moment, and is the most aggressive and inappropriate.

When you respond, it is well-perceived and more logically thought over, and hence, it improves communication instead of messing it up. When you react, you are overwhelmed with emotions, feeling anger spreading through your body.

When you respond, you think and pause before speaking. You sit and ponder to revise what an appropriate response should be, free of bias and emotional loading. Start from today. With time, you will master the art of responding.


3. Put yourself in their mental frame.

It’s easy to react to what others say to you, but the most difficult part is to be in their shoes.

Maybe something that the other person said was offensive to you, but that might be simply normal for that person. Consider their habits, personal choices, cultural background, personality, and their frame of mind.

Go out of your box and try to perceive things from their point of view. For once, be them, live their emotions and thoughts, and you might acquire a new perspective about them. They might not seem half as mean as they currently do.

4. Know that other people are separate from you.

Everyone has distinct life experiences. We are what we have experienced in the past. None of our stories are the same. We are all fighting our own battles that others do not know about. Who knows if the person who cursed you in public transport just projected your life frustrations or not?


Before being judgmental about someone who ill-treated, offended, or triggered your emotions, know that it was born in their psyche. Not that their behavior is justified, but they are accountable for it. Not you. All you can do is not allow their negativity to sip into your life.

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5. Know that it's not personal.

Try to remind yourself often that other people's opinions and actions will reflect their own issues and insecurities, rather than your worth. Try to understand their perspective and motivations rather than going on the defense.

Recognize that constructive criticism can lead to personal growth and, when faced with criticism or negativity, take a moment to breathe and respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.


Just keep saying that mantra in your head: "This is not about me. This is about them."

6. Practice self-compassion.

Treat yourself with the same kindness, care, and understanding you'd give to a friend or someone you love. Remember: we're all just imperfect humans who mess up from time to time.

Being gentle with yourself is like shifting your brain away from its usual defensive mode when things get tough, so you can handle stuff better. Plus, it's a way to break free from the trap of overthinking that often follows criticism and helps you get stronger in the long run.

7. Look within yourself.

The next time you react, ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” It might be some unresolved conflict, a dissonance in thought, or dysregulated emotions — whichever it is, the source of your reaction is within you. Give yourself some time.


Sit down with a pen and paper, think of an incident when you reacted defensively, and ask yourself the following questions to gain insight:

  • What was the trigger?
  • Was my response appropriate?
  • What better ways could I have responded?
  • What was I thinking when I reacted in that manner?
  • Which emotions were associated with it?
  • What does the reaction tell about me?

Every time you ask yourself these questions, you develop a better understanding of the underlying mechanism that leads you to react defensively. Try being aware of what is going on inside you. Once you have unraveled what’s in your mind, you gain complete control over yourself.

RELATED: How To Stop Being Defensive In Your Relationship

Shreyasi Debnath is a counseling psychologist, mental health writer, and frequent contributor to The Mind's Journal. She holds a Masters Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology.