Why Are You Being So Stubborn And Defensive?

Defensive Hedgehog

Try as I might to be open-minded and reasonable, I find it hard to take criticism. On an intellectual level, I understand there is no animosity on the part of an individual who gives me constructive feedback, but I can’t help but experience an emotional reaction to it anyways.

And I’m certainly not alone. Defensiveness is incredibly common; just about everyone is defensive at least some of the time.

But for some people, defensiveness is a more dominant personality trait than others. It can manifest itself in different ways, but all defensiveness involves feeling challenged or threatened by a perceived criticism in order to protect the ego.

Today, I want to discuss stubbornness as a form of defensive mechanism. A person who is acting stubborn will cling to their decision regardless of the consequences. It is an attachment to their decision, and a tendency to resist change in general.

Stubborn people are driven by a resistance to being forced into doing or experiencing anything against their will. I don’t want to experience the sting of criticism, so I make an excuse, and tell myself that I can’t be wrong and don’t need to change.

Of course, standing your ground isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. But there is a fine line between standing your ground and being overly stubborn. And being overly stubborn has some serious consequences:

  • Makes you more afraid to experience new things or experiment. Over time, this significantly narrows you as a person.
  • Closes your mind, making you less knowledgeable.
  • Interferes with your relationships. Being stubborn makes you seem like an ass, and people notice.
  • Makes you stagnate, and prevents you from integrating valuable feedback into your life.

So, how can you tell when you are being defensive and stubborn?

Good question. While it depends on the person, I think there are at least one or two areas where most people already are aware of how stubborn they are. You should focus on those areas first.

But for everything else, here is a useful heuristic: if you have a desire to react immediately, you are probably being defensive. Learn to tame your emotions in these circumstances, and you can focus on delaying your reaction until the emotions have passed. In the next section, you will learn how to do this.

 

Overcoming Stubbornness And Defensiveness

The best way to reduce all kinds of defensiveness in the long term is through cultivating a strong sense of self-worth. The more you value yourself, the less you will feel an instinctual “need” to protect your ego.

If you reasonably expect you are going to be criticized (say, for a performance review at work), then you can remind yourself of things that you are good at beforehand. This can soften the blow of the criticism, thus priming your mind to be more receptive to it.

Remember that there is no need to “prove” yourself. You need not make excuses when you are criticized or someone disagrees with you. Sure, sometimes excuses are valid, but it is best to just accept responsibility.

Developing the sense of self-worth that decreases your “need” to protect your ego is a long-term process. It is something to continuously work on.

In the short and medium term, there are numerous things you can do to make you less stubborn and defensive.

Know Thyself

When are you most likely to be stubborn and why? Some situations are easier to identify than others, but it is worth spending at least a short period of time doing a personal analysis.

I for one tend to get stubborn when it comes to issues or discussions of political philosophy, economics, health, and nutrition. And I tend to get very defensive when someone calls into question my efforts or the values that I live by.

That quick analysis took me about thirty seconds, but there is a lot of wisdom in it. A simple awareness of these “trouble spots” can make you far more conscious and responsive to when you become defensive in real time, so you can take action and adjust.

Cultivate an Open Mind

Question your assumptions about everything. Oftentimes we are stubborn because we hold a particular worldview, based on certain assumptions, and we refuse to look at the world in a different way.

Philosophers debate whether there is such a thing as an objective truth or not. We need not go into this debate in order to gain insights from it (although being familiar with the philosophies is certainly beneficial). The point is, your “truth” probably isn’t the whole “truth”. Whether you are right or wrong, there is value to looking at something from a different perspective.

Even when you disagree with someone, you should respect their opinion and their right to hold it. It’s quite possible that they are more insightful than you think.

You Aren’t Always Right

Even if you are very smart, you are not infallible. You might be fully confident in your correctness, but that doesn’t mean you actually are.

Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone is wrong sometimes. Remind yourself that this time might be one of them.

Back in my Hebrew school class about ten years ago, my teacher Avi mentioned the word “harbinger” in his lesson. I “corrected” him. “It’s harbringer, with an ‘r’, Avi”, I interrupted. After one or two back-and-forths, Avi told me I was probably right. Some combination of him being incredibly kind and wanting to shut me up. Smart move.

Somehow, this exchange has stuck in my mind after all these years. I was SO sure. 100% positively convinced that the word was “harbringer”. When I ultimately learned that I was wrong, my mind was blown.

And you might not be as wrong as I was then. There are many situations where you can be “half right”. The issue may not be that clear cut, and both you and your “opponent” are both approximating the truth.

In nutrition, this comes up a lot. For example, if someone says “red meat is unhealthy”, I instinctively want to correct them, for it certainly is NOT unhealthy. They are “wrong” and I am “right”. The reality is that most red meat IS unhealthy, because most meat is of poor quality. But grass-fed meats are downright some of the healthiest foods out there. The issue was not black and white.

Ultimately, the combination of having an open mind and the modesty of understanding that you aren’t always right is a solid combination that you must work toward in order to decrease your stubborn and defensive nature.

Listen to the Other Side of the Story

This is the practical side of the previous two points. It’s not just a mindset; there is action involved.

You must put effort into honestly trying to understand the other side. This means listening, but it goes even beyond that. You must try to “get” other perspectives, even when you don’t agree with them.

If there is a disagreement with another person, then put yourself in their shoes. If you are being stubborn on your own, try to play devil’s advocate with yourself. If you choose to do this out loud (recommended), then I suggest you do it in private 😉

There is no need to blindly accept or deny anything. Ask questions instead.

Say “I Don’t Know”

These words are so rarely uttered. It’s strange, but people can’t seem to say “I don’t know”, even when they don’t.

Most people feel like they “should” have an opinion about everything. This is silly.

I am a very ideological person, and I often feel the “need” to “defend” my positions. And I’m damn good at it too, most of the time. But the reality is, there are a couple of areas that I’m less familiar with or don’t have an answer for. Rather than making something up, the right action is to say “I don’t know”.

Luckily, this is one area that I have been able to improve upon significantly over the past few years. It’s not too challenging, so it is a good place to start for people who want to become less stubborn and defensive.

Admit When You’re Wrong

And you will be wrong.

Admitting to being wrong is beneficial for you. As in my “harbringer” story from above, actively recognizing that you are wrong humbles you. It serves as a reminder in the future that you might not be right, even when you’re certain that you are.

Doing this is challenging, but it fosters integrity and makes you accountable.

 

When Is It Okay To Be Stubborn?

While you should make it a point to be less stubborn in general, there are times where a little bit of stubbornness is healthy and even necessary.

It can be hard to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy stubbornness. It’s going to vary case by case.

At first, it will be tempting to consider most situations to be ones in which stubbornness is healthy. You will usually be wrong. I suggest making your default assumption that stubbornness is inappropriate to the situation, and only occasionally make exceptions.

A situation where stubbornness is healthy has three conditions: there is a decision that is yours to make, you are the one who lives with the consequences, and you believe you are right. Of course, this all just stems from the need to take personal responsibility for your life.

For example, any major life decisions of yours may warrant some stubbornness. If you really, really want to go to a certain college and your parents disagree, you should go where you want. Of course, this only applies if you are the one paying for it; keep in mind the second necessary condition. It is worth taking your parents’ opinions into consideration, but the decision is ultimately yours to make.

Stubbornness can also be a virtue if you are defending something very important to you. If you’ve already explored alternatives, played devil’s advocate with yourself, and so on, you might have a principle or opinion that you hold to be very important. Feel free to be a little stubborn or defensive with your ideals, so long as you are still respectful of other perspectives.

As a final note, make sure to pick your battles. Even if you do have these strong ideals, it’s not always the right time to be defensive about it. My Hebrew school teacher knew that a word wasn’t worth debating, so he just admitted to being “wrong”, checked his ego at the door, and got on with it. Chances are, this will be the wisest course of action much of the time.

 

Conclusion

Stubbornness and defensiveness are some of the worst, most grating personality traits to have, yet they are incredibly common. In fact, everyone experiences at least occasional instances of each.

That being said, you never want to be that guy who everyone hates because you always have to disagree. And then push it.

But through awareness and a bit of practice, you can drastically reduce the frequency of these behaviors. I personally will be focusing on this area of my life a bit more over the coming months.

Do you have any advice for someone, such as myself, who is trying to stop being so stubborn and defensive?

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Comments

  1. Karabo "velcro" theko says:

    To admit being wrong and not being “mr/mrs know it all” is the good karmers and that’s how to handle yourself,sometimes even if you know but try to leave it into account. That’s VELCROshit

  2. while reading this article, my mind and heart was act in different way. they trying to refused but in someway, it really true and I felt shameful to admit them. it not easy to overcome stubborn. it’s like the battle within our mind and heart. When I getting stubbern,it will effect to another human negative sides, like angry easily, being egoistic, sensitive, and loner. but when it’s about “Admit it! you’re wrong and Shut up!” rather than think to felt sorry, I will unconsciously felt defensive and think about pride or hating people and run away. Through this link, I will looking forward to deal with myself. It will be big task for me. Thanks for your article.

  3. The best answer I have is that criticism is not a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on the person doing the criticizing. They should either mind their own business or keep their opinions to themselves.

    Everyone always has the answer for others, but never for themselves. Most critical people are hypocrites.

    • Thanks for the comment, Pat. I’d agree with you much of the time, but there are situations where criticism is completely appropriate – but some people, like me, are resistant to it even when it might be appropriate.

    • i agree and disagree. i think yes, many criticism comes from their own experience and imposing it on others. mayb they dont understand that your situation is different but that doesnt warrant them not the right to voice out what they felt. one may not understand, but it’s just a message they try to voice, and it’s good to see from their perspective what they want to say even we may not entirely agree

  4. LOL…. it seems that some in the comments section of a very insightful article, are currently battling with being defensive. Even after reading beautifully worded suggestions like, “….here is a useful heuristic: if you have a desire to react immediately, you are probably being defensive.” I imagine folks like us, who have a problem with being being defensive, similarly have a problem with recognizing our own defensiveness. However, I vehemently agree that some people are just plain “know-it-alls” (who could also benefit from reading this article)….. but learning to be non-defensive includes asking ourselves the questions, “Who cares? & What exactly does that have to do with me to the point that I should feel any kind of way about it?” I think I am getting closer….. Thanks for the article. It was a nice reminder to stay on task with keeping my emotions in check.

    • Thanks Tawanna! That’s a good point actually – I bet there are a handful of select individuals who will not suffer in the slightest by being defensive. And perhaps for many of the people who do suffer, it is only to a small degree. Personally, I find that my being stubborn is beneficial in some respects, but generally causes me to have more stress and more arguments…it’s not great for a social life.

  5. I’m battling with my own stubbornness today and had a bit of a breakthrough. Recently I’ve been told by doctors to do more exercise and mediation. I find that I’m not doing it or at least not consistently. I asked myself why not? The answer that came back is that my stubborn 2 year old (I mean the 2 year old in me) was having a tantrum. I don’t like being told what to do (full stop) and I especially don’t like authority figures (even when they are trying to help me) telling me what to do.
    So my advice is (if you’re like me) acknowledge the 2 year old inside, let her or him have their say and a tantrum if necessary and then say ‘but you’re going to do this thing that’s good for you’ and then do it. You can reward yourself afterwards if you want.

    • I can definitely relate, and I think that is great advice. Perhaps another way of saying it is that you ought to accept the stubborn feeling you get rather than fight it. “Okay, I don’t feel like listening to this guy tell me what to do. Oh well, that’s the 2-year old in me talking! My feelings aren’t ‘wrong’, and it’s okay that I feel this way. But even though I don’t want to listen, I will do it regardless because it makes sense.

  6. My stubbornness has gotten me into trouble. Thanks to an insta-argument, I now am doing an army-style fitness challenge, just to prove I’m right. I don’t want to do it, but now I have to. Life sucks.

  7. I just got advised from a friend that told me i am very stubborn. Then i investigated and came to this site. Then i knew my problem. I always think i am right in my world and do not consider others. My friend advised me no one can move up alone, he or she always need a support or else we cant go this far. EG before i got married i was always playing games. Now because of my wife i am working hard.

  8. My husband,his mom and I went to a restaurant for dinner. Waitress took our orders ,his mom was paying ,waitress came back to ask a question about sides,so my husband goes off on her saying before she even finishes talking,what’s the problem here. His mom was shocked. I don’t agree how he went about it,weather she was right or wrong ,now he says i have her back and not his and I’m too stubborn n proud to admit I am wrong because I did say shhh. To him quietly. Wtf am I stubborn?

  9. Thanks for the nice article it will help me. but can u suggest me with some solutions as I m nt stubborn in all situations but only in my personal relationship where love n attention is concern.i m a gd lister but the other person is unable to explain himself everytime but when our argument become v painful n I strongly decide nt to be friend with him anymore then all his truth comes out all the situations what happen n why…he has problem with express ing his feelings n I m unable to assume every time that he wants me but can’t express…n he done this n this becoz of some reason…if the other person is nt comunicating about love but while criticizing he is v expressive wht to do? how to convince myself that he is nt expressive n I hv to understand. ..plz help I want to save my relationship

  10. The words up there has reflection to the daily life situation. The real situation can be anything if you are 3 for example one of them can be stubborn and not accepting the things what we say although if we are talking to that stubborn person he will take it to the third person and twist the subject and he will make us fight with the the third person. And sometimes he himself will try to start the fight by putting some unwanted subject and he will make the issue bigger and let third person intrude in it. And this the way they play it . And for some reason they will make it happen. And for that the best way is 1) staying quiet and being ignorant of things that they talk. Don’t intrude with them. 2)And say answer for the only question that you are asked . 3) Don’t talk much when they say something just give a laugh and think in mind that he is a nobody. 4) Be patient and control your emotions . 5) make them feel that your an brave person by being quiet. 6)The topic they speak will be known for you but never utter a word until and unless you are asked. 7) And if you are asked also say less and close and they try to speak more but don’t speak and just shake your head. Think that two dogs are barking .8) And if that your friend just give him a good laugh they say everything to take you to emotion give a good laugh and say him that fine no offense. And give him some excuse and walk away for example just I want go to toilet.9) That it be cool and think good in mind and make them feel that they are right.10) Lastly they will feel good and you will also feel good. Remember always when you sit with them control you emotion to talk back to the topic which they are talking.

  11. great article thanks!

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