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Offensively Defensive

Updated: Apr 23

Have you suddenly noticed that you are a Negative Ned or Nasty Nelly -- always seeing the downside of what could happen and reacting from that perspective?

If you are frequently told that you 'take things the wrong way,' it could be gaslighting. According to the American Psychological Association, "To gaslight someone means to manipulate another person into doubting their own perceptions, experiences or understanding of events. You could also be responding offensively or defensively.

Offense. Standing in offense will affect how you see. Here is an interesting saying: "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail." It reminds me of what it must feel like to always be looking for something to hit. Offense, defined as: "annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles," could cause you to see others as enemies. When we are offended by someone or some thing, the lens through which we see similar things can be tainted. Notice in the definition the word "perceived insult to or disregard..." This is what offense does; it dials our reactions to "ON", so that anything that reminds me of what offended me becomes personal and reason for defensive action.

Defense: We defend ourselves when we believe we are being attacked. In my study of the human brain, I learned that the brain is designed to protect us from threats -- real or imagined. That is how our primitive ancestors survived -- the brain developed the ability to perceive and warn of danger resulting in the "fight, flight or freeze" response. Over time, our brains became more developed resulting in the higher functioning "front part" of the brain. When we perceive a threat or are reminded of a previous harmful experience, the primitive brain goes into protective mode (fight, flight or freeze). If you give yourself a few seconds, however, the higher functions of the frontal brain will 'kick in' helping you to discern if the threat is real or not. When we react without giving the higher functions of the brain to activate, the result can be defensiveness against what feels like an attack.

What to do?

Spiritual Help: If you are a Believer, as I am, we can find principles for dealing with offense or defense in God's Word. For instance, Matthew 18:15-17 calls for honestly admitting when we have been offended, even bringing in others to hear and help mediate the conversation between parties. There is a stopping point, though. After making real effort to resolve the offense, listen to this advice: "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” You do not have to spend your entire life convincing someone they have offended you and hoping for an apology! Take the steps to resolve the offense, and know when it is time to release that individual.

What are you meditating on? To meditate means to "think deeply or carefully about something." The following passage helped me A LOT when I found myself wanting to go on the offense to defend against "attacks". I stop and think about what I am thinking about, and I measure those thoughts against Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. We can actually meditate on whatever is false, whatever is unrighteous, whatever is ugly, the bad reports, failings, gossip or negative results. Thinking deeply and carefully about these things will create offense and the ongoing practice of being on the defensive.

Natural Help: Perceived offense and the defensive response are heart issues. There are, however, actual offenses that affect how we see ourselves and others. Some of those offenses can be old -- going back to childhood, and thus shape how we perceive ourselves as adults. In addition to prayer and spiritual intervention, consider therapy. A therapist can help you process the impact of offense and trauma on your reactions to those around you. Some of us need a good cry, or a series of good cries, around a flesh and blood professional who understands the context of our tears. In some cases our defenses can be so entrenched that they block us from experiencing the presence of God.

Your responses are indicators of what's happening in your heart. Don't push addressing them to the back burner, but make it a priority to, "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Proverbs 4:23 - NLT)

I realize this is a layered conversation. Certain times of year can bring even more emotional responses that we might not be prepared for. One of those times is (clears throat) Mother's Day. If you find yourself struggling either in your relationship or grieving around Mother's Day, I'm including a link to my "Letters to Mom" coaching exercise. Depending on the response, we might put together an online group session. Feel free to email me and let me know if it helps.

You are loved.

Michele Aikens is an author, minister and CEO of Clear Sight Coaching and Consulting. You can connect with her here.

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