Why do some people seem to be forever defending, explaining or justifying themselves? Do you enjoy being around this person? Are you one yourself?
Quite the opposite from the critics who have been the subject of recent articles on complaints and criticism, this person becomes tiresome not because of a string of complaints, but more because of the somewhat toxic nature of self-defense.
Years ago, as the personal transformation wave was cresting via large group seminars, several of us started using a made-up word to highlight the toxic nature of self-defense and explanation: dexify. The word even seems to connote something toxic all by itself.
Certainly, someone who engages in dexification (there's another use that may suggest something kind of dark) seems to be sliding down a spiraling path of negativity. What's so negative about defending yourself, you might ask?
On the one hand, nothing really, especially if there's something there to defend. However, I am not referring to the kind of self-defense you might need when wrongly accused of something, especially something heinous or criminal. However, there's a difference between that kind of self-defense and the more common defend-explain-justify behavior that many of us seem to engage in almost daily.
To be fair, I know I have certainly done my fair share of dexification. The main problem in day-to-day life is that when you choose to dexify, you almost always sound guilty-as-charged. I know that when I find myself in justification mode, there's almost always some part of me that feels insecure about the area, perhaps even wondering-fearing-believing that it must be true.
There may well be several moving parts here, but allow me to underscore a critical aspect that may be operative and why dexification is usually not all that helpful. The worst possible scenario might be that the criticism is accurate and I'm simply digging myself a deeper hole by dexifying.
Some time ago, I wrote an article on this subject, citing a lesson learned from Bucky Fuller about how we can benefit from our perceived enemies. The gist of the story: after a wonderful lecture on the value of seeking to understand and be understood, Bucky took questions from the audience. One gentleman took the microphone and proceeded to tell Bucky that he was full of beans, didn't know what he was talking about, and had no basis for his point of view. Bucky considered the comment, and replied, "Thank you."
After a couple of more rounds of this kind of exchange-attack, wherein the gentleman kept going after Bucky, trying to provoke a reaction, Bucky taught us all a great lesson in self-awareness by saying something like this:
Did you not notice that each time I paused to consider what you had to say? I looked inside myself to see if some part of me was reacting to what you had said about me, particularly if some part of me were upset, prone to counterattack, or otherwise affected. I have found that when I am in that kind of reaction, there is typically something there for me to learn about myself, something for which I need to improve. In this instance, I found no reaction. Thus, you were simply sharing your opinion to which you are fully entitled and with which I have no argument. Therefore, "Thank you" seemed most appropriate.
Indeed, Bucky Fuller demonstrated considerable self-awareness and personal integrity throughout his life, and this little exchange has been a guiding light for me for years. Learning to see the reaction inside myself as feedback about me, pointing out areas of growth, not something to be defended, has been both expansive and liberating for me.
I have learned that when I feel the need to dexify myself, some part of me is almost always of the opinion that they must be right and I must be wrong. The defending, explaining and justifying never seems to change anything and, instead, tends to anchor me more deeply in the issue that needs to be addressed.
If you recognize this tendency in yourself, here's a little tip that I have found personally useful whenever I have the courage to use it. Courage, by the way, is an interesting word that typically means something about physical or mental strength or bravery. Its roots, however, go to the Latin and French words for "heart." I have heard it said that the suffix of the word, "age," means something like "wisdom." If you put the two together, you get "the wisdom of the heart."
The next time you find yourself under attack and are about to resort to dexification, consider the wisdom of your own heart. Look inside yourself to your own reactions. If, like Bucky, you find yourself in reaction mode, consider that there might be a kernel of truth here for you, perhaps an entire bushel-full. If there is something there, then draw a bit more on that source of heartfelt wisdom and dive into the question even further, perhaps saying something like, "That's very interesting. Can you say some more about what you see or how you see this playing out in my behavior?"
I know that for many this seems somewhere between silly and incomprehensible. Why on earth would you invite even more criticism, especially in an area where you might already feel uncomfortable?
It's simple, really. You just might learn something that will liberate you. You may find yourself growing in confidence and inner strength as you choose inquiry over dexification. You might also wind up closing a gap between you and the other person. After all, it does take great courage to step closer in the face of criticism, and your sincere inquiry may melt away something that prevents you from being even more effective.
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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life and how you can take simple steps that may wind up transforming your own life, download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work."
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact him by e-mail at Russell@russellbishop.com.
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