Defenses are kind of tricky because they are usually employed without your conscious consent. They are part of the workings of the unconscious mind to protect you. That doesn’t mean you can’t see them. It just means they can be sneaky!
I wanted to write about this because I have been seeing it as a theme popping up in sessions and conversations in my life. Whenever there is a theme, I know it’s time to write about it.
So offense as defense.
This can be range from something pretty benign like ignoring someone because you are embarrassed to full blown bullying.
We know that bullying is rooted in protecting a vulnerability. That vulnerability is usually a sense of inferiority that was probably seeded from another bully in that person’s life. This is all an unconscious process. Which is why it is so good that bullying is being talked about more in the media and in schools. How it is being addressed is not perfect by any means. But it is at least the conversation is starting so these dynamics can be brought into conscious awareness.
Here are some other examples of the ways offense as defense shows up:
- Not apologizing because you feel terrible about the mistake you made.
- Bristling or being critical because you are not familiar with a concept or piece of information or how to answer something that comes up in a conversation.
- Avoiding people or showing an unfriendly facial expression because you are overwhelmed (can happen a lot for people who experience social anxiety).
- Projecting: accusing others of something you are doing. An example would be accusing your partner of being unfaithful when you are having thoughts of infidelity or being unfaithful yourself. Or convincing yourself that someone dislikes you when you, in fact, do not like them. You just may not find it acceptable for some reason to openly dislike the other person, so the psyche protects you by assuming this is coming from them, not you.
- The technical term is “reaction formation“. Examples would be being overly friendly or helpful to mask difficulty managing anger. Or really wanting to be in a romantic relationship (but finding that desire unacceptable), so criticizing others for openly showing affection or committing to one another.
How to know when you are on the receiving end of someone using offense as defense:
Anyone could be on the receiving end, just like anyone can be on the giving end of this deal.
If you feel confused about an interaction, that’s a fantastic indicator that this may have happened.
If you feel guilty after an interaction and realize there is no reason you should feel guilty, that could be a signal as well. For example, someone accuses you of not liking them, but you have no problem with them. You feel bad for making them feel like you don’t like them. But, wait, you have no problem with them. There you are…on the receiving end of projection. When someone is using offense as defense.
Also, you are likely more prone to be on the receiving end of this when you are the kind of person who is more likely to blame yourself over others for something that went awry. If this is you, read more here.