Why people get so damn defensive…

Have you noticed how people seem to take personal offense if you express a contrary opinion to them? This is something I observe time and time again.

Everyone as their “thing”, that choice they have made that is slightly contrary to what is popular or an identity or idea that is just different. It doesn’t matter what really, it can be anything; a stance on abortion, religion (or lack thereof), a different dietary habit (vegan, paleo, or banting), being gay, kinky, polyamorous or otherwise sexually deviant, political affiliation… the list is endless.

One thing is for sure, if you challenge a person’s different choice or idea, you are most likely going to come up against a lot of resistance and more often than not that resistance takes the form of an anger response.

Why do people get so angry? Well think about these choices and ideas and where they come from; either the person has taken a decision based on their own research and understanding, or they have build the idea based on an emotive reaction, or they inherited the idea. Most people cannot accept a challenging point of view without seeing this as a direct rejection of them.

If they consciously and deliberately chose a certain path, decision, or idea then your rejection of their idea says that you do not value their judgement. People will quickly get annoyed if they have put a lot of energy and thought into an idea only to have it dismissed offhand. This type of decision making requires a certain amount of investment from the person. I wish more people used this type of decision making to direct their behaviour and lives, because at its core is a consciousness and deliberateness. Sadly this also gives rise to a type of fanaticism that can be grating. You know the type… the fanatical atheist who sneers and insults anyone who has religious beliefs, or the fitness fanatic who looks down on fat people and insults them based on their appearance and perceived lack of will power.

Then you get the emotive decision maker who takes a stand based on gut feel or personal instinct. I come across this often enough with my dealings with people on social media. The ongoing debates about abortion policy, ingrained racism and classism, and gay marriage/gay rights all revolve around people who have made an emotional decision and are unable to see past that emotion. Often these people see an opposing idea as detrimental to their own existence. The rhetoric in any sort of engagement in these matters tends to be circular and very quickly degenerates into name calling. It is difficult to hear someone say “your feelings are wrong and the ideas based on those feeling are also wrong.” It takes a very self aware individual to look past those defensive emotions and engage actively in conversation.

When considering the inherited idea we find the most inflexible type of decision making. When you contradict these ideas you are not just telling the person that they are wrong but also their family, social network or some other person that they respect (a church elder, a professor, an influential cornerstone in their lives) are in fact also wrong. People crave social acceptance and inclusion. I think this has caused more heartache than any other type of fixed ideology. My own personal experience growing up in a family with a deeply entrenched racism means that I perpetuated ideas that were not my own and had some very painful social experiences as a result. Some people have a rebellion during their teenage years where they start questioning the ingrained belief of their family; others never question these ideas as they are commonly accepted in their entire community. For me it was difficult to blindly continue to hold my racist programming when I became socially active in a politically-aware, lesbian social circle. Sometimes the need to fit in forces an alignment to an ideology that the person may not otherwise chose, and no amount of argument or engagement will change that fixed belief while it is being constantly reinforced by an influence that the person hold in esteem.

What are the things that make you defensive and angry when challenged? Where do those ideas come from?




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