When You’re Constantly Defending Yourself

Do you spend all your energy defending yourself with certain people?

Is it impossible to get anywhere with them because they continue to paint you into a corner making you feel like you have no choice but to correct them about what you’ve done or who you are?

It may be time to stop defending yourself and start realizing exactly what game is being played so that you don’t fall for it anymore.

Transcript of this episode follows.

Today I want to talk about something specific in emotional abuse. I don’t even know if there’s a term for it. The closest things I’ve come up with are crazymaking and redirection.

I think it’s important to identify specific behavior so that when it’s happening to you, you can label it. When it comes to any type of abusive or toxic behavior, it’s good to have a label for it so that you can know when it’s happening. It helps you spot it so you can work with it and have something tangible to put on the table.

When it’s on the table, you can gather all the pieces, all the components of it, and make a bigger picture of what’s happening. And when you know what’s happening, you have some semblance of sanity, less confusion, and some more understanding.

When you understand what’s happening in a toxic relationship, or a “normal” relationship experiencing toxic communication, it gives you a bit more power. It gives you a few more options. If you have at least one more option at your disposal, then you have a choice.

You get another choice that maybe wasn’t there before, or that you didn’t see. And I think that’s important.

What I’m talking about with these weird terms I brought up – truth erosion, fact erosion, truth attrition, fact disintegration – whatever it is, it’s when someone takes the facts and twists them in a way to make you believe something else other than the truth

What I mean by that is you can have one person in a relationship say, “Look, we had this conversation last week and I said that you can’t use the car” and the other person might say, “No, you didn’t. You didn’t tell me that. You did not say I couldn’t use the car” then the other person will say, “Yes, I did. I remember this conversation clearly” then the person who’s doing some sort of fact-altering or truth-attrition is going to say, “No, you didn’t. I know what you said. This is what you said” and then they’re going to twist it. It’s where someone takes truthful data and turns it around into a falsehood they use to their advantage.

Why they do that is because it’s part of gaslighting, which is making you crazy. If you start to believe this alternate reality they’re creating, you’re going to lose trust in yourself. You’re going to lose the ability to trust your instincts and your decision-making abilities. If you’re in that space, you are more vulnerable, and they have you right where they want you: in a defensive posture.

This is the focus on this episode, your defensive posture.

When you’re in a defensive posture, that’s exactly where they want you (the toxic or manipulative person). In this posture, you spend all your energy defending yourself and explaining to them exactly what the truth is.

By forcing you into this defensive posture, the focus comes off of them and onto you. I think that is so important to know because we do this to ourselves all the time. Somebody says something about us or to us, and we go “No, that’s not true at all. Let me explain to you what really happened” and then we spend a lot of time defending ourselves in certain situations. In the toxic interaction I’m talking about, that’s where we’re most vulnerable.

It’s like being in a small boat with a hole in it and all you have is a small bucket and the water is coming in. You have this bucket and you’re scooping up the water and pouring it out, scooping up the water, pouring it out, and it takes a lot of energy, a lot of time. And you can barely keep up because the water keeps coming in.

The water that keeps filling up your boat is the other person keeping you on the defense. If they keep you on the defense, you can’t catch up, and eventually, you’ll sink. That’s the point of defeat. That’s the point where they finally have you where they want you because you spent all your time trying to empty the water out of the boat with this little bucket.

My advice to you is to jump off the boat and swim to shore. In other words, don’t defend yourself.

I know that’s going to be something very hard to do because your character is going to be questioned. Your integrity is going to be questioned. Your morality, your ethicality (if that’s a word), even the legality of something could be questioned, and it’s going to make you feel like someone’s looking down at you. You will feel the need to correct them, you will feel the need to want to make sure that they can see the better part of you, the good part of you, and not a bad part that they’re creating.

Because the idea behind this is that you’re a good person and they’re trying to make you into a bad person by saying these things about you or saying things that happened, or something that you did, and you don’t want that to be the truth. You want to correct that truth and that’s where the downward spiral begins. That’s when the hole gets in the boat and you have this tiny little bucket and you can’t keep up because if you are busy defending yourself, they are going to wear you down. You’re going to wear yourself down to the point where you just give up.

How many times have you reached and given up making your point to someone? I know I have. I used to live with this girl a long time ago and she’s a wonderful person. We were both young, we didn’t know about emotional abuse, we didn’t know about bad behavior or toxic behavior. All we knew is how we learned to communicate since we were children.

We all go through this. I lived with this girl in my 20’s and she used to win every argument and I couldn’t figure out why. And it’s not like I wanted to win, but I just wanted to feel right once in a while.

In hindsight – after I learned all about human behavior, and manipulation, and influence, and verbal abuse, and emotional abuse, I realized that during our arguments, she was doing several things that made me feel small and made me expand my energy. I don’t think she was doing it on purpose.

Like I’ve said in another episode, not all toxic people are doing it on purpose. It’s just the way they’ve learned to communicate. And some people will be able to heal from that and stop being toxic and other people won’t. We just have to find out which direction they’re going to go if we want to continue associating with them.

But back to that past relationship – I figured out that the woman I was with would minimize me, invalidate me, and sometimes stonewall me. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, keep listening to this show. For example, stonewalling is like putting your hand in the other person’s face and saying, “I don’t want to talk anymore.”

Along with the other behaviors I was experiencing in that relationship, the one characteristic that kept showing up again and again was that I was always on the defense. When she put me on the defense, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to tell her “No, this isn’t who I am. You’re seeing me all wrong. This is who I am. This is what I did. This is what we said to each other a week ago,” This, this, this and that.

And of course, she would counter with more things that I would have to defend myself for. I would almost always spend the entire conversation or argument defending myself instead of making my point.

That’s what I want to highlight today, even though it may sound weird, but stop defending yourself.

Yes, there are times to defend yourself. Absolutely. But are you defending yourself against someone that actually wants you to defend yourself? Someone who wants you to keep defending yourself so that you spend all of your energy?

And if you spend all your energy, you get weak and become vulnerable. Not a safe kind of vulnerable where you are with someone you trust, and you can just let your guard down. The kind of vulnerable that can be further attacked or further worn down.

It’s an emotional erosion.

It’s the erosion of:

  • The facts
  • Your belief system
  • Your ability to make good decisions
  • Your belief in your intuition
  • Your belief in your intelligence.

All of these things are part of a bigger picture of emotional abuse, but today I’m talking specifically about when you get on the defense. When you find yourself becoming defensive, ask yourself if this is where you normally go in these times of conversation with this person. “Is this where I normally go? Do I spend more time defending myself?”

Because if you do, don’t. I know easy to say, hard to do, because we get emotionally triggered. But let me give you some tools so that when you are in this space and you really feel like you want to defend yourself – instead of jumping into that emotionally triggered defensive state, let me give you a couple of things that you can say. One of them is, “That’s incorrect, and you know it” or “That’s not true, and you know it.”

Think about that. They say, “Well, last week, you said this,” and instead of defending yourself and saying, “No, I didn’t,” which usually originates from an emotional trigger because you get upset and you just want them to know the truth, in a calm but even assertive manner you can say “That’s not true. And you know it.”

And of course, if they’re the type of person that wants you to stay in that defensive state, they’re going to say, “Yes, it is. I know it is. This is what happened” and then they might make something up. But they’ll probably tell you that you’re wrong. And the next thing to say could be something like this: “I’m sorry you think that but I’m not going to waste my energy defending myself.”

Now, they’re going to work with that too because the toxic person will know how to take your words and twist them and throw them back at you, and make you feel guilty or responsible or bad in some way. And they’ll make you feel bad about yourself: “How could you do this? What kind of person are you?”

They’re going to say things that make you hurt, and it will hurt and you will be emotionally triggered. But this is something you practice and you find out what happens next. It is sort of an experiment. If you have no choice or very little choice to be with someone who does this to you, you have to experiment a little bit.

The idea is to not jump into the emotionally triggered space of being defensive and trying to correct them. It’s better just to say “It’s not true and you know it.” And when they say, “Well, this is what you did” – “I’m sorry, I’m not going to waste my energy defending myself. You know the truth, and I know the truth.”

They may push and they may push again and then they may keep pushing. You might have to get to a point where you just leave the room and they may follow you. They may keep badgering you – you know, this kind of intimidation tactic. It can work, I’ve seen it happen.

I was at a retail store once and somebody found a product and I think they switched the tags. It was a massive difference in what price it was supposed to be and what price they put on it. But they switched the price tags and they came up and they said “I would like to buy this” and the clerk looked at it and said, “Well, this is the wrong price. I can’t sell it to you for this” and he started becoming very upset – “What? This is what it was tagged at. You need to sell it to me for this price” and he got so angry and he got louder and louder until he was screaming.

This is totally an intimidation tactic designed to make the other person feel defeated and get to the point of giving up so that they give the person what they want. And it does work. It can be a way to shut the person up, just to say, “All right, all right, I’ll give it to you, just get out of the store.”

But I was impressed by this clerk. He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it” and the guy yelled at the top of his lungs, everyone was looking at him. And the customer finally just threw his hands up and left and I was happy to see that that’s somebody who stood their ground and said, “I’m sorry, this is not what we sell it for and this is the wrong price.”

Now if he bought some advertisement in that it was advertising that price, that might have been a different story, but this was a clear case of someone switching the tags. Anyway, the idea is that he was trying to wear down the clerk, he was trying to tackle the clerk’s brain, so that the clerk would spend a lot of time defending himself but it didn’t work. It didn’t work on this representative of the store because he didn’t fall for that gimmick, he didn’t fall for that trick. So the guy had nothing to work with.

When someone like that has nothing to work with, they get louder, they get angrier, they get ruder, they get more intimidating, until they finally get their way. But that’s just the game.

When you’re with someone that plays this game, you don’t want to be around them. The reason they’re playing that game is that they have nothing else to work with so they get louder and louder until they get their way. This is good for you to know, in case you’re with someone and that kind of behavior often points to someone that’s trying to manipulate a system trying to control you.

This kind of reminds me of another tactic that some toxic people will do, which is overriding your brain. They’ll override you with a nonstop barrage of talking and convincing and telling you what your perception should be. They talk and talk and talk and you get worn down because even though you’re not doing anything, you’re sitting there waiting for them to stop talking.

And it’s another intimidation tactic. It’s not always intimidating, though, it doesn’t come across as intimidating. It usually comes across as logical, analytical, very well thought out, because a lot of toxic people are actually quite intelligent people. But it’s a nonstop barrage of continuous talking that eventually puts you in a state of defeat. And you give in.

That’s all this is, they’re just trying to get you to that point of giving in. I might call that verbal attrition, where the manipulator wants to wear you down so that you’re weaker, more vulnerable, and less effective. You’re less effective at defending yourself.

So sometimes they want you to defend yourself because that wears you down and sometimes they want to put you in a place where you can’t defend yourself because they cover every angle by telling you what you did wrong or how you’re wrong or why your thinking is wrong or how you spent your money wrong or how you spent your time wrong or how you’re seeing them in the wrong light, they’re just going to keep talking and talking and talking, until you finally just give in and allow them to finish their thoughts – when it’s all part of the game that they’re playing, to make you vulnerable, to make you weak, to make you just want to give in, and then they win.

When you think about that, if their goal is to put you in a weak, vulnerable space so they can control you, knowing this allows you to start seeing it happen, start seeing when it starts. So you can look at your past and realize, “Oh, this feels like the last time this started. Oh, this feels like the same thing that happened two weeks ago. This feels like what’s happening now.”

My piece of advice for you there is to start catching it as it happens inside you so that you recognize the feeling. It also comes as a thought like “Oh, this is happening again.” Recognize it and label the emotions you’re having and remember to stay on point because it’s going to be hard to do but they’ll take you off point.

You might make a point at the beginning of the conversation, they’ll take you off that point, they’ll twist it, and then they’ll make it all about something else or something you’re doing. So you have to be defensive. But come back to the point. Just come right back to that point. Say “You know, let’s just come back here. Okay, you have all those things to say about me, that’s fine. But let’s come back to this point and get this resolved.”

First, it takes practice. It’s not easy with some people and sometimes it’s impossible. I’m going to share that with you right now. With some people, it is impossible. That’s why you need to keep learning about this type of behavior so that you stay in power so that you’re not so susceptible to some sort of manipulation or control game. It’s so important that you continue learning about this and really educating yourself to keep you safe, to keep you from giving in, going into defeat, and allowing them to win time and time again. When you do that your spirit erodes and we don’t want that.

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Jerri Ingram

Hi! I have a scenario to run by you to learn how to respond to this emotionally abusive thing that my sister does from time to time.

I temporarily broke off with a boyfriend of 18 years last year. A few Christmases ago he came to a dinner for the 1st time. He apparently said something that she considers to be disrespectful that she overheard.

Ever since then, she will out of nowhere ask me essentially if he’s going to come back into my life. It usually is in a setting where other people are present, and the way it’s done is meant to put me on the defense.

This last November she went over the edge. For the last year and a half she has been my payee (in charge of my Social Security Disability income), and at that time I moved to a new expensive apartment where I need the family’s help until I find a job. I’m sitting at the apartment manager’s desk on a 3-way call with my sister, and while talking, out of the clear blue she asks in her usual rude, disrespectful way “Is Tom going to be living with you?” I said of course not, you know I told you already that we are not together right now. One more rude followup comment that I responded to, and she let it go and back to business. The manager gave me a quizzical look at my first response, so this felt very humiliating.

Under this circumstance, how could I have handled this situation in such a way to save face, but set a boundary at the same time. She does not care who’s around for this kind of crap, and I have had enough.

I have your M.E.A.N. Workbook, and so now I have a name for this disrespectful treatment that has been going on for all of my adult life, set in motion by my parents from the time she got here when I was 3 years old. I’m 52 now.

Your TOB podcast has been a lifesaver for me, and I’m looking forward to your response.

Thank you so much,

Jerri

Jerri Ingram

Hi! I need to add to the previous post that there is one other SUPER irritating thing that she does, and this is another piece of the being rude no matter what I say to her, no matter how innocent or normal the comment may be.

The scenario is that I tell her something in a straightforward way with clear English. She will say “What are you talking about?” in an irritated way, like as if I just spoke Greek.

I have ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and a Learning Disability. This seems to be giving her license to treat me VERY poorly. I especially dread holiday family dinners, the main time that I get to be with them. I live in Seattle, they live in the suburbs, so it’s almost the only time that I get to be with them all.

I REALLY need a good approach to nipping this nonsense in the bud. It’s newer behavior, and all of it is ramping up.

Ok, I’ll let you have a chance to respond now. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Jerri

Paul Colaianni

Thanks for sharing Jerri. Thanks for your words about the show, glad you’ve gotten value from it.

It sounds like she keeps testing you to figure out if you’re really serious and will keep your word. She doesn’t trust you for some reason(?) I think the first thing I would do is ask her, “Why do you keep asking me about him?”

If she gives you no closure from that question, perhaps you need to start tweaking your answer a bit. Instead of only saying “No”, you could say, “No, but every time you mention him, it does make me rethink my decision.” This might make her realize that her own behavior is causing you to get closer and closer to bringing him back (which would mean she’s creating her own fearful future).

Another way to reply might be to say, “Why do you ask?” The reason you’d ask a question with a question is because it takes you out of the defensive space she puts you in. It puts her on the spot and now she has to answer YOUR question. If she answers in a way that puts you on the spot again, you may have to answer that question with a question too, “So you are worried that we’ll get back together?” putting her on the spot again to answer.

The ultimate goal with answering questions with questions is to condition her to realize that every time she asks about “Tom”, she is going to have to answer questions too. It is very likely she will not want to continue answering your questions so she may just stop.

I hope this helps! Thanks again for your reply.

Sandy Hansen

THIS is so good. Love, love love the boat analogy. Thank you for this!

Paul Colaianni

Hi Sandy, you’re welcome! I think it’s helpful to visualize something like that to understand what’s really going on.

Ben

Brillliant but the suggested verbal responses to a ‘crazymaker’ clearly underestimate his or her cleverness.

Once he/she realizes you have a templated response ending in ‘…and you know it’, he/she will then say “who have you been talking to?” and “why have you started saying ‘…and you know it’. The ‘Crazymaker’ will make several accusations so after the second ‘…and you know it’, it will become obvious. Another site recommended just ignoring them as if they didn’t say anything accusatory at all. That in itself will prompt the ‘Crazymaker’ to say ‘hey stop ignoring me’.

I don’t have any professional experience with this but I would like to suggest that you can defend yourself, its just how you do it is important. Do not make peaceful/pacifying defence, pleading for your innocence. Make a statement. You could say “I DID not say that!”, emphasizing the word ‘DID’. Your tone has to be strong. Again this is not a professional opinion so please tell me what you think of my suggestion.

Paul Colaianni

I think when you’re dealing with a narcissist, you really can’t win because they’re intention is to win no matter what. When you’re dealing with an emotionally abusive person that actually cares about you and deep down doesn’t want to hurt you, what I said may be effective. But yes, gaslighting behavior that is intentional and people that really don’t care about you are the toughest ones to be around. Your example may work… it has a hypnotic element to it (emphasizing words to indicate agreeance but leading them to actuality) so it may need to be tried and see what happens!

Again, if you’re dealing with someone who just wants to keep their power over you, then you’re right, you’re only going to cause them to dig deeper into their bag of tricks to keep you in your place. As long as you are under their control, they will be less miserable. As soon as someone like that feels like you might one up them in any way, they make your life a living hell.

Ben

It was by chance I came across this article, by doing google searches. The internet and search engines really are good for something. This is gold.

Paul Colaianni

I’m so glad you found value in this. Thank you for your comment Ben.

Wanessa

Thank you so much for this article.

Paul Colaianni

You’re welcome. Thanks Wanessa.

SeptemBerry23

Thank you for sharing your insight!

Paul Colaianni

You’re welcome. Thank you.

Jerri Ingram

Hi! I need to add to the previous post that there is one other SUPER irritating thing that she does, and this is another piece of the being rude no matter what I say to her, no matter how innocent or normal the comment may be.

The scenario is that I tell her something in a straightforward way with clear English. She will say “What are you talking about?” in an irritated way, like as if I just spoke Greek.

I have ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and a Learning Disability. This seems to be giving her license to treat me VERY poorly. I especially dread holiday family dinners, the main time that I get to be with them. I live in Seattle, they live in the suburbs, so it’s almost the only time that I get to be with them all.

I REALLY need a good approach to nipping this nonsense in the bud. It’s newer behavior, and all of it is ramping up.

Ok, I’ll let you have a chance to respond now. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Jerri

Jerri Ingram

Hi! I have a scenario to run by you to learn how to respond to this emotionally abusive thing that my sister does from time to time.

I temporarily broke off with a boyfriend of 18 years last year. A few Christmases ago he came to a dinner for the 1st time. He apparently said something that she considers to be disrespectful that she overheard.

Ever since then, she will out of nowhere ask me essentially if he’s going to come back into my life. It usually is in a setting where other people are present, and the way it’s done is meant to put me on the defense.

This last November she went over the edge. For the last year and a half she has been my payee (in charge of my Social Security Disability income), and at that time I moved to a new expensive apartment where I need the family’s help until I find a job. I’m sitting at the apartment manager’s desk on a 3-way call with my sister, and while talking, out of the clear blue she asks in her usual rude, disrespectful way “Is Tom going to be living with you?” I said of course not, you know I told you already that we are not together right now. One more rude followup comment that I responded to, and she let it go and back to business. The manager gave me a quizzical look at my first response, so this felt very humiliating.

Under this circumstance, how could I have handled this situation in such a way to save face, but set a boundary at the same time. She does not care who’s around for this kind of crap, and I have had enough.

I have your M.E.A.N. Workbook, and so now I have a name for this disrespectful treatment that has been going on for all of my adult life, set in motion by my parents from the time she got here when I was 3 years old. I’m 52 now.

Your TOB podcast has been a lifesaver for me, and I’m looking forward to your response.

Thank you so much,

Jerri

Jennifer Beck

No disrespect and my opinion is like an asshole…everyone has em so they’re nothing to write home about but just from your comment….and I could be totally wrong…..but my initial impression is that maybe it is you who is manipulative & possibly your family has been having to tolerate your behavior while you carry a ‘victim’ card and scream “LOOK WHAT THEYRE DOING TO ME! LOOK WHAT THEY ARE SAYING!” etc etc to who ever will listen. Honey I am sorry but I would bet the farm that you’re a raging narcissist…..and for that I am sorry. We usually aren’t dealt the most fair cards in life and I just hope that the rest of your existence is made up of wonderful things to hopefully counteract the fact that you’re ‘that’ pain in the ass relative, associate, friend(if that’s possible) coworker etc that everyone dreads having to be around or talk to because all you can do is talk about you, your problems, what so & so did to YOU, what YOU want what makes YOU happy etc which in your case is another way of saying a raging in denial and most likely untreatable NARCISSIST!

Paul Colaianni

Thanks for sharing Jerri. Thanks for your words about the show, glad you’ve gotten value from it.

It sounds like she keeps testing you to figure out if you’re really serious and will keep your word. She doesn’t trust you for some reason(?) I think the first thing I would do is ask her, “Why do you keep asking me about him?”

If she gives you no closure from that question, perhaps you need to start tweaking your answer a bit. Instead of only saying “No”, you could say, “No, but every time you mention him, it does make me rethink my decision.” This might make her realize that her own behavior is causing you to get closer and closer to bringing him back (which would mean she’s creating her own fearful future).

Another way to reply might be to say, “Why do you ask?” The reason you’d ask a question with a question is because it takes you out of the defensive space she puts you in. It puts her on the spot and now she has to answer YOUR question. If she answers in a way that puts you on the spot again, you may have to answer that question with a question too, “So you are worried that we’ll get back together?” putting her on the spot again to answer.

The ultimate goal with answering questions with questions is to condition her to realize that every time she asks about “Tom”, she is going to have to answer questions too. It is very likely she will not want to continue answering your questions so she may just stop.

I hope this helps! Thanks again for your reply.

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