Defending and Attacking

When we feel attacked verbally  by another person,  we are all basically hard-wired  either  to defend ourselves or attack back. 

Often,  the  reaction we experience to  a perceived  attack is so swift that there is little time to check out what the person actually meant by their words.  We immediately assign a motive and an intention to the speaker’s  comment.   Of course, there are certainly situations in which the speaker was consciously and premeditatively cooking up a mean-spirited thing to say.  However, in my experience as a therapist, most of the time, the speaker is locked in their own world, wrestling with their own issues.  The comments that are experienced as hurtful and painful  to us are usually unconscious and spontaneous.  Unfortunately that is precisely the problem.  Usually these “attacks” are indirect communications and the person  is completely unaware of their actual  feelings.

For example,  a man might say to his partner, “I suppose you bought the most expensive dishes you could find!”  It is difficult not to hear that as an outright personal  assault and react either with a defensive over-explanation about the price and one’s shopping habits, or attack back hard with, “You are a cheap-skate,  you  have horrible taste,  you bought an expensive wine rack last week….” and so forth.

Defend or attack back.

If we can slow the scene down and have the partner say that  she is hurt or confused by the comment, what eventually may come forward is that the man is worried  and stressed about the couples’ finances.

Couples, parents and kids,  and siblings will always and forever hurt each other with words at some point along the way.  That is a given.  When individuals are curious instead of convinced, when they are flexible rather  than rigid, when they are willing to look inside themselves,  gain personal insights  and learn how to express themselves directly, these moments will just be bumps in the road toward a more intimate relationship.