Andrea Harrn Counselling Services

Why are people defensive?


defensive body language

defensive body language


How many times do you walk into meetings or interviews to be met by this type of body language.  The arms folded in front are a sure sign of defensive behaviour but this does not necessarily mean the person does not like you. Defensive people are protecting themselves from being hurt in some way.  We all want to stand up for ourselves, be assertive, true to our values and not be seen as weak push-overs.  Communicating our thoughts and feelings is the best way to go forward but this is not always easy in work type situations.  Less is sometimes more in terms of not giving “yourself” away.

When you have experience of not being listened to, valued, put down, talked over or criticised you are more likely to have a natural defence.  This is a built in mechanism of self-protection and a coping strategy to defend yourself from anxiety, conflict or harm.

The defensive pose is unconsciously saying “I don’t trust you”.

Trust in others is something we build up over our lifetime, starting in childhood.  Strong solid foundations and boundaries create security that can last a lifetime.  However when we are let down, whether in early life by parents or caregivers, or perhaps later by friendships or in the workplace that somehow damages our sense of trust.  When we are betrayed by a loved one there is likely to be a natural response of wanting to protect yourself from further emotional distress

Being defensive allows you to avoid getting too involved with others or another.  Therefore you can also avoid being hurt.

Where people have problematic defensive behaviours this is usually a sign of fragile ego, low self-esteem or a damaged sense of self.  There may be other defence mechanisms also in play here such as denial and projection.  When you are on the other end of this it can be very upsetting and emotionally abusive:

So I tell you that I’m upset about something you’ve done and suddenly it was me that did it, you become childlike, attacking me for other fabrications of the truth, you sulk and now I’m the bad one, confused and upset. In other words I end up hurting for something you have done, which if seen in perspective was not terrible, you could have said sorry but it became easier to blame me and preserve your “self”.


Being self-aware and accepting of yourself is key to your happiness and life journey as a perfectly imperfect human being.

For more help on understanding moods and emotions please take a look at


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One thought on “Why are people defensive?

  1. Jane Bering

    HI, Andrea; you put things into such an easily understandable perspective. So much of what I’ve been dealing with at work for the past eight years (with various staffers over these years) is defined in these few paragraphs. I just need to string together many “Thank Yous” for what you are helping me to see in and of myself. @(|:(|)

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