So what do rabbits, porcupines, turtles, and criticism have in common? These animals can all be used to illustrate defensiveness and/or denial in response to criticism. All of us will need to deal with criticism in our lives at some point. The difference-maker is how we receive criticism.
Reasons for Defensiveness
People usually get defensive when they hear criticism for two main reasons:
- They feel they are being put down or judged inaccurately because the critic does not have or want to have all the relevant facts. The critic may be engaging in slander, gossip, or maybe just plain jealous.
- They hear something about themselves that is difficult for them to accept. Maybe they have low self-esteem and/or they have a deeply ingrained habit of denial in order to not face the criticism.
The Delivery of Criticism
A lot could be said here about how to have a conversation that involves confrontation. For this article, it is sufficient to say, "how you say what you say is just as important as what is being said."
The "Paths of Denial"
The paths of denial can be looked at as deflection and projection or, in other words, excuse-making and blameshifting. Years ago I came up with the illustration of turtles, porcupines, and rabbits in relation to denial.
- When turtles feel threatened they retreat into their shell just as people retreat into excuse-making or deflecting.
- Rabbits hop away when feeling threatened just like people can remove themselves physically from the source of criticism. This is also a form of excuse-making or deflection.
- Porcupines protect themselves with their sharp quills which are like needles with sharp tips and barbs on the ends. They use these quills to pierce the skin of a predator. This could be used as an illustration of projecting the criticism back on the critic or blameshifting to another source.
Defensiveness and Denial
Denial, to me, is one step beyond defensiveness. Defensiveness sometimes occurs in miscommunication and/or unfair criticism like when someone is being put down without knowing all the facts.
Reflection, Deflection, and Projection
Now that we have explained what deflection and projection are, let's discuss reflection. There are many degrees of reflection. For example, in the case of an obviously uninformed critic, reflection can take the form of a simple consideration which could take a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes.
Reflecting needs to be used in conjunction with self-esteem so that you do not end up on either extreme of taking to heart false facts or assumptions or immediately turn to denial as a form of self-protection.
If a friend who knows us well and has our best interest in mind shares something true, we may need to do some deeper thinking with a more extensive time frame to ponder what was shared, at any rate, positive reflecting is always more productive then deflecting or projecting.
Although the delivery of criticism is just as important as what is said, the individual being criticized can choose how to respond. Those criticized can choose to reflect, deflect, or project the criticism. Reflecting comes in varying degrees depending on the situation and is the most healthy and productive response if used in conjunction with self-esteem. Deflecting and projecting are forms of denial.
So how do you handle criticism? Do you reflect in a positive way or do you deflect or project? If you deflect or project, what do rabbits, porcupines, turtles, and criticism have in common with your response and what is your plan to turn to positive reflection instead?