Defeating Defensiveness: How to Stop Taking Things Personally

This process of being molded into God’s image does not happen automatically—it requires humility, a surrendered heart, and a willingness to accept our faults. 

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I wrote the first draft of this post in April of 2018 and it remained unfinished on my computer.  Just days before I planned to publish it, God convicted me that I wasn’t ready to share it. Looking back, I can understand why, because the original article focused on strategies to deal with difficult people and external situations without confronting the underlying issues driving my defensive behaviors.

Author and President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa TerKeurst, put it well when she posted this on her Facebook page:

The more I focus on wanting others to change, the more frustrated I will become…Trying to ‘fix’ another person will only add to my anxiety…But frustration can turn into forward motion when I ask Jesus to take on the project of me.  Letting Jesus work on me is where real progress can happen.”

What an important truth is to recognize that it’s not our job to fix people and that healthy communication starts when we are willing to take responsibility for our part of the problem, no matter how small, and leave the rest to God.  God is fully in control and we can trust that the same work He is doing in our hearts, He is doing in those around us.

In our day to day life, we can feel threatened by other people’s words and actions. Defensiveness occurs when we believe we are unjustly accused, attacked, or criticized.  In an effort to protect ourselves, we “fight back” by explaining, defending, or shifting blame. Instead of diffusing the conflict, it escalates.

I had never stopped to consider that God might be using situations that spurred defensiveness to work on me until a recent conversation with my friend and spiritual mentor. I told him I’d been having difficulty communicating with my spouse and was struggling to listen to “critical comments” without reacting negatively.

He smiled and said, “I am even more convinced that you two are perfectly matched for one another.”

Come again?

He explained that God was using these situations to draw out things in me that needed to be addressed so I could grow in holiness.  (I just have to say how thankful I am for friends who speak the truth in love!)  God often uses those closest to us to bring out the worst in us so that He can help us bring it out.²

This may seem counterintuitive, but God’s purpose for marriage is to help us model Christ’s love and develop our Christian character.  This includes unlearning certain behaviors and placing us in sticky situations that require us to be vulnerable, honest, and engage in hard conversations.

Since writing the initial draft of this post, I’ve invited Jesus to take on the “project of me” and rewrite it, but admittedly, defeating defensiveness is still a struggle.  What I’m sharing today is not from a place of arrival, but from the battlefield—where I’m fighting against old habits and God is showing me why I take things personally and self-protect.  My hope is that these insights will encourage you to prayerfully reflect on your own experiences and invite Jesus to take on you as His project too.

Insight #1: I have allowed other people’s opinions to surface my own insecurities and at times become my internal dialogue.

Deep down, all of us are insecure about something.  Perhaps we feel like we’re not smart enough, attractive enough, or successful enough from a worldly perspective.  We may feel like we’ll never accomplish anything worthwhile, like we’re failing in our marriage or motherhood, or that we’re stuck in an unhealthy place. 

When others say or do things that seem to reinforce these insecurities, we can mistakenly believe they are confirmation of our preconceived notions and allow them to become our internal dialogue. We tell ourselves that these defeating thoughts must be true. This contributes to a distorted view of our identity that causes us to respond defensively.

In the words of Mark Batterson, “Most of our identity problems are the result of looking in the wrong mirrors. For many, culture is the only mirror they consult. They allow culture to define them in terms of what is right or wrong, good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. For others, their primary mirror is the opinion of other people. And those mirrors, no matter how well-meaning those people are, will always result in a distorted image. The only perfect mirror is Scripture. And the more you read it, the more you will reflect God. Why? Because the Bible is where God is revealed.”³

Somewhere along the line, I forget that the words of others don’t define me because the Word of God says I am unconditionally loved, fully accepted, and fearfully and wonderfully made. Only when we quiet competing voices so that God’s voice rings loudest are we able to replace defeating thoughts with Truth.

Scripture is the only perfect mirror because it reveals how our Designer sees us.”³ When we believe we are profoundly significant in God’s eyes and that He loves each of us as if we were His only child, we build a healthy identity that is independent of what other people think.  Deeply rooted in God’s love, we can withstand the storms of life and don’t worry and wither when winds blow harsh words our way.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

If we live to please man, we will always be miserable because we can never make everyone happy.  But if we live to serve Christ, we can rest assured that He honors our efforts and delights in our weaknesses, because those areas encourage us to seek Him for strength.  God does not expect perfection—we were never intended to “be enough” without Him. He knows that our journey toward wholeness is a lifelong process and we need Him to walk with us every step of the way.

Insight #2: My perfectionist nature prevents me from openly accepting criticism.

In every one of us, there exists a gap between who we long to be and what is really true.  Facing the reality of that gap is hard for anyone, but it is especially difficult for perfectionists and those who like to be in control. The core of the Christian life is about closing that gap by aligning God’s Word with our attitudes and behaviors, but on our own, perfect alignment is impossible.  This is why we need Jesus.  Only through God’s power can we be shaped into men and women of integrity whose lives increasingly become an accurate reflection of His image. 

This process of being molded into God’s image does not happen automatically—it requires humility, a surrendered heart, and a willingness to accept our faults.  It requires us to let go of control, abandon our pride, and adopt a teachable spirit. We were not designed to be perfect, nor are we supposed to be self-sufficient.  Becoming whole in Christ begins when we can admit our brokenness and invite God to show us how to bring our internal and external lives into alignment.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:24-25

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, the sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen. – Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

God has revealed to me, through these simple prayers, that I can’t control what others say and do, but I can choose how I respond. I can assume the negative, take things personally, and react defensively, or I can respond with intention. There is tremendous power in our response.

Here are a few things I’m learning about how to respond with intention:

  • When I feel triggered to interrupt or self-protect, I can take a deep breath and regain control. I can choose to listen rather than interrupt or focus on my retort⁠—because being right is not what’s important (that stems from pride). What is important to build connection is that we seek to understand. When we do this, we become able to discuss sensitive issues and disagree civilly.

    Seeking to understand often means looking for the message behind what the person is saying even when we don’t agree with the manner in which in what said. It means trying to tune in to our partner’s world and see things from their perspective rather than our own. This is hard for me, as I love to take things literally, but it is only when I let go of correcting that I can truly listen and understand.  Saying nothing doesn’t mean we agreenor do we have to. But if we want to have a productive conversation, we must show the speaker that they are heard, respect different opinions, and be prepared to reflect back on what was said.

  • In times where I struggle to regain control—when my temperature is rising and the remark on the tip of my tongue is anything but God-honoring—I have found it is best to disengage, walk away, and pray. Over the years, I have learned that hurt people hurt people. What other people say and do is more about their own perceptions than it is a personal attack on us; when we are mistreated it is more indicative of where they are in their life journey than who we are. Knowing this enables us to show compassion and empathy for the hurt they too are experiencing and extend grace in place of retaliation.

  • In each situation, it is important to consider the context. Who is the source? Do they know us well? Of course, we should place more weight in the words of family and close friends than complete strangers. Are any of us Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? It is better to HALT the conversation if any of these things apply, lest we end up in a heated discussion where harsh words start to fly.  When this happens, knowing the other person wasn’t at their best provides an opportunity for us to practice forgiveness.

  • Ask, “Is there any truth in what they’re saying?” It is only through being honest with ourselves and prayerful reflection that we can answer this. Once we do, the best thing to do is acknowledge our part of the problem. Perhaps we lost our temper, got defensive, or pushed the conversation when the other person wasn’t ready.  Taking responsibility rather than shifting blame breaks the barrier to healthy communication.

  • When we find ourselves the recipients of defensive behavior, there are things we can do to dissolve conflict. The first is not to argue for or try to persuade our partner of our point of view, but rather share our perspective. Second, we refrain from “you” statements and using words like always or never that leave no room for exception.  Third, we employ what Dr. Gottman refers to as a “gentle start up.”⁴ We state the need without blame; use “I” statements to express our feelings; attack the problem, not the person; and show appreciation. This doesn’t work all the time, but it’s guaranteed to lessen our chances of conflict. ⁴


Insight #3: My defensive posture puts up walls that hinder connection with God and others.

Author, speaker, and President of Loving on Purpose (a ministry to families and communities centered around helping strengthen relationships), Danny Silk, said, “Being easily offended is a symptom of immature love. Mature love will stay away from making assumptions.”

There are many ways one can interpret this quote, but I choose to see it like this: In a mature, loving relationship, we can choose to listen for intent. Rather than becoming offended, we can hear what the other person is trying to say without assigning a negative connotation where there is none. 
When we assume the negative and allow the words of others to take root or hold us in contempt, it is an indication of spiritual and emotional immaturity. When we refuse to stand corrected, it is an indication of pride, which Proverbs 16:18 warns will lead to destruction. “A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.” Proverbs 14:3

May we be wise men and women whose lips let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but instead choose words that speak life (Ephesians 4:29 ESV, Proverbs 15:4).

Pride not only severs communication with our partner; it also distances us from God.  It puts up walls that substitute for God’s protection and keeps us from connecting with others. ¹ Rather than self-protect and defend, we are called to put on the armor of God and stand firm.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:14-17

It is not our job to defend, judge, or take revenge. God cautions us to not repay evil with evil (Romans 12:17). He calls us, if it is possible, as far as it depends on us, to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:19). And He advises us to leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19). When we invite God to be our defender, the daggers of others can’t penetrate. We can walk away with our heads held high, knowing we are doing what is right in God’s eyes.

Break Down Your Walls and Be Free

We defeat defensiveness by modeling Christ’s love⁠—practicing patience, setting aside pride, rejoicing in truth, and showing kindness to others (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree—it could mean saying, “You might be right, but I see it differently.” Like Jesus’ encounters with religious leaders, we can respond with questions that require others to examine their perceptions. In letting down our walls and encouraging others to seek truth, we also open up opportunities to reach others for Christ. Being able to communicate effectively with people who think and talk differently is essential if we are to form relationships conducive to deeper conversations.

Defeating defensiveness looks like living at peace.¹ We can take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally by asking God to reveal our shortcomings, help us grow, and soften our hearts toward others.  When we feel attacked, we can choose not to retaliate and disengage as necessary to leave room for God to act.¹ When we feel rejected, we can remember that our worth is not found in the opinions of others, but in knowing who we are in Christ.  We become able to walk in confidence when we entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23), commit ourselves to our faithful Creator who cares for us (1 Peter 4:19), and continue to do good, even when others intend harm (Genesis 50:19-20).

(It is important to note that this information applies to healthy relationships that have hiccups from time to time—it is no substitute for professional counseling, nor does it condone anyone to stay in an abusive relationship. If you are in a harmful situation, leave immediately, seek help, and find a safe place to go. For support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website.)

Defeating defensiveness results in growth and spiritual maturity. We learn from listening to other people’s experiences and we develop an open mind when we can hear differing points of view without reacting. When we feel threatened, we can rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to reply with a simple, “I need time to process and pray about that before I respond.”  Operating with God’s wisdom as our guide, we become free from reacting out of raw emotion and face the truth about ourselves so we can grow and mature. We also become free from allowing other people’s opinions to dictate our self-worth and happiness so we can focus on the only thing we can or should change—ourselves.

We have more control over our emotional well-being than we realize, but it starts when we stop focusing on what we wish the other person would do differently.

The pathway to freedom begins when we face the problem without making excuses for it.”  – Joyce Meyer

“Being free” from defensive behavior invites us to participate in healthy, honest conversation. Rather than internalize our feelings (oftentimes only to explode later) and build communication barriers, we allow ourselves to be seen by being vulnerable. For many of us, vulnerability is equated with weakness—we fear that letting others in will lead them to look down on us in some way. The opposite is actually true. The things we are reluctant to share allow others to see our humanity and lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations.

In the words of Brené Brown, “To live with courage, purpose, and connection…we must again (as adults) be vulnerable.5

Where I Am Now

In full disclosure, my husband and I got into a disagreement days before this article was set to publish (for the second time). He said something that made me upset, I jumped in to correct him and explain my position, and well, the rest is history.

I started to question whether I was ready to write this article. I arrived at the conclusion that the fact that I am struggling, yet seeking to grow in this area, is the very reason why I should write it. Writing helps me slow down, process my thoughts, and reflect on my experiences. In the presence of God, it helps me better understand myself and get honest about my behaviors. Sometimes I don’t like what I see, but if I did not have Him as my “perfect mirror” I would never feel the need to change.

My husband has been encouraging me to “peel back the layers” when I get emotional and ask myself why I feel the way I do instead of taking action. Most often, I find it is because I feel inadequate in some way—like I should have known better, done better, or not relapsed for the hundredth time. But then I remember that the Holy Spirit works gradually and I need to give myself grace. God does not condemn me for my mistakes, nor should I. While the enemy wants to use our mistakes to shame us, God uses them to transform us into the likeness of Christ.

I am a work in progress, but I am making progress. Defeating defensiveness has been an ongoing battle, but I can live with the assurance of victory. When I feel insecure, I can remember how God sees me, even if I don’t yet see it in myself. When I struggle to respond with intention, I can seek the Lord for wisdom and trust He will give me the right words. When I fall prey to the lie that I’ll never defeat defensiveness, I can dive into the truth of God’s Word. Through His mighty power at work within us, we can accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:20 NLT). Knowing this shifts my outlook from helpless to hopeful. Through Christ, change is possible.



  1. Widget, Barney. (n.d.). Defeating Defensiveness. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from
  2. Moore, Beth. (1998). Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit. Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press.
  3. Batterson. Mark. (2011). Soul Print: Discovering Your Divine Destiny. Nashville, TN: Multnomah Books.
  4. Gottman, John M. and Gottman, Julie Schwartz. (2015). Gottman-Rapoport Intervention. Retrieved May 20, 2020 from
  5. Brown, Brene.  (2012). Daring Greatly.  New York, New York.  Avery.


This is an updated edition of a post originally published on

Featured image by Jason Briscoe

In-text image #1 by Timo Stern

In-text image #2 by Nathan Fertig 

In-text image #3 by Henk Mul 

In-text image #4 by Jess Bailey

In-text image #5 by Justin Follis

In-text image #6 by Joanna Nix-Walkup

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About the Author

Fueled Fit Focused was inspired by my passion for healthy living, my faith, and my desire to help others move from frazzled to focused and from a full, busy life to a fulfilling, purposeful one. I help women cultivate positive lifestyle habits for their mind, body, and soul with their faith as a foundation for sustainable change. This is accomplished through personalized coaching, speaking, workout sessions, and writing. I provide practical tips for simplified, healthy living so we can move toward wholeness together. To learn more about my ministry, visit or connect with me on Facebook @coachjenroland or Instagram @jenroland.