A person can have high self-esteem, yet, their positive self-views may be fragile and vulnerable to criticism. Defensive high self-esteem individuals internalize subconscious self-doubts and insecurities, causing them to react very negatively to any criticism they may receive. There is a need for constant positive feedback from others to maintain feelings of self-worth. The necessity of repeated praise can be associated with boastful, arrogant behavior or sometimes even aggressive and hostile feelings toward anyone who questions the individual's self-worth.
When they feel attacked they can use multiple defense mechanisms in an attempt to avoid the threat to their self-esteem. A few examples include:
1.Denial: Refusing to see our responsibility or that a problem exists at all
2.Projection: Attributing our own thoughts and feelings to another person (e.g., "I'm not angry, you're angry") 3.Acting out: Having an overblown response (like breaking something) instead of expressing the problem
4.Rationalization: Bending the truth to justify our behavior
5.Displacement: Taking out our frustration from another problem on someone not involved (e.g., getting in a fight with your partner because of trouble at work)
Learning to spot defensive behavior in ourselves and others can help us have better conversations that result in solutions instead of pointing fingers. Practice:
1. Self-forgiveness & self compassion to help us to own up to things we've done wrong without feeling trapped by shame.
2. Kindness toward yourself when you experience negative feelings instead of ignoring the pain or punishing yourself.
3. Mindfulness: Be open to the difficult emotions you are experiencing in the moment without making them seem bigger than they actually are. Acknowledge you are in distress without being swept away by negative reactions.