Antagonism is a term used to describe attention seeking in the form of defensiveness, criticism and intimidation.
Since the antagonist is seeking attention, it is up to us to resolve the interaction effectively. Their way of expressing it is counter productive. They are not encouraging us to help relieve their pain, it is actually driving us away. They are making us an enemy.
Let me tell you about a man named Mike. Below is an example if how his defensiveness surfaces with his girlfriend.
Girlfriend: “Mike you’re late.”
Mine: “I’m not late. You told me to come at 8:00.”
Girlfriend: “No, I didn’t, you’re always making things up.”
Mike: “No I don’t. I’m right on time.”
Girlfriend: “Mike, why can’t you admit you’re wrong?”
Mike: “I didn’t do anything. You’re the liar”
Girlfriend: “Why do you get so defensive?”
Mike: “I’m not getting defensive.”
Girlfriend: “You are defending yourself right now.”
Mike: “No I’m not.”
Many people are like Mike. They are accused and respond with defensiveness. They are predisposed by their past to misperceive a negative, unpleasant situation as if it was an attack on their self worth. He reacts by defending to protect himself from the attack. Such a mindless reaction makes the unpleasant anger evoking situation worse for everyone involved.
Defensiveness is Mike’s well intentioned, but mistaken method of problem solving based on the following misconceptions:
• Taking a request as an attack on him, which must be defended against.
• The issue is not what time who would be where, it’s about integrity, innocence and worth as a person.
• If he says nothing then he is accepting guilt, fault, blame, and responsibility.
• Mike feels compelled to regain control by defending himself against this perceived attack on his own self-worth.
Like many people, Mike is vulnerable to taking criticisms, slights, accusations, oversights and insults more personally that he needs to take them. When this happens his anger kicks in and he feels attacked. The curious thing is he starts to take his defensive thoughts seriously as if they made sense. He feels honor-bound to assume responsibility for defending his character as if this confrontation was being held by a judge, in a court of law and he was on trial for his life.
The real issue is that Mike is angry. He is angry at his girlfriend for falsely accusing him. His anger is painful and the situation won’t get better until someone understands his pain and provides him with the emotional first aid that the reality of the situation requires.
What has to happen before we can relieve other’s pain? We must first identify and relieve our own. We must give ourself emotional first aid. We must stop our own bleeding before we can begin to think straight.
Many of us are not used to putting ourself first in our own lives, but it is entirely appropriate to make ourselves a priority under these combat conditions. We are not being selfish. Selfish begins and end with us. Selfishness means we take care of ourself and let everyone else be damned. Self-preservation means we take care of ourself so we can be there for everyone else. To be a good person, we have to care for our own needs first.
Self preservation is like when we go on an airplane. Selfish means putting our air mask on while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while we choke. Self preservation is putting on our air mask first, so we can the help those around us.