The Art of Defensiveness
For weeks, I’ve been excited and anxious to start a writers’ workshop. I need critiquing and to learn how to revise and edit better. The workshop has started and I’ve gotten my first critique. My gut response, my very first thoughts out of the gate were: “Screw you! Your comments don’t even make sense. What are your credentials again?” Even as I’m thinking that, I start laughing at myself. I’m skilled at defensiveness. My husband said, “You’ll process the comments in about a year or so.” Having been the recipient and instigator of my retorts, he knows that I’ll be a reasonable person. Eventually.
I think on some days, I walk out into the world wearing a “Whadda you lookin’ at?” expression on my face. I have a curiosity about this reaction. My armor is well-worn and heavy, exhausting to always have on. How do you re-train yourself to stay open, to let things flow through and over you, to take in what you need and discard the rest?
I was trained at an early age to see that nothing in this world was “good enough”, including myself. No matter what self-revelation or epiphany I’ve discovered or had, this is a core point that I struggle with daily – the essential feeling that I could always be better. Always needing to improve is partly cultural. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post “Being Just Right“, we are groomed as consumers to be perpetually dissatisfied with ourselves. The main message is: “You are not good enough as you are.” Fighting external and internal messages in order to maintain some semblance of personal satisfaction requires protection, an ability to fend off those messages and move on.
Becoming skilled in the art of defensiveness means that ofttimes, even the positive messages fail to penetrate. The old “she can’t take a compliment” deal. It’s not modesty. It’s my habit of not letting you or anybody else say jack shit about me. So there. Now let me take this pistol and shoot myself in the other foot. When I compliment someone and they brush it off, I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and yell “Don’t you get it? You’re awesome!”
I now force myself to say “thank you” in the face of compliments. Gratitude is much more appealing than coming up with five million reasons for why that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Although I will always suspect that they don’t. This re-training may take awhile, but if I hope to gain skills, I need to be open to the teaching.
In taekwondo sparring, you bow to your partner/opponent to show respect, before and after the match. After delivering and receiving repeated kicks and strikes, you bow and then you shake their hand and say : 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida), which is Korean for “thank you”. Initially, I thought sardonically “thank you for beating the crap out of me, now I’ll be limping for a week”. Now I’ve learned to think “thank you for teaching me”. So, I bow to my writing instructor: I will humbly revise according to your suggestions. Thank you for teaching me.