How To Stop Feeling Guilty About Self-Care?

Have you caught yourself feeling guilty and ashamed for taking some time for yourself? 

Is your “me time” filled with stress and anxiety? 

You are not alone. And here’s a simple tip on how to change that.

Self care vs self-indulgence

First things first – what is self care?

Not every form of feel-good recreational activity is self care. Binge watching that show might feel good but it is not self care (that’s not to say you shouldn’t do it once in a while, just don’t confuse it with self care).

Sitting on the couch scrolling through social media is not self care. In fact it is proven to be detrimental for your mental health. 

So what is self care?

Essentially self care is any activity that works towards meeting your physical, emotional or spiritual needs in a healthy way.

Needs like good nutrition, enough rest, communication and connection, comfort (both physical and emotional), affection, safety.

Why do you feel guilty for practicing self-care?

Two of the main reasons people feel guilty for spending time for self care are:

  • You think it’s selfish

Selfishness is having a “me, me, me” mentality. You are selfish if you only think of your own needs without any consideration for others and their needs.

A healthy dose of selfishness is needed. Putting yourself and your needs as a priority every once in a while is a necessity. 

You know you “cannot pour from an empty cup” and by filling your own cup you provide yourself with the resources needed to keep taking care of the people and things you love.

  • You feel you have to earn it 

Oftentimes you cannot sit back and relax without having all your chores for the day done. And if by any chance you do decide to take some “me” time beforehand you feel guilty and anxious. As if someone is going to come up and scold you for it. You even end up scolding yourself. You feel so overwhelmed by the neverending list of things to do and become stressed about it every time you try to relax.

This one is deeply rooted in your childhood. You cannot go out and play until you finish your homework, remember? And while there were good intentions behind this rule, some of us have taken it all too seriously as grown ups as well.

But as grown ups the “homework” is neverending. Literally. You will never have nothing to do. So learning how to step away from the to-do list and rest efficiently is crucial.


How to stop feeling guilt when taking time for self care

Understand what self care really is. 

You are at your best when you are well rested and recharged both physically and mentally. Taking a break does not take away from your productivity, it fuels it.

A tired body and a cluttered mind function slower and make more mistakes. This further increases the stress you are under and takes a strain on you and on your relationships.

Understand that taking care of your needs is as important and as productive as any other task on your schedule. You wouldn’t skip fueling your car because you have somewhere to drive to. You know that you have to fuel up exactly because you have somewhere to drive to.

Give yourself permission to prioritize your needs. Remember you’re not just “resting”, you are “recovering”. You are recharging in order to be able to do your best and to be your best.

Go ahead and add self care to your to-do list. Add it to your calendar so people would know not to bother you. Make an appointment with yourself and show up to it.

Make self-care a regular part of your routine. Taking a break should not be a prize or a last resort. Taking care of yourself is a necessity and realizing that will end your struggles with self care.


Why do you find it hard to apologize?

To apologize is to take ownership of something you did, to acknowledge and validate the other person’s feelings, to offer to make amends. To apologize is to show you care about the person, you care about the relationship and you want to make things right. But why is it so hard?

Why is it so hard for some people to apologize?

One reason for not apologizing is you do not not care. If you do not care that their feelings are hurt, you would not offer an apology. If you do not care about the relationship, then you have no need or desire to try and repair it. Fair enough. An apology is all about mending the relationship, if you want no such thing, then this is where things end.

Another reason for not apologizing could be you truly believe there is nothing to apologize for. You effectively minimize the person’s experience like “not a big deal”, failing to understand that your perception of the situation might differ. 

  • You do not get to decide whether something is a big deal for the other person. You do not get to decide if or when they should feel hurt. If you have caused someone pain you owe them an apology. No matter how insignificant the situation may seem to you.

You are afraid of more conflict. You fear the apology will open the floodgates to accusations and blame. You fear the apology will get turned down and the prospect of losing the relationship scares you.

  • Your fears are stopping you from seeing that not offering the apology is what is killing your relationship. Not admitting your wrongdoings, not paying respect to the other person’s feelings (that you hurt) is what will drift you apart. 

You are trying to protect your character. You feel like if you did something bad then you must be a bad person, if you made a mistake then you must be ignorant or stupid, etc. And by apologizing you confirm this outloud.

  • Separate the action from the character. Even the best people, the most caring partners can make mistakes. You might be a decent, sensitive, moral person, and still do something that unintentionally hurts someone. Admitting you wrongdoing and offering an apology only proves you to be a caring, responsible and trustworthy person.

It might appear that people who refuse to back down and apologize are strong and centered, but in fact this could be a sign of weakness and a fragile ego. When you have low self-esteem you feel like you cannot absorb any more blows to your fragile sense of self. You go into defensive mode and come up with excuses, try to shift the blame or dispute the facts. You’d do anything in your power to ward off the threat of having to admit you were wrong.

Instead of apologizing after the offense, you might become extra kind and accommodating. This is your way of trying to mend the relationship without having to admit your wrongdoing.

  • In order to take responsibility for your actions and apologize, you need to have a level of self-esteem that allows you to withstand the feelings of discomfort that come with admitting you were wrong. Admitting your mistakes makes you feel vulnerable, it might even seem humiliating to some. But only by facing your flows you can improve yourself and grow. 

The feelings of guilt and shame that come with the realization you did something wrong can be overwhelming. They might send you straight into fight or flight mode where you merely react, trying to protect your self-image and self-worth. Having your mistake linger over your head, waiting for it to be brought up creates tension and anxiety. 

Apologizing will free you from this hell. It might seem scary and painful but it will bring you relief. Apologizing will increase your self-worth, proving to you hat you are a responsible, sensible, trustworthy person. Admitting your wrongdoing will open the door to learning from your mistakes and bettering yourself.

Being stuck in fight or flight – how to manage acute stress response

Do you feel agitated all the time? Do you happen to “lose it” over the smallest thing? Does it feel like you have to constantly defend yourself and your choices? When everything feels like a threat you are probably stuck in fight or flight mode.

What is the fight or flight response?

The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism. When your brain perceives danger it sets off an alarm that readies your body to fight off the threat or to escape. 

The physiological symptoms of fight or flight are a racing heart, dilated pupils, shallow breathing, muscle tension. The sight and hearing sharpens, the pain perception drops. The body is prepared to rapidly handle the threat.

When you are in fight or flight you feel alert and agitated, defensive and confrontational or as if you need to get away. The symptoms of fight or flight usually last for 20-60 minutes. When your body returns to its normal state you might feel tired and a bit anxious. Due to the lingering anxiety your fight or flight is more likely to be activated again even by a mild stressor.

Fight or flight is also known as the acute stress response or hyperarousal. It is a reflex and as such you cannot control when and where it is triggered.

How does the fight or flight response harm you?

The fight or flight evolved as a mechanism to help survive life-threatening situations. But it gets activated by any perceived danger. Things like running late, meeting new people, public speaking, or taking an exam can put you in the same state of stress as an oncoming vehicle.

The more frequently your fight or flight response is activated, the easier and more likely it is to be activated again. And it will likely be more intense. Often when you have been stressed over something important, you later find yourself overreacting over something insignificant.

Feeling threatened by a non threatening situation is what scientists call an exaggerated stress response. When your fight or flight is overactive it is triggered by daily activities like sitting in traffic or small family disputes. It begins to feel like you are in a constant fight or flight mode.

The repeated activation of the fight or flight response is what we know as chronic stress. The physical consequences of being stuck in fight or flight can include high blood pressure, migraines, chronic gastritis, obesity and formation of artery-clogging deposits. 

When you are in fight or flight too often, for too long you start feeling out of control. This could lead to chronic anxiety, panic attacks and depression.

How to manage the fight or flight response?

Fight or flight is a reaction of your nervous system. As such it cannot be controlled. There are however ways to alleviate the symptoms and to elicit the relaxation response.

The first step is to learn to recognise the signs of fight or flight. Become aware of your bodily sensations. Notice your heart rate and your breathing pace in situations you perceive as stressful. Notice where in your body you feel the oncoming stress. Does your stomach feel funny or are your shoulders getting tense?

Next step is to elicit the relaxation response. The relaxation response is your natural “off switch”. It appears when you no longer feel in danger. The relaxation response brings your systems back to their normal state.

The quickest and easiest way to battle the fight or flight response is to concentrate on your breathing. Deep, slow breaths bring down your heart rate and create relaxation. 

Next time you find yourself in fight or flight try the following breathing exercise: breathe in to the count of four, hold for the count of four, breathe out to the count of four, hold for the count of four and repeat. The breathing, as well as you shifting your focus from the stressor to your breath, will have an immediate effect on your stress levels.

Another way to alleviate the overactive fight or flight response is to focus on a calming word or mantra. Pair this with visualization of peaceful images and feel the relaxation take over. 

For the best results practice your mantra and visualization when calm. Practicing will make it easier for you to use it when you actually need it.

Prevention of overactive stress response

Practicing meditation and present moment awareness will help you to notice, observe and mindfully respond in stressful situations. You will become more aware of your sensations and you will find it easier to ground yourself when you are being triggered. 

Have you noticed you are more irritable when hungry? Fluctuating blood sugar does increase your perception of stressors. The same applies to alcohol and caffeine. A healthy diet and regular eating patterns will help manage your overactive fight or flight response.

The fight or flight response is designed to prepare the body for a burst of activity. Whether the response is to fight or to run away, they both expel a lot of energy. In the past when you’ve finished running away from the threat your body would’ve received the signal to release the tension, to switch off the response. 

Nowadays you do not physically run or fight off the threat. So the tension remains in the body. That is why it gets easier and easier to get triggered – the energy was never expelled. It just builds in the body until you burst.

Regular exercise prevents the energy build up. Exercising also increases the “feel good” hormones which also helps to relieve stress. Pair exercise with breathing techniques, like in Yoga or Ti chi, and you have the best remedy for an overactive fight or flight  response.

How do emotions affect decision making?

Decision making is the process of making a choice. We usually think of decision making as a careful reflection and deliberation about the possible outcome. 

Making a decision would require gathering knowledge and facts. Then carefully evaluating the pros and cons of each option, before making the choice.

That is if we didn’t experience any emotions.

What are emotions?

Emotions guide our actions and influence our behavior. They help us adapt to situations quickly and with minimal participation of the cognitive parts of the brain. 

Emotions play an important role in how we react to what is happening around us. Emotions, no matter how big or small, influence your thoughts and your behavior. Recent research suggests that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ when it comes to relationships, health and overall quality of life. 

Being aware of our emotions and understanding how they influence our decisions, can help us manage how we respond to them. This would result in making better choices and building stronger, healthier relationships.

Emotion vs reason

When thinking of reason we think in terms like logic, analyzing and calculating. Emotion on the other hand is subjective and often thought of as irrational.

Emotion is the drive behind intuition, your gut feeling. We often rely on intuition when we do not have enough information or time to make the decision. 

Reason requires more cognitive resources, time and self-control. And even when you strongly believe your decision was based on logic, truth is emotion still has a say in it.

Nearly all the time making a decision is a fight between emotion and reason. Like two horses pulling us in opposite directions (as Plato puts it). 

Often we are not aware of the emotion and how it influences our judgment. Not knowing how emotion affects our thoughts could lead to making suboptimal decisions.

How do emotions influence decision making?

The stronger the emotion we feel, the less reason we use in making a decision. Emotional decisions are also taken at a greater speed, since we are not spending time thinking through pros and cons.

Evolution-wise this saved us as a species. When faced with immediate danger every second counts. Fear takes over to make snap decisions and move you away from harm’s way.

But fear could also have you make irrational choices. If you have a fear of flying, you might decide to drive instead. But the base rates for death on the road are much higher than those for death by flying. In this case fear is making you choose the more dangerous means of travel.

We are hardwired to seek positive emotions and avoid negative ones. This might seem like a reasonable thing to do as well. However avoiding anxiety and chasing comfort is at the core of procrastination

We are more likely to set our goals really low when feeling sad. Setting low expectations would prevent us from disappointment and increased feelings of sadness.

Feeling down might prevent you from applying to your dream job, or talking to that attractive colleague. Experiencing negative feelings, such as fear of failure, is what is keeping us in the comfort zone, preventing us from reaching our full potential. 

Research suggests that excitement and happiness make us take rash decisions, often underestimating the risks involved. Fear on the other hand increases the perception of risk and might make us choose a safer, though less lucrative option.

Emotions can also be carried over to other situations, unrelated to the one that caused the emotion. When we get angered at something at work we are more likely to lash out in a mild argument at home. And we remain fairly unaware that we are transferring the emotion. We convince ourselves that the argument is what brought the emotion.

Emotional awareness helps us recognize and make sense of the emotions we are experiencing. Understanding the emotions and their relation to the choices we make helps us make better, more conscious decisions.

Emotional Awareness For Beginners

Modern researchers identify emotions as a pattern of reactions whose purpose is to adapt and react to a situation quickly and with minimal cognitive intervention.

Emotions are our guidance system. For example negative emotions, such as fear, guide us away from things that could be a danger to us. While positive emotions have us seek things that could benefit us. 

In order for this system to work properly we must be aware of what emotions we are experiencing and be able to understand what those emotions are telling us.

What is emotional awareness?

Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize, identify and make sense of the emotions that are present. To be emotionally aware is to understand your emotions and the effect they have on you and those around you.

Emotional awareness is a skill and as any other skill it gets better with practice. The more we practice identifying emotions, the better we get at labelling them. And the simple act of labelling the emotion diffuses it.

Each time we recognize and label the emotion we make the emotion less intensive and more manageable. The more accurate we are at identifying the emotion, the easier it would be to take appropriate action regarding what caused the emotion.

Benefits of developing emotional awareness

When we are emotionally aware we communicate better. Simply being aware of our emotions and the emotions of others, helps us navigate through a possibly intense conversation without getting reactive or defensive.

Knowing our emotions and what triggers them gives us a better understanding of our motivations, strengths and limitations. This gives a clear picture of where we are in our lives and what we need to work on in order to grow.

Emotional awareness helps us maintain better relationships with ourselves and with others. Understanding our emotions allows us to set personal boundaries and understanding the emotions of others makes it easier for us to respect their boundaries.


How to develop emotional awareness

Acknowledge when an emotion is present.

The first step is to learn to recognize when an emotion has been triggered. Emotions cause  involuntary bodily responses (reactions of the autonomic nervous system). Your heart rate might increase, your palms may begin to sweat, muscles may contract. 

Identify the emotion

Next step is to identify the emotion. Once you know what emotion you are experiencing, you can communicate it better and you can mindfully choose how to respond to it.

In order to become better at identifying the emotions you must increase your emotional vocabulary. Go deep into the emotion and find its nuances. Are you angry, or are you disappointed? Are you sad or are you powerless?

The better you can narrow down the exact emotion, the more your emotional awareness grows. Start with a simple list like this one, and add to it:

  • hopeful
  • lost
  • hesitant
  • hopeless
  • irritable
  • anxious
  • content


Take time to look back on events and situations that had you experience intense emotions and dissect them. What triggered the emotion? How did it physically feel? How intense was the emotion? How did you express the emotion? 

The more you learn about yourself and your triggers, the more emotionally aware you become. 

What does “being present” mean and how it can improve your life

What does being present mean? How can I not be present?

There is only one time that is important – NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time that we have any power.

Leo Tolstoy

Being present means that your mind is focused and engaged in the present moment. You are concentrating on the task at hand, on what is in front of you here and now.

To be present is to pay attention instead of drifting away. If you find yourself unable to recall your commute home, or wondering why you came into the room – you were not being present.

Throughout the day your mind often wanders towards the future, focusing on what might happen, on what needs to be done, stressing over upcoming events. Or it tunes out ruminating over the past, thinking what you should have said or done instead. 

You are here, but your attention is elsewhere. As a result you go through the day on autopilot. You are distracted and preoccupied.

Benefits of being present

When you think about it, most of your problems don’t exist in the present moment. Deadlines and obligations are a thing of the future. What happened in the past is, well, past. 

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.


Spending your whole day drifting to the past or future, traps you in a state of constant anxiety, fear and regret. If you are not doing something about the thing in your past/future there is no logical sense of thinking about it. All you do is let it affect all the other aspects of your life.

Truth is most of the things we stress about are projections of the future. And often the thing you spent so much time and energy worrying about turns out to be not so big and bad as what you imagined it to be.

By shifting more of your attention to the present you worry less.  You handle stress better, not by disengaging or blowing it out of proportions. But by acknowledging your emotions, the stress triggers and mindfully accepting them. 

Practising being present helps you recognise depressive or anxious thoughts as they arise. And because you are now aware they are just thoughts you can choose to disrupt their patterns. By choosing to focus your attention to the present moment you reduce the power that anxiety and depression have on you.

Being present helps you appreciate the small things in life and find joy in the moment. Studies reveal that this helps cultivate gratitude and increased feelings of happiness.

The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.

Sharon Salzberg

On a more practical note, being present increases your productivity. Since multitasking is a myth, thinking about one thing while attempting to do another, makes you less productive and more prone to errors. When being present it is easier for you to get to that much desired state of “flow”. You perform your tasks faster and with less mistakes.


How to be present?

The art of knowing when your thoughts are in the past, present or future is called mindfulness. To be mindful is to recognise the thoughts and to choose which thoughts to pay your attention to.

To be more present you must first become aware of where your thoughts are at any given moment. The more you practise the easier it gets.

Pick a small everyday activity, like your morning shower. Make the effort to completely focus on that activity. What steps do you take, how does it feel? You will find your mind drifting away. Here are some tips to help you keep it in the present:

  • Follow your breath. With every inhale say to yourself “I am breathing in”. With every exhale say to yourself “I am breathing out”. 
  • Count your breath – breathe in, pause, breath out and count “one”. When you get to ten, start over.
  • Body scan – pay attention to how your body is feeling right now. Focus on every part of your body. Start from the toes, notice any sensations you might be experiencing. Then move to the feet, legs etc.
  • Engage your senses – Focus on what you are hearing, smelling, sensing at this moment? Can you hear your breath or the water drops falling? What temperature is the water? How does your shampoo smell?

You will still find your thoughts drifting. Don’t fret it. Just get back to the breath, or your body scan. With time and practice you will find it gets easier to keep your focus.

Practice consistently to build this into a habit. Once you do you will find yourself being present when stepping in the shower, without the need to consciously remind yourself. Then start practicing with another activity. Like being present while riding the elevator, or while waiting in line.

To be present does not mean to completely ignore thoughts of the future or the past. That would be impossible and unadvisable. 

You most definitely should revisit past events to relive a pleasant moment, or to review what went wrong and to take the lesson. Learn and let go. 

You also need to plan and prepare for certain future events. Do so in a healthy way. Be as objective as possible, stick to the known facts and if you catch yourself playing out endless bad scenarios – stop! Make the conscious effort to imagine a good outcome and let it go. 

How To Break The Habit Of Negative Self-talk

Words have power, the words we say to ourselves even more so. The way we communicate with ourselves shapes the way we see and experience the world. 

There is an internal dialogue in each and every one of us that helps us process and make sense of our experiences. How you talk to yourself is the lens from which you see the world.

Self-talk develops in childhood and is built on throughout our whole lives. It becomes so automatic that we often associate it with who we are.

When that self-talk is predominantly negative it creates emotional states of guilt, regret, shame, fear or anger. It affects your ability to see things objectively and to believe in yourself. Negative self-talk diminishes your ability to make positive changes in your life. 

Negative self-talk can take many forms. It can be less obvious (“I’m not good at this, I’d better stop wasting time on it”) or downright mean (“I am such a failure!”). Negative self-talk is when we internalize and accept anything that goes wrong as a definitive statement of who we are.

Types of negative self-talk

Personalizing is when “It’s not you, it’s me” becomes your default. If anything goes wrong, if someone is in a bad mood, you automatically take the blame and think it has something to do with you (your partner comes home in a bad mood and right away you think “He’s mad at me”).

Catastrophizing is when you tend to imagine the worst possible outcome. You automatically anticipate the worst and manage to convince yourself of its inevitability (“If I fail this task I’m gonna lose my job”).

Absolutism is when you make generalized assumptions based on one single event. It is thinking in terms of always, never, every time, everyone, no one, and so on (you accidentally spill your coffee and go “I always make a mess”).

Mind reading is when you hold conversations and arguments in your head with someone. You imagine them saying and doing things that anger you or make you feel bad. You convince yourself that this is what they actually think, what they would actually say and you let this imagined conflict affect the way you treat that person.

Beating yourself up over a past mistake is when you lay in bed at night thinking of that time you screwed up. You replay the situation over and over again, drowning in shame and guilt, enforcing a bad self-image.


Where does negative self-talk come from?

People tend to give more importance to negative experiences than to positive ones. This is called the negativity bias. This is hard-coded into our brains due to millions of years of evolution.

Noticing, remembering and dealing with possible threats was key to survival. We are still constantly on the lookout for threats – threats to our image, threats to our relationships, threats to our career.

Negative self-talk is your brain trying to “save” you from real or perceived harm. But when negative self-talk passes the threshold of keeping you safe and motivated, it becomes damaging.

Effects of negative self-talk

Research links rumination and self-blame to an increased risk of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Negative-self talk increases stress levels while lowering your self-esteem. This leads to loss of motivation as well as feelings of helplessness.

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.

— Henry Ford

Negative self-talk also lowers your ability to see opportunities and to take those opportunities.

The more you tell yourself you can’t do something, the more you believe it. This stops you from pursuing your dreams without even trying.

How to break the habit of negative self-talk?

As any other bad habit, the habit of negative self-talk can be broken. It will take time and a lot of effort, but you must remember negative self-talk is not who you are, it is something you do. And you can stop doing it.

You can consciously choose to stop and replace your negative thoughts with ones that will benefit you.

Notice when you engage in negative self-talk. Be on the watch out for certain keywords such as “always, never, everybody, nobody”.

Challenge your negative thoughts. Ask your inner critics for evidence. Ask yourself if this is a fact or just your interpretation of the situation.

Remember your thoughts and feelings about yourself can be skewed like everyone else’s. They are subject to biases and are influenced by your mood and your energy levels. 

Reframe the negative thought in a more neutral way. Swap “I can’t do this” with “This is a challenge”, “I hate…” with “I’d prefer..”, “I always fail…” with “I didn’t make it this time”. 

A good tip is to think if you would have said that to a friend. If something is too mean to tell to a friend, why do you tell it to yourself? Learn to be your own best friend.

Distract yourself. If you find yourself falling in the same negative self-talk patterns, do something to distract yourself with. Work on a different task, chat with a friend about something unrelated, watch a fun or educational video. 

Find something positive about the situation. I know this is a cliche but there is always something positive. You must train yourself to see it.

“What if” it. Dare to imagine a positive outcome of the situation you are being negative about. Go wild with it. Dreaming of the best version of how things could work out will lift your mood and will push away the negativity.

Book recommendation on breaking the habit of negative self-talk: The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self-Esteem: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Move Beyond Negative Self-Talk and Embrace Self-Compassion

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Understanding Emotions And Their Role In Your Life

When we think of emotions we rarely think of the actual purpose emotions serve us. What are emotions and why do we experience them?

Emotions are rapid information-processing systems that help us act with minimal thinking (Tooby & Cosmides, 2008). They are a pattern of reactions whose purpose is to adapt and react to a situation quickly and with minimal cognitive intervention.

Without emotions we would have not survived as a species. Emotions direct our behavior – whether to attack, defend or flee. Whether someone needs help and care. Whether to reject or accept food.

The components of an emotion

Emotions consist of three components – a subjective experience (a stimulus), a physiological response and a behavioral response

The stimulus is the experience that triggers the emotion. It is subjective – the same experience could trigger different emotions in different people. 

Once registered, the stimulus causes a reaction of the autonomic nervous system – a physiological response. The autonomic nervous system controls your involuntary bodily responses – your heart rate, your blood pressure, your digestive processes, etc.

For example when the experience makes you scared, your autonomic nervous system temporarily shuts down unnecessary digestive processes, reducing saliva which results in a dry mouth. It increases blood flow in the lower half of the body, increases the air intake. You start breathing rapidly, your visual field expands, you are alert. The autonomic nervous system just prepared your body to flee.

Then comes the behavioral response. It is the actions you take in order to express the emotion. Those actions largely depend on your personality, the context, the perceived consequences of the action and the sociocultural norms you abide by. 

While you cannot influence the first two components of an emotion, you can control and change the behavioral response you have to an emotion. How you respond to the experiences in your life is up to you.

How do emotions affect your life?

People are hardwired to seek positive emotions and avoid negative ones. This affects the choices we make and the actions we take. 

And while avoiding the negative emotions and chasing the positive ones may seem like the most reasonable thing to do, this is rarely the case.

In today’s reality chasing the positive emotions has you procrastinating on your work and indulging on unhealthy habits. Avoiding the negative emotions keeps you in your comfort zone, hindering your growth. It could stop you from repairing relationships and from building the career that you want.

Emotions usually are short-lived. They come and go in the matter of seconds. However when an emotion is influenced by memories, beliefs and thoughts, it grows into a feeling. 

For example when your manager compliments your work it sparks positive emotions of joy and appreciation. Your brain interprets the situation as a validation of your abilities and as a result you feel more confident.

Say your manager criticizes your work. This triggers a mix of negative emotions, like shame and anger. Your brain connects this to your own insecurities, leaving you feeling inadequate and incapable.

If you pay no attention to the feelings, and only take the feedback, you will think of ways to improve your work and learn from your mistakes. If you start focusing on the way that criticism made you feel, this puts you in a bad place. You start recalling other times people have criticized your work, enforcing feelings of failure and self-doubt. 

Both situations may result in you avoiding challenging projects in order to avoid making a mistake. This will take away your chances of learning and growing.

The ability to endure the negative emotions and not let them stop you from growing and achieving your goals, is what success is built on. 

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How To Give Feedback Without Making Other People Defensive

A person gets defensive when they feel their abilities, competence or overall persona is being attacked. This often results in them shifting the blame, criticizing or shutting down all communication. 

When the person you are giving your feedback to gets defensive it is hard to actually work on the issue at hand. This often leads to conflict instead of resolution.

While you are not responsible for other people’s reactions, the way you communicate can influence the course of the conversation. 

How to give feedback without making other people defensive

  • Lead by example – be aware of and admit your own failings. Own your mistakes and set the stage for other people to do the same. Reducing your defensiveness, reduces the defensiveness of the people you communicate with.
  • Always show respect – even when you disagree with someone’s word or actions. When a person feels respected and valued by you, it is less likely to feel personally attacked by your feedback. 
  • Use gentle language – “I” statements sound less aggressive and are harder to be perceived as personal attacks. Instead of “You are always yelling at me”, try using “I feel attacked when I am being yelled at”. 
  • Make a positive request – instead of telling the other person what you do not want, try telling them what you do want. The example above would sound like “I’d rather be talked with in a more moderate tone”. This shifts the focus from their persona to your need and is less likely to be perceived as a threat.
  • Be specific – avoid using “always”, “never” etc. “You always/never do…” sounds like nagging and will most likely make the other person feel like defending themselves. Reframe your feedback as a specific request – “Could you please do…”.
  • Show empathy – someone may get defensive even if you’ve done all in your power to present your feedback in a non-threatening way. Remember this has nothing to do with you. Defensiveness is a self-protective mechanism and stems from feelings of guilt, shame, fear. 
  • Stay calm – the person may react defensively by criticizing you, trying to shift the blame or withdrawing. Make sure you know how to not become defensive in return. Defuse the situation by finding something you can agree on and come back to the issue later, when you have both cooled your heads.

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Why You Get Defensive And How To Stop It

How do you respond when you are being physically attacked? You either fight to protect yourself, or you run. It is a natural self-protective instinct to defend yourself in the face of any (real or perceived) threat.

That same instinct kicks in when you feel as though you are being criticized. If you feel your abilities, competence or overall persona is being attacked, you get defensive.

You impulsively react to the perceived threat of criticism by either counter-attacking (being sarcastic, being critical in return, engaging in conflict) or fleeing (stonewalling, giving the silent treatment).

Most of the time you get defensive out of insecurity. The critic has touched on something you already perceive as your flaw. As a result feelings of shame, sadness and anger take over. 

In an attempt to “save” you from those unpleasant emotions and from viewing yourself in a negative light, your fight or flight response kicks in. 

Defensiveness is a reaction to feelings of insecurity, anxiety or inability to be assertive. 


“I don’t get defensive, you get defensive”

Do you often find yourself reacting the following way to any real or perceived criticism:

  • Start making excuses (You go and do it better on 4 hours of sleep!)
  • Bring up past things to criticize the other person (Yeah, and you talk too loudly on the phone)
  • Blame someone else (It was like that when I got here)
  • Try to minimize any harm done (It’s not such a big deal)
  • Completely shut down and refuse to communicate

Then you know what defensiveness feels like. And you know how much harm it can do to your relationships. Defensiveness creates tension and hostility, resulting in alienation and loss of trust.

Acting defensive impedes your emotional and personal growth. It destroys your ability to identify and solve problems, to learn from your mistakes and grow.

How to stop acting defensive

Defensiveness is a learned behavior, and as such it can be unlearned. It is a mechanism you likely developed during childhood to try and self-protect. It might have done its job in certain situations but now you need to learn to control it.

Become aware of your defensiveness – learn to recognize when your buttons are being pushed. Be mindful of the way you feel when criticized. Pay close attention to each nuance of the feeling that causes you to put your shield up.

Acknowledge your feelings – Simply admitting to yourself that you are feeling ashamed, worried or insecure can help you lower the intensity of the feeling. Putting a name to the feeling helps you reflect and choose your course of action.

Pause – The first two steps allow you to be able to pause and not act upon the impulse to get defensive. Create space between the feeling and the reaction.

Choose an appropriate response – When you have diffused your own defensiveness you can now respond in a way that is aligned with your own values and goals.

Stand up for yourself in a calm assertive way

Learning to be non-defensive does not mean you should not stand up for yourself. You have the right to explain your point and communicate your side of the story. But you need to do this in an assertive and productive way.

Being criticized is hardest to hear when the criticism is on point. First and most important is to take responsibility where it is due. If you did make a mistake – own it. Acknowledge the facts and apologize.

If you feel the need to explain yourself, do it later. Tell the other person how the comment made you feel and give yourself time to cool off. You might need just a moment, or a bit longer.

When addressing the topic – stay on point. Focus on resolving the issue at hand and do not bring up past occurrences. 

Present your point in “I” statements and avoid generalization. Avoid using “you”, “always”, “never” etc. These will only create more tension.

Accept the fact that the other person may not agree with you. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and it has nothing to do with you. Learn to not take things personally.

Book recommendation on how to not get defensive: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

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