what causes defensive behavior

What Causes Defensive Behavior : Helpful Tips

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what causes defensive behavior

Defensive behavior is a common response to feeling threatened, but the triggers can vary widely depending on a person’s individual circumstances.

Understanding the factors that lead to defensive behavior is an important part of communication and improving relationships.

In this post, we will explore what causes defensive behavior by looking at some of the most common causes and triggers.

It is important to note that defensive behavior is often an unconscious response, which can be difficult for the person displaying it to control.

While it can be a natural response to feeling threatened or attacked, it is not always helpful and can sometimes damage interpersonal relationships.

In acknowledging this, we can work towards understanding how to recognize the signs of defensive behavior, identify the underlying causes and respond constructively to help to build trust and communication.

What causes defensive behavior?

1. Fear of the unknown

One of the most common causes of defensive behavior is the fear of the unknown. This fear can manifest in many ways, including an unwillingness to try new things or an unwillingness to take risks.

When faced with something unfamiliar, people may become anxious, leading them to act defensively. This fear is often a result of a lack of knowledge or experience with the unknown.

Facing the unknown can be daunting, and many people use defensive behavior as a way of protecting themselves from the perceived threat.

2. Feeling threatened

Feeling threatened is one of the major reasons people engage in defensive behavior. When individuals feel they are being attacked, threatened, or belittled, they often become defensive because they think they must protect themselves.

People may also go into a defensive mode if they feel they are being judged or criticized. This kind of defensive behavior often leads to arguments and conflict, as individuals become defensive and try to protect their own interests and beliefs.

3. Unmet expectations

Unmet expectations are a major factor in defensive behavior. People naturally form expectations about how situations and conversations should play out, and when their expectations are not met, it can lead to anger and defensiveness.

These expectations may be about how a conversation should go, how someone should respond to them, or how a particular problem should be solved. When these expectations are not met, it can cause frustration, hurt, and defensiveness.

Additionally, when someone is presented with a solution or idea that doesn’t meet their expectations, they may feel the need to defend their position, or become resistant to the suggestion. This can also cause defensive behavior.

4. Insecurity

Insecurity is one of the most common causes of defensive behavior. People who are insecure may feel threatened by their environment and feel that they need to protect themselves.

They may be overly sensitive to criticism, reject compliments, and become rigid in their thinking and behavior.

Insecurity can also lead to aggression, as people may feel the need to protect themselves and lash out at perceived threats. Insecurity can be rooted in past experiences, or it may be linked to low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence.

It is important to remember that defensive behavior can be a sign that someone is feeling insecure, so it is important to ask open-ended questions and respond with understanding and empathy.

5. Prior negative experiences

Prior negative experiences can be a major cause of defensive behavior. For example, if an individual has been the victim of bullying or abuse, they may be more likely to act defensively when they encounter a similar situation in the future.

Similarly, if someone has been traumatized in the past, they may become defensive in response to something that reminds them of their past trauma.

In either case, defensive behaviors can be a symptom of a deeper psychological issue. It is important to recognize this so that the person can get the help they need to cope with and, ultimately, address the underlying issue.


Defensive behavior is a common occurrence in many relationships, whether it’s between family members, friends, or partners.

When looking at what causes defensive behavior, it’s important to understand the possible underlying reasons, including insecurities and fear, and how to address these issues in a healthy and respectful way.

Taking the time to work through these issues can help strengthen relationships and lead to healthier communication.