A chic woman knows who she is and lives by her personal values. But there’s a natural yet insidious way to block access to your personal values: defensiveness.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re heading home from a dinner party or work or family thing and something niggles at you. An offhand comment somebody made to you. The expression on someone’s face. A feeling something isn’t sitting right.
You run a mental replay to track the source of your unease. There was your spirited singing of Super Trouper, you recall – but surely no one could object to that?
Then it comes to you: That Thing you said.
Is defensiveness blocking your personal values?
My own variants of That Thing are legion, for I am a girl whose brain often daydreams while her mouth runs amok – until something taps my brain on the shoulder, whispers in its ear, and leaves it shaking its head in dismay.
I can be insensitive, thoughtless, lost in my own little world, dismissive, or outright rude.
My initial response to the memory of That Thing is to swat it away with self-justification, with defensiveness.
They were being over-sensitive
I have a right to my opinion
I did nothing wrong
Sometimes my justification is fair – I do tend to over-analyze – and if so, I feel better. It’s not like these are odious crimes I’m talking about, there’s no overt harm done, no clear-cut villainy. Often it is indeed nothing.
But sometimes I don’t feel better, and that brings me to a crossroads. Now, I can do one of two things.
I can dial up the defensiveness and convince myself the problem is theirs and I have nothing to feel bad about. But convincing yourself of anything is hard work, don’t you think? The little part of us who knows who we are and who we want to be is no dummy, and she’s not easily tricked.
So there’s another option I’ve discovered recently, and it’s far more chic. By which I mean, more elegant and empowering and true to myself. And that is to use my discomfort to unlock my personal values.
Convincing yourself of anything is hard work, don’t you think? The little part of us who knows who we are and who we want to be is no dummy, and she’s not easily tricked.
Personal values are the antidote to defensiveness
Instead of defensiveness, I switch gears and ask myself two questions.
Question 1: What do I want to do about this now?
Question 2: What do I want to do differently, either next time or in the future?
These questions short-circuit any rationalizing about what’s objectively right or wrong and take me to a wiser place: to my personal values. They tap into my own standards for myself and highlight not whether I’ve committed some conventional faux pas, but whether I’ve failed to meet my personal code, my own aspirations to live a chic life.
These questions highlight not whether I’ve committed some conventional faux pas, but whether I’ve failed to meet my personal code, my own aspirations to live a chic life.
Sometimes the answer I get to Question 1 is that I want to apologize or acknowledge something, regardless of whether I did anything ‘wrong’. If so, I’ll draft a brief text or email – something like:
Hey I think I was unkind about your macrame nipple warmers – I’m sorry!
Usually I’ll wait a few hours or till the next day before I send, just to check if it still feels right. (Confession: I have sent many such missives.)
Other times, I decide I want to do nothing now but choose something different for next time – to be more sensitive with that person, or make a special effort in some other way. Or it may be a new habit for the future – to be more diplomatic whenever I’m shown someone’s latest craft project, say.
Defensiveness is natural, but personal values are chic
To be clear: I’m not suggesting we all routinely beat ourselves up or take responsibility for every unintentional slight. People’s readiness to clutch their pearls in paroxysms of offense is a whole other thing. No, I believe in being self-compassionate and accepting our true selves; I’m not a touchy-feeling person, and I’m human and get things wrong. A lot.
What I am suggesting is that instead of justifying ourselves or adopting defensiveness, we can investigate our discomfort to unlock information about our personal standards, our internal code. Information that will help us live a happier, more authentic life.
The more we live according to our personal standards, and not convention or other people’s expectations, the closer we come to living our own version of a chic life.
Asking ourselves what we’d like to do about our uncomfortable feelings – either now or next time – brings us closer to living by our own values. The more we live according to our personal values, and not convention or other people’s expectations, the closer we come to living our own version of a chic life.