Confronting Mostly Leads to Defensiveness

I remember someone telling me one day that they grew up with a very critical authority figure in their lives. The client described being publicly shamed and criticized, leading to anger and resentment. Over the years, the client became sensitive to criticism. When I asked if he saw any connections between the critical figure and present situations, he said that he felt voiceless in the previous relationship and promised himself he was never going to be mistreated again. Unfortunately, such a promise cannot be kept since there will be present and future circumstances where there will be conflict.

This is one reason why confronting someone most likely won’t work. But reframing the conversation and sharing with them how you feel and what you see may be more beneficial. In Chuck DeGroats book, “Toughest People to Love”, he says,

I find that a better approach entails sharing what I see and feel with the narcissist, modeling vulnerability. I see this as a kind of back-door approach, a way of getting around the defensive ego to the vulnerable heart beneath. I once said to a particular client, “I find myself wanting to admire you, but I feel disconnected from you. I feel like you’ve set us up to be competitive, but I don’t want to be. To be honest, I just want you to find one safe place where you don’t have to be ‘on.’ Maybe we can have that.” I’ve found often that men and women who struggle in these ways secretly long to shed the narcissistic posture for a taste of authentic connection.

DeGroat, Chuck. Toughest People to Love (p. 52). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

What DeGroat does is model vulnerability and empathy. He shows interest and care for the person, but also communicates how the actions makes him feel and perceive the situation.

I can hear someone saying, “Well that’s too touchy feely for me. I just like to be direct and to the point.” This tends to be a one directional, transactional conversation without involving dialogue, empathy, or understanding.

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