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Listening Without Defensiveness
Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP
Explore what causes defensiveness
Identify strategies to enhance assertiveness
All behavior has meaning
Defensiveness is a behavior that indicates a lack of a sense of safety
Prior learning of unsafeness in relationships (verbal or physical aggression, feeling invalidated)
Discussing triggering material
Defensiveness is a type of aggression (My thoughts and feelings matter. Yours do not)
Creating Safety
Enhance self esteem
Recognize the difference between criticism of you vs. your behaviors
Take what is useful and leave the rest
Be realistic…Nobody is liked by everybody, and nobody’s behaviors are liked by everybody all the time
Nurture multiple sources of support
Set and maintain boundaries: Physical, Affective & Cognitive, Environmental, Relational
Give the respect you expect to get.
Creating Safety
Try to be empathetic and curious
If you passionately disagree about something, what is informing their decisions? Yours? (politics, religion, healthcare, quality time…)
Explore alternate explanations why someone might be critical or short with you
Consider where it came from (well meaning constructive feedback vs. destructive feedback)
Evaluate your beliefs about what it means to be wrong, make a mistake or not be liked
Creating Safety
Think back and try to identify at least 10 times you have gotten defensive.
What was it about?
Why did you feel threatened?
Were you actually threatened in the present or were you projecting (Mom/Dad/Ex) or mind reading?
Are there any themes?
Listening and Hearing
Set ground rules
Stop mind reading
Stop projecting
One person and one thing at a time
Use objective language
Have a safe-word and de-escalation plan if you feel like you are getting defensive or being attacked

Listening and Hearing
Listen to hear and understand
Take a moment to breathe and reflect if you feel your stress level rising.
Validate their experience as theirs
When you are grounded, summarize and ask if what you heard was accurate
If the person says yes, then formulate a response using
I statements
I feel like my thoughts/feelings/experiences are being invalidated/trivialized when you say…
I feel anxious about sharing my thoughts with you because…
My anxiety gets triggered when you raise your voice…
Other Strategies
Find areas of agreement
Look for ways to collaborate instead of conflict
Create win-wins
Pick your battles (THINK)
Apologize when necessary

Engage the Executive Control Network
When the amygdala is triggered by a threat it frequently strengthens the connections with the default mode network and results in default (habitual) responding
The ECN helps you focus on the present situation in the current context and choose a response that is more in line with what you want
The ECN can help you learn new skills and alter schema so you feel safer and more empowered thereby reducing the strength of the amygdala and reducing HPA-Axis dysregulation.
Rehearsal / empty chair
Identifying and modifying schema (You sound just like my Dad/Mom/Ex) using BETA testing (Breathe, Evaluate, Think/Talk, Act)
Defensiveness is a way we protect ourselves from hurt or rejection
Defensiveness is an aggressive strategy which makes the other person also feel unsafe (and attacked)
Creating safety is essential to reduce defensiveness
IRL and cognitive rehearsal of new skills using the ECN is essential to enhance feelings of safety and efficacy and alter the self-schema of the DMN

Video by Dr. Dawn Elise Snipes on integrative behavioral health approaches including counseling techniques and skills for improving mental health and reducing mental illness.

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AllCEUs courses for counselor continuing education are accepted in most states because we are an approved education provider for NAADAC, the States of Florida and Texas Boards of Social Work and Mental Health/Professional Counseling, the California Consortium for Addiction Professionals and Professions, the Australian Counselling Association, CRCC, Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and more.

Dr Dawn Elise Snipes provides training through that are helpful for ACA OPD, Counsellor OPD, OPD Points, LPC CEUs LMHC CEUs LCPC CEUs LSW CEUs LCSW CEUs LMFT CEUs CRC CEUs LADC CEUs CADC CEUs MAC CEUs MCAP CEUs NCC CEUS LCDC CEUs CPRS CEUs CTRS CEUs and HPCSA ACA NBCC counsellors