The Art of Defenselessness
By Vanessa Palencia
When someone attacks you or your life’s choices, it’s hard not to fight back isn’t it? Even when you know that you’ve done nothing wrong, it can be extremely difficult to not get defensive.
How dare that person try to tear you down. How dare they try to belittle you or berate you. How dare they judge you and point fingers at you when three fingers point back at them.
I know because I’ve been there a few times. In fact, just recently I had received a message from someone through Instagram telling me how I had been a thorn in their side for the longest time and how I had torn their dreams down. I was shocked and felt so hurt by this message because they were attacks based on a foundation of lies and because I had high hopes that the message would be one of friendship and reconciliation. Out of respect, I won’t dive into the details of what happened between us, but I will admit that I felt attacked when I shouldn’t have been. I felt betrayed by that person’s misperceptions of me. While my initial urge was to respond in a fiery manner and defend myself, I’m thankful that I had enough common sense and decency to realize that I was not in the wrong and therefore did not need to defend myself.
Sure, it bugged the heck out of me to know that this person built a web of lies around me, but I knew that no matter what I said, they would still refuse to acknowledge their error. And I also knew that their verbal attack, no matter how subtle, was not nearly as threatening as I initially made it out to be because they can’t harm me or my family, they can’t squander my resources, and they can’t ruin my reputation to the people that matter most. So based on these realizations, I knew that practicing defenselessness was the best way to go.
Trust me, I completely understand how hurtful, and oftentimes humiliating, these situations can be. Especially if that person was someone you once admired, respected, or loved. So I get it if the first thing you want to do is react and defend yourself. But even if you have a whole list of valid reasons why you’re right, I urge you to practice defenselessness instead. It will be a completely foreign concept and feeling at first, but it’s an art that can benefit your mindset and personhood entirely.
I first heard about the art of defenselessness in one of Gabrielle Bernstein’s books and was completely awed by the idea. She talked about how being in a defensive state, regardless of whether you are right or wrong, immediately triggers a negative vibration and directs hateful energy towards the other person. You are, essentially, fighting fire with fire. In another article I read, “The Art of Defenselessness: Give Nothing to Defend,” Dave Ursillo talks about how defensiveness demonstrates that you do have something to defend, whereas practicing defenselessness proves that you have nothing to worry about and in turn add no fuel to the fire within the other person. He states, “For when you sit by idly as you are lashed by the unjust words of onlookers and naysayers, there will always be a silent few who recognize that the attack reveals more about the attacker than the one who sits defenseless.”
But where do you draw the line between practicing defenselessness and just letting people walk all over you?
Well, there’s a difference between being a doormat and practicing vulnerability and innocence. Spiritual teachers Gloria and Kenneth Wapnick both state that defenselessness “...is not the form of the behavior that reflects defenselessness, but the content of the mind's thought.”
In other words, if an ignorant and misinformed person attacks you and your life’s choices, then it is appropriate to practice defenselessness, because you are doing what’s right for you and thus have nothing that needs defending. But if your attacker is causing physical harm and/or is damaging your reputation to the point of ruining your ability to live a peaceful life, then that’s when you step in and defend yourself and whoever else may be in harm’s way.
Depending on the form of attack, you may or may not have time to collect yourself and respond accordingly. In my case, because the attack was virtual, I had plenty of time to calm myself down and respond appropriately. But if you’re face to face with your attacker, then here are some tips that can help prepare you for this situation.
Breathe: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Breathing can help regulate your heart rate and calm the angry waves of emotions happening within you. This is crucial because no one ever acts favorably while under the influence of negative emotions.
See them in love: By taking the time to realize that the attacker is just a person who’s been having a bad day or whose buttons may have been pressed in the wrong places, you’ll start to understand where they’re coming from. This will help to not see them in a negative light and potentially add more negativity to the entire thing.
Walk away: This might be the hardest step, but it’s an extremely important one. You don’t want to stay in such a negative environment much longer than you have to. When possible, leave the conversation and forget about the whole thing altogether and move on with your day.
Remember, there is no point in wasting your energy during these situations, so just breathe, acknowledge the person, and let it go. Like I mentioned before, it may feel very weird at first to walk away from someone who's tearing you down, but it'll all be worth it in the end. It's completely normal to have lingering thoughts for a few days after, but just know that in time you will remove everything from the forefront of your mind and redirect your energy into more productive and worthwhile things. It took me a few days to move on, and I only bring the topic up again to help every single one of you with this. You are not alone. You can get through this. You will get stronger. You will rise above. I promise.