Blackberries. They look and taste delicious. They make sweet jam, combine well with yogurt, and make a wonderful blackberry pie. Yum!
However, gardeners from western Washington do not hold any sweet feelings towards the plant that produces this seemingly unobtrusive fruit. In fact, two varieties are considered a noxious weeds! Found across the region, the Himalayan and evergreen blackberry are European species of blackberry that are highly invasive and difficult to control. We use words like bramble, or thicket to describe the plants because if left unattended they will invade gardens, overwhelm shrubs and outcompete trees. The ranging, thorny vines must be constantly battled. How they sap our energy and time!
When we first moved into our Washington home, we noticed blackberry plants in the preserve at the back of our property that had entangled many of the native shrubs and trees. I recall my distress at noticing a particularly sad looking evergreen tree that was completely stunted because of thick blackberry vines entrapping the tree’s growth. When young and tender, the trunk of the tree had been forced to curve and dip along the ground in order to escape the blackberry vines. Over a period of weeks and with the held of some hard-working teenagers we hired, we hacked through the brambles, dug out the blackberry roots, and freed the bushes and trees from the thorny vines. Once the little evergreen tree was no longer on the defensive, it doubled and then tripled in size within a few short years, returning to it’s intended, ascending course.
I am certain you know the meaning of the word Defensiveness (definition #5), but have you considered that the existence of defensiveness within relationships is like a thick, strangling, thorny blackberry vine? Defensiveness has the potential to stunt our relationships and our personal growth. Defensiveness keeps us from meaningful progress. What I share now I have learned through personal experience battling my own defensiveness.
I had been contemplating why some of my children are so defensive. There was no ownership, merely hollow words to blame and redirect scrutiny elsewhere. I felt frustrated that we often battled over defended positions rather than communicating effectively. It always became worse whenever I sought to provide the individuals with feedback about the impact of their choices or behaviors. When I combined prayer with my examination and reflection on the behaviors, it was made clear to me that my own defensiveness (and perhaps that of the Midnight Gardener 😇) was at the root of the behaviors of our children. At first I was heartbroken that I hadn’t realized this sooner. It is often very painful to examine our own faults and make needed changes, however as I have begun to change so have they, and in return our relationships have started to improve.
What is helping me? I am learning that in relationships, defensiveness needs to be traded in wholly for curiosity and empathy for those around us. Here is a YouTube clip that really helped me understand. Molly Fletcher on Defensiveness into Curiosity
Consider for a minute wether you might be even a little like the defensive and strangling blackberry vine. Perhaps you don’t think you are at all defensive (which, I’m just sayin’, is highly unlikely 😊). I encourage you to consider the following everyday scenario. Even if you think these can’t help you (wink, wink), may help “other people” in your life.
1. A child responds to their parent and says “You over-talk about everything.” The parent has two choices, defensiveness or curiosity. They could say, “No I don’t! Why are you always exaggerating?” Or they can respond with curiosity, “Tell me more about that.” And after the child explains, the parent could inquire further, “What do you feel inside when I over talk?” And then listen fully to their response and acknowledge you understand.
2. Your spouse comes to you and says, “I have noticed that you are a little on edge today.” Defensiveness = “No I am not! You don’t know anything about my feelings today.” Curiosity = “Hmmm, what are you noticing today that brings you to this conclusion?”
3. Parents say to their college student, “We are concerned that you aren’t using your money wisely.”
Defensiveness = “You are always judging me and assume I am making bad choices.”
Curiosity = “Help me understand why you are concerned about my recent spending.”
4. Senior parents say to their adult daughter, “We feel that you aren’t keeping in touch with us enough.”
Defensiveness = “You could call me too!”
Curiosity = “I’m sure that is true, what would be better for you?” (And if you are really brave and comfortable in your own skin, add this next bit.) “As a parent myself, I am curious. How do you feel when I don’t maintain frequent enough contact?”
These are just examples of the wording we can use to turn our defensiveness into curiosity. Be aware that demonstrating curiosity also requires us to be sincere, and to demonstrate that in our expressions and the tone of our voice. Otherwise, our loved ones could make an assumption that we are faking it.
If you are interested in learning more, consider reading Feeling Good Together, by David D. Burns, M.D. I found this book to be eye opening in healing relationships through curiosity.
Blackberries, like relationships, can be deliciously flavored. In order to enjoy the sweetness we must take time, choose humility, show empathy and find patience. We can let our loved ones know that we are working on changing and ask for their patience as we untangle possibly thick, defensive blackberry vines. The sweetened relationships will be genuinely sublime.