Updated on 06.12.11

The Things You Don’t Want to Hear

Trent Hamm

The things you don’t want to hear are often the very things you should be thinking about and focusing on.

Whenever my weight used to peak, the last thing I wanted to hear from anyone was a remark about my weight. It made me angry to hear it and I would often just walk away from anyone who remarked on it.

At the various points in my life when I was really challenged by my spiritual and religious beliefs, I would often get very upset with people who would speak out in opposition to whatever my beliefs were at the time. I did not want to hear criticism of whatever it was that I believed.

When my spending was at its worst, I would get incredibly defensive about how I was choosing to spend my dollars and cents. I’d simply say that I could afford it (when I often knew I couldn’t) and that would be the end of the conversation, at least from my end.

I didn’t want to hear the things that others were saying, even when those others were people who simply cared about me and didn’t want me to fail in life. Each time, those things I didn’t want to hear were the very things that I needed to listen to and think about.

Look at your own life and the conversations you have with others. What topics irritate you and make you defensive? What issues, when they’re brought up, make you leave the room? Do you avoid certain people and certain situations just to avoid certain confrontations and topics? Almost all of us have a thing or two that falls under these categories.

Those issues deserve your attention and focus, whatever they are. Why are you feeling defensive?

It may be that they’re pointing you toward an area in your life that needs a change. It may also be that they’re challenging a belief that you hold dear but don’t understand well enough to discuss rationally.

No matter what the case is, you are greatly rewarded by digging in a little deeper.

For me, the best route for digging deeper into a topic is to go to the library and check out some books. I dig deeply into that area until I understand it more thoroughly, at least ensuring that I understand why I was defensive and what I can do to undo that defensiveness.

Usually, I’m led down a path of change in my life or I’m forced to re-evaluate beliefs and attitudes I hold dear (sometimes it’s reinforced with facts and information I can use in discussion, but at other times it’s changed).

Regardless, whenever I actually dig into those areas that I don’t want to hear about, I come out the other side as a much-improved person, whether it resulted in any life change or not. I know why I was defensive. I understand an area of my life that I didn’t understand well before. Often, I’ve made positive changes in my life.

If you’re defensive about something in your life, whatever it is, let that defensiveness lead you. Dig into that area. Understand it better. Figure out why exactly you’re defensive. Look for how you can improve yourself instead of just blaming others.

Eventually, you’ll reach a point where the topic is a non-issue. Either you’ll have made a positive change in your life or you’ll understand your current position much more deeply. Both resolutions are positive ones.

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  1. chuck says:

    i’m a smoker and don’t like people saying things about it. i usually respond that it’s none of there business and i enjoy smoking. i do leave the room just like you say, and go out for a cigarette. but i prolly should quit. not sure i want to go to the libary and read about it though. good post as i think we all have our hot buttons.

  2. Katie says:

    Eh, sometimes people get annoyed at other people making unsolicited comments about their personal life because those other people are just being dicks. This type of reasoning (“You’re just being defensive because you know I’m right”) is how said dicks justify their behavior, and I would urge any of them reading this post to keep that in mind.

  3. Johanna says:

    I can think of several things (that have nothing to do with weight, money, or religion) that I think Trent needs to hear but doesn’t want to. Maybe that’s just me being a dick, but I really don’t think it is.

  4. Vanessa says:

    My defensiveness depends on the motive of the person I’m disagreeing with. Are they trying to be genuinely helpful and improve my life, or is their goal to insult, degrade and oppress? When someone decides I am inferior because of my gender/race, yes I will get defensive. When someone labels me immoral because I don’t believe in a higher being, I will get defensive. Not all opposing points of view are deserving of digging deeper for understanding.

  5. marta says:

    Katie, Johanna and Vanessa have raised good points.

    An example related to this blog is a commenter who won’t stop posting vile and misogynist comments about single mothers and welfare. Defensive? Well, I am neither a single mother nor a welfare recipient but I don’t need or want to dig deeper to understand why I don’t want to hear any of it.

    There are things and beliefs you don’t compromise on, period.

  6. Katie says:

    No, Johanna, my Conner was not directed at reasonable, substantive criticism of this blog, though it could apply to those people who always feel compelled to post things like “I’m just being honest but this is why you’re such a fatty mcfatterson” on the recipe posts.

  7. Katie says:

    Hmm, that should read “comment”. Autocorrect strikes again.

  8. marta says:


    “Look for how you can improve yourself instead of just blaming others.”

    You keep harping on this point. It can’t die quickly enough.

    This is one thing that you probably need to hear (lots and lots). But why bother?

  9. valleycat1 says:

    “Look at your own life and the conversations you have with others. What topics irritate you and make you defensive? What issues, when they’re brought up, make you leave the room? Do you avoid certain people and certain situations just to avoid certain confrontations and topics?”

    Assuming you decide these are legitimate caring concerns, not unsolicited just-being-ugly type comments, my first step in digging deeper would be engaging the person(s) in a deeper conversation – why are they bringing it up, do they fully understand the situation/issue/reality of your life, on what are they basing their comments, what constructive suggestions to they have, books they recommend, etc. Then figure out your plan to move forward regarding the issue.

  10. kristine says:

    @marta, Ditto all.

    But really this post may inward directed rather than outward-directed, and I wonder if this post means Trent is considering getting an intern fact-checker? It is perhaps the most raised criticism of all steady commenters. Maybe he is re-evaluating recent reader criticisms. I am not automatically assuming that this post is just being preachy.

    I just can’t imagine this was in response to people not being willing to engage in conversation regarding the hate-filled rants of late, or the recent heat taken over facts and being judgmental, because that would make this post defensive, and utterly ironic!

  11. lurker carl says:

    Whenever someone offers an opinion, good or bad or indifferent, I thank them for their critique. I’m either keenly aware of the issue or don’t care. Feeling guilty? Then make the necessary changes. Otherwise, forget about it.

    Becoming irritable, bad-tempered, crabby, annoyed, bearish, brooding, cantankerous, choleric, contentious, crabbed, cross, crotchety, disputatious, dissatisfied, dyspeptic, easily offended , exasperated, fiery, fractious, fretful, gloomy, grouchy, grumbling, hot, huffy, hypercritical, ill-humored, irascible, moody, morose, oversensitive, peevish, petulant, plaintive, prickly, querulous, quick-tempered, resentful, snappy, snarling, surly, tense, testy or touchy only stresses you out. In reality, the problem may lie with your advisor rather than you. Know thyself.

  12. Ang says:

    I am a long time reader, first time poster. I am continually amazed at the negative responses/commentary left in the comments section. This is a blog about one man’s personal and financial growth; he tells his story and reasonings for self-improvement with the hope of having positive impact on others. Perhaps, those that don’t find Trent’s story/posts pertainant to their lives should find other financial blogs to follow and criticize.

    While I am at a completely different stage in my life than Trent, I focus on the posts that speak to me and my situation. I for one, can say Trent’s posts often leave me thinking of aspects of personal and financial improvement that I would otherwise not consider. And I truly appreciate his perspective.

  13. sandra says:

    Lurker – I like your style!

  14. Allie says:

    Thank you, everyone, for pointing out that some things you don’t want to hear, or things you get defensive about, really are not worth digging further into. It is totally okay to blame others if they are making genuinely offensive or degrading remarks; the onus is not on me in that situation to “improve myself” or “dig deeper.”

    Trent’s (unintentionally, I hope) echoing an argument used by those who partake in emotional bullying, and I hope he can come to understand that unqualified blanket statements on an advice-giving blog is not a cool thing to do.

  15. Johanna says:

    There actually is a good point buried in this post. Trent’s not *just* saying “if somebody makes you defensive, it must be because they’re right.” He’s also saying it could be because you don’t have a clear understanding of your own position – which is true, at least sometimes, at least for me.

    When I’m arguing/debating with someone and they say something that’s totally wrong, and I know exactly why it’s totally wrong, I don’t usually have a strong emotional reaction – I just say “That’s nonsense, and here’s why.” What makes me feel defensive is when I have a strong gut feeling that they’re totally wrong, but I can’t articulate why. So in that case, yes, I do benefit from “digging deeper” and learning more about the facts and logic behind my position.

    However, there are also other things that make me feel defensive or make me want to leave the room. For example, if I’ve already said “That’s nonsense, and here’s why” several times, and the other person continues to repeat the thing that’s totally wrong, as if they’d never even heard me. At that point, there’s really nothing I can do.

  16. Darcy says:

    I just got some pretty critical comments on a blog post, but your post has me seeing them as growth potential. Your post is very timely!


  17. Big-D says:

    While reading Trent’s post all I could think about was, it depends on who you are. There are people, who are acutely aware of their surroundings, situations, and personal hygiene or what not. I know who I am, and where I sit on many scales because I have spent the time to do the self discovery to determine my center of self. I am not talking about going to a shrinks office or some guru to get this. I mean the simple fact of looking in the mirror and not lying to yourself. Are you a compulsive shopper? Are you overweight/obese? Do you have a temper? Are you a good parent? All of these things can be determined if you look in the mirror and take a good hard look at one’s self.

    So what does this mean? A lot of items are subjective and Trent’s position of research might be apt if you don’t know a lot about a topic. However you have a gut feel if you strip off all the excuses.

    So as to the topic at hand, when people tell you things that are negatives. If you have done any sort of self reflection, you should already know what they said. You can go many ways with it. You can deflect, accept, or ignore. I am a big man (read my moniker, and you could imagine) and when someone tells me something about my weight, here are my responses depending on what I want to do. You can accept by saying something like “Thanks for the feedback”. You can ignore by saying something like “Anyways, moving along, did you hear about this project.” Deflecting is my favorite :) One time I was at work and this lady told me “You should loose some weight and get healthier”. I looked at her and burst out shouting “Oh my god I never knew that. I wondered why I could never buy shirts that are less that XXL. This is my Oprah moment. You have truly saved my life !!” She was mortified and embarrassed as about 50 cube dwellers decided to gopher to hear what is going on. Another favorite was when a little girl (maybe 5) was standing next to me at the grocery line and proceeded to tell me “Mommy he’s fat.” The mother was mortified and I looked at the little girl and kneeled down next to her and said “And you are small. I am glad you are getting so smart to make observations. You will do well when you get to school.” I did not embarrass her, as she was being a kid, but diffused the situation and the mother realized I was not offended.

    Again – it is all about how to take things, and how you look at yourself and know about your strengths and weaknesses. If you know you have weaknesses and don’t work on them, then you cannot be angry if they are exploited or noticed. Knowledge is half the battle.

  18. littlepitcher says:

    Dig into the other party’s motivations, too. You may have some knowledge they need to hear.
    I have a discolored limb, have put up with years of nasty remarks and employment bigotry, and finally noticed that these harassers had no complaints about needle marks or tramp stamps on others’ arms. Took no time for me to point out that tattoos and the needle marks they hide were the basis for harassers’ scapegoating activities. Had I done my homework earlier, I could have saved myself, and employers who risk hiring addicts, much trouble.

  19. zapsgirl1 says:

    Geez, I must have read a completely different post… What I got from Trent’s post was that folks who care about us don’t typically go out of thier way to confront us about sensitive issues and if they do maybe we need to consider why we are sensitive about it.

  20. When I get really frustrated, it seems, is when people are being critical about the right general issues, but I completely disagree with what they think the cause of the problem or the solution is, e.g., people who criticize me about my weight and say that the problem is me drinking too many diet sodas, or that I really should get bariatric surgery, or that I have some unresolved emotional issue to address, etc., when I know the problem is simple — I don’t get enough exercise and I eat unhealthy snacks…period!

    People think I’m being defensive, when what I’m really being is more like, “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

    And, of course, them then calling me defensive just escalates it again, because they’re wrong, again. :-)

  21. joan says:

    TSD’s comments section has really taken on a life of its own. Despite the deletion policy below, I’d be surprised if Trent monitors any of the comments. While there are quite a few genuinely positive posts, he’d have to possess a very thick skin to read the many hateful, mean-spirited entries–including personal attacks directed at his family–and not be adversely affected.

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