Any time I have found myself defensive, it has always come from a place of insecurity. If I have a way I want to be perceived, an acceptance/understanding I want to find from others, or something inside that I’m trying to ignore, then defensiveness arises.
For example, I had a difficult time finding a job after college. Many places were happy to give internships but then had no intention of hiring further down the line. I switched fields a few times, trying to find something that would click.
In the meantime, many of my friends were gainfully employed. And just as I couldn’t understand what it was like to be working full-time after college, they couldn’t understand what it was like to be unemployed facing continual rejection.
I cringed at the typical social questions asking what I do, where I’m going, and so on.
The funny thing is that those questions are almost entirely insincere. The people asking them have no real interest in your path. They are just seeking an easy way to understand you. “Oh, he’s a banker” or “He’s going back to school” and so on.
Real life is messy. It doesn’t always come together cleanly. For those who don’t fit into pre-existing schemas, any of those social questions cannot be met with a simple answer. It’s more of a conversation than just a response. But again, most of the people asking aren’t interested in that.
So what do you do? I just stopped explaining and defending myself. Once I realized that people’s thoughts about me were incredibly divorced from the reality of being me, I stopped putting so much weight on what they thought—and vice versa. I don’t put a lot of stock in the thoughts I have about other people.
The only understanding you live with and the only understanding you require is your own. But you must be wholly honest and upfront with yourself on a moment to moment basis.
And since these “what do you do” and other typical social questions are just bullshit inquiries, I usually just give bullshit answers. “I’m exploring self-consistent field methods for determining wave functions of polyelectronic atoms,” is one way to shift the conversation.
Try approaching social interaction more like a game of self-expression rather than a battlefield of identity, it is much more peaceful and amusing that way.
I’d definitely recommend the book The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron. I also lost my father to cancer and I understand it must be a very difficult experience to go through. But you have a wealth of strength and love inside yourself, which you will naturally uncover when you shift your focus from trying to find it outside.
I will admit, these sorts of circumstances do tend to make clear who your real friends are.
Namaste my friend much love