The line between assertiveness and defensiveness is usually blur to us when we respond during a stressful moment. But crossing that line can be the difference between success and missed ~or even blown~ opportunity.

After more than 20 years working with spiritual, creative women in the areas of empowerment, success and manifestation, I have a wealth of observations about how defensiveness hinders our fulfillment.

Gird your loans, because what I'm about to discuss may trigger your defensiveness! It's not easy ~when we are afraid or feel threatened~ to stay open. The problem is that fear closes us off, hijacking our higher intelligence, intuition and wisdom and leaving us reacting from fear instead of responding creatively.

When we respond defensively we often do not realize that this response is fear-based. We may not realize that an old fear or fear-infused old story has been triggered and we are reacting from that learned script. Instead we believe that the threat we feel is real and that we are protecting ourselves.

Though our intention is to protect our beautiful essence and precious talents, we may actually be...

1. Displaying our fears and past wounds to others.
2. Blowing an opportunity or repelling an ally, or even
3. Being rude, hurtful or even insulting to someone who was trying to help.

Removing a blinder is painful. Therefore,keep an open heart and mind as you read. Avoid dismissing this with a quick “that’s not me” reaction that could lead you to missing something valuable.

Finally, be gentle and compassionate with yourself and release any judgment. We are all in the University of Hard Knocks!

I’m risking entering these deep waters because what I’m going to dive into is essential in our ability to grow our business, share our gifts and succeed.

My intention is to open a space where we can examine if, how, when or with whom we tend to respond in ways that hinder our success and to practice a shift in our response that opens new horizons for our growth, empowerment and success.

"Break free of the fences in your mind that keep you trapped in the ghetto of your fear." Maria Mar

This article has three sections:

1. What is Fear-based Reactivity vs. Free-choice Response and my personal stories to shed light into how they manifest in real life.
2. Reflections on Success as a Path of Freedom and on how these two choices help or hinder a woman’s business, mission, purpose or success.
3. Journal writing questions for you to do your own exploration.

Fear-based Reactivity vs. Free-choice Response

I work with Emotional Alchemy, the creative and intentional transformation or channeling of emotions towards our growth, health and free choices.

I have come to see that what we call “negative” emotions are often Constrictive Emotions. They are constrictive because they are fear-based. Fear constricts our capacity to understand, process and respond creatively.

The emotions we perceive as “positive” ~by contrast~ are Expansive Emotions. The are expansive because they are love-based. Love allows us to reach out and connect. It plugs us into Oneness, dissolving defensiveness, isolation and separation.

In the same manner, our responses to life can be fear-based or love-based. Most of the time for the majority of people our responses are what I call Primary Responses.

These responses are triggered instantly, consistently and subconsciously whenever certain situation activates a Story Field or memory file in our psyche. Instead of viewing the situation as it is in the present, we overlay it with the story from the past and use the reactions that are habitual to us in that context. This keeps us trapped in the past.

Fear-based Reactivity is then a Primary Response ~usually learned~ to situations that our subconscious determines threatening.

Free-Choice Response ~in contrast~ is a fresh, creative response to a new situation, taking it within its context instead of overlaying our past onto it.

"Take off your blinders so that you can receive the support of the Creation Partners the universe has sent your way." Maria Mar

My Before and After Stories

Since this is a space for practical exploration ~not intellectual elucidation~ I’m going to share stories that allow you to see how these two terms show up in our real life when we are sharing our gifts, embodying our purpose or serving the world.

My Fear-based Reactive Story

In my 20s-30s I was a rebel and very defensive of my creative freedom. There was a lot of family wounding and baggage around that defensiveness.

Early on my young adult life ~when I was in college~ my family shone me for being different, thinking differently, being an artist and having a different political perception of the world ~and worse still~ for speaking that truth openly.

There are few things as painful as being evicted from your core tribe, your family. It leaves a young person who is coming out in the world completely exposed, vulnerable and afraid.

This lead me adopting a rebel stance in life. This stance was protecting my heart, protecting my autonomy and protecting my creativity.

This old story was archived in my psyche in connection to anyone who would question my creativity, political view or my right to speak freely.

Unfortunately, Story Fields are often activated by unconscious triggers, and we end up linking new opportunities with old scary stories. This then makes us react defensively to the unknown… and of course, anything new or bigger than what we have experienced is unknown.

So here is just one instance, one mini-story of how I consistently blew opportunities because of my Fear-based Reactivity.

At the time this story took place I was writing theater reviews for a small political newspaper when the editor of “The Village Voice,” a well known NY culturally-focused newspaper called me to offer me a position writing theater reviews.

That was a great opportunity. It would have build my name as a writer and given me entry to write about other topics in the “mainstream” artistic NY world.

What did I do with this unexpected opportunity?

It was something new and bigger than what I had experienced, so I resorted to my Primary Response of rebellious defensiveness, and I said:

“Well, I will consider it if you print everything exactly as I write it and do not censure anything.”

Of course, I did not get that opportunity!

"No matter how new or scary a new situation seems, stay open to the fresh opportunities it may bring." Maria Mar

My Free-choice Response Story

Fast forward decades later…

At the time this story took place, I had just started my business and was seeking partners for promotion. I called a woman who had a huge network of radio programs for women. I told her my idea, but she kept saying NO to all my partnering ideas.

However, I noticed that she stayed on the line. Instead of reacting to her “Nos” as rejection and activating my Fear-based Reactivity, I decided to interpret this as an opportunity. I stopped talking and said to her:

“You are still here, so I’m going to take this as interest. But nothing I’ve offered you resonates with you. So I’m not talking anymore. I am listening. What would work for you?”

This response was radically different than my old defensive reactions.

Firstly, it did not carry a negative interpretation to a “No.” It did not see it as rejection, judgment or a door slammed close on my face.

I don’t remember if it triggered my Shoned Young Adult Wounded Self, but if it did, I did not allow that old story to contaminate this new opportunity.

I was able to perceive the opportunity because I could see past a negative interpretation of “no” to the fact that the lady ~as busy as she was~ still stayed on the line and was listening.

I had learned to shift my Primary Response of Fear-based Reactivity to a more receptive, open perception of the current moment. This fresh, free and intentional receptivity is what I term Free-Choice Response.

Once I started listening to her needs and desires, the conversation completely changed. The lady told me what she was looking for and we begin to see the points of connection where we could help each other.

The end of this story is that she offered me a program to reach Latinas, with all of the resources of her network at my disposal.

Two very different endings to two instances where opportunity was either evident or latent.

What allowed me to see opportunities in spite of the many “nos” was my capacity to detach from my old limiting fear-based stories.

Detachment is a little-understood shamanic tool. People believe that detachment is cold and impersonal. But in fact, it is an act of self-love and connection where we detach from old limitations, interpretations and expectations to allow fresh new life to flow into our being and our life.

"Before you react, detach. Release the past. Respond to the present with fresh new eyes." Maria Mar

Success as a Path of Freedom

When we are sharing our gifts or embodying our purpose, success ceases to be about personal achievement and becomes linked to our life purpose.

We do not want to lead with our ego. Conversely we can’t risk playing or staying small because we have gifts, messages and talents we want to share with the world to make a difference!

Our success becomes a spiritual path. It is now linked to our spiritual evolution, to our BIG why.

In order to transmute those old fences in our mind that keep us within learned Primary Responses, we must walk what the shaman calls The Path of Freedom.

For spiritual seekers this means that we are willing to dismantle the walls keeping us in the ghetto of our fear and to courageously open a clear, expansive path to our unfolding potential and universal possibilities.

When we want to transform the world, we reach a point where we understand that this transformation starts from within. At that point we dedicate an extraordinary amount of time, energy and resources to our personal growth.

Then we spend time, energy and resources:
1. Healing our wounds and trauma,
2. Learning new skills,
3. Developing our talents, wisdom and expertise and lastly,
4. Developing our business, service, creations or offers.

So why, after all this learning, changing, growing and dedication, would we blow an opportunity, react defensively in a way that throws a bad light upon us or sabotage ourselves by “shooting” our allies?

Simply because we are human. And as humans, one of the most challenging areas to test our personal growth is relationship.

And ~connected to this~ the other challenging area is visibility.

"Ask this of the present moment, no matter how adverse it seems: 'How can this situation facilitate the unfolding of my potential?' and 'What hidden possibilities are latent here and how can I tap into them?'"

Trust as the Test for Freedom

It is easy to trust when we are working in isolation. Alone with ourselves, we are wise beyond measure. We “know” everything we’ve studied. We have changed our habits and we are free of all old stories... until we meet someone who pushes our buttons.

What happens when we are thrown in relationships that feel threatening, that push our buttons or seem to question our authority?

Perhaps we come out with our gift and someone attacks, criticizes or questions us. Do we see them as enemies, ascribe ill intention to them and react defensively?

Or perhaps the opportunity is not even disguised. How do we respond when we are suddenly given an opportunity to become visible, something scary-new?

Perhaps we are offered an interview, a cross-promotional opportunity, to be included in an anthology, to participate in a telesummit, to get a huge contract, to lead a high-profile project. Do we go into panic and respond from there? Do what start invoking all that could go wrong and then repel the opportunity as if it was a poisoned arrow?

I have noticed that it is at those moments that my true level of freedom, detachment, clarity and courage (vs. fear) is tested.

~ Have you been tested like this? Have you been able to dive into the opportunity ~not blindly~ but trusting yourself to walk into the unknown?

~ Or have you begun to doubt yourself, to remember all your horror stories and finally succumbed to either withdrawal or defensive counter-attack that transmuted an opportunity into a problem or worse?

Through the years I have worked and researched success in the lives of spiritual, creative women I have had the sad opportunity to observe how defensiveness steals their potential.

I have witnessed talented, beautiful, spiritual women who are loving and giving –and yet when they meet a visibility opportunity come out with gun in hand “shooting” their allies–or at the other extreme– with begging hands outstretched.

I have seen wise, compassionate Creatives reacting violently when they meet a "negative" feedback. I have watched as they instantly counter-attack or allow the other person’s opinion to send them down a black hole of despair and self-doubt.

"Harness the waves of your emotion to manifest your intention." Maria Mar

Detachment and Shifting

So how do we detach from those old fear-based stories that are triggered with the unknown?

How do we shift from Fear-based Reactivity to Free-choice Response?

Firstly, we detach from the old stories. We take a STEP BACK and become The Witness, so that ~even when we are feeling the fear, anger, defensiveness and threat~ we can observe these emotions from that part of us that is free, infinite and wise.

Doing this liberates us from the emotions so that we can channel them creatively. It allows us to track down the source of this emotions in the past, so that we can then reclaim our present.

It’s like taming a wild horse inside us. We talk to it gently as we hold its reins. We do not allow it to run in panic and trample our response to life.

Secondly, we breathe into that fear, accepting and allowing it while we STEP OUT of the story that is causing it.

We stop being The Victim in an old story written by others long ago and become The Creatress, writing our own fresh new story to create the life we choose and want.

The Creatress knows that she is the author of her life. She knows that she has choices and a creative genius that can transmute an apparent obstacle into a bridge to new possibilities.

This is what I did in my “After” story. I transmuted that “No” into an amazing opportunity. It was there. All I had to do was see and seize it.

Had I stayed in fear, I would not have been able to perceive the possibility in that chain of “Nos.”

But by shifting into the creative receptivity of the Free-choice Response I was able to stay open enough to invite the fresh possibilities latent in the present moment.

Until I opened a space for these possibilities to shine through they were invisible. Had I slammed the door, they would have never filtered through.

Over to you.

Do you recognize the difference between Fear-based Reactivity and Free-choice Response?

Have these two types of responses played a role in your life? What has been the outcome?

"When feeling trapped or threatened, do the 4-step Freedom Dance: 1.STEP BACK from the drama and witness it with loving detachment. 2.STEP AROUND. Embrace everything from a place of non-judgment and love. Accept what you are feeling and all the layers of what is happening as a mother accepts her child, with unconditional love for yourself and compassion for all. 3. STEP OUT. Move out of the old limiting story where you were a Victim into the present, where you are The Creatress of your life, with free choices, and 4.STEP UP. Disengage with the Tiny Self trapped in the story and shift your identity into your Sacred Self, the finite expression of infinite divinity who has access to Oneness." Maria Mar

Journal Writing Questions

Write in your journal. Feel free to share some insights.

1. How do you ~or how can you~ stand in your core truth and self-authority when you feel challenged, attacked, rejected or questioned in your gifts or expertise?

You may want to rewrite a situation from the past to imagine how you would response from a Free-Choice Response. Or you may want to rehearse with a current situation.

2. What measures or process do you have ~or can you put in place~ to avoid reacting from fear and instead centering yourself to respond from a place of both self-authority and love/respect for others?

Define what you do to shift or come up with an easy action that allows you to shift.

One of the things that helps me is that no matter how upset I am, I tell myself:

"I am not helpless. I am not trapped. I am the author of my life. Where do I want to take this?"

What helps you? Share what has worked for you here so that others can benefit.

Author's Bio: 

Maria Mar (The Dream Alchemist) is an author-storyteller-shaman who helps multi-talented women ready to be change-makers but who struggle to integrate all their gifts in a way that embodies their full being and serves the world.

She also helps spiritual, creative women to share their gifts with the world, embody their purpose, manifest their Dream and live their brilliance.

Get her free Brilliance Manifesto here: