The Courageous Defender (ISFJ)

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Ideas We’ll Be Working With

Courage is something that everybody must deal with at some point in life. None of us escape troublesome situations that require a little bravery. Building and maintaining courage is an ongoing task throughout life, and each of us is capable of reaching new heights of bravery – including everyone reading this. But first, let’s make sure that all of us are talking about the same thing.

For this article, reading the fuller definition of courage in “The Courageous Advocate” may help, since we apply the same concepts here.

But here is the quick version, in case you’re short on time. The basic premises used in this article include the following:

  • It’s hard to separate the idea of courage from the idea of fear. Courage needs fear to be meaningful, and fear needs courage for its meaning. Courage is not the absence of fear but rather acting despite one’s fears.
  • We strengthen our courage muscles by using them. To develop courage, a person needs to exercise their courage muscles, adding more resistance (taking on harder challenges) as time goes on.
  • Each personality type has some areas where they tend to experience more courage and some areas where their courage may be underdeveloped.

We’ll use these concepts to look at a basic description of Defender (ISFJ) courage, explore some research supporting the description, and provide four exercises that can increase courage.

Defending from a Safe Position

Defenders are among the most risk-averse personality types. It’s safe to say that the amount of risk that someone is willing to take can be a measure of courage. To some degree, all Sentinels (the four personality types with the Observant and Judging traits) are keepers of tradition and the status quo. Shaking up a predictable and stable life by behaving in a risky fashion can be intolerable for Defenders.

By their own description, Defenders are among the personality types least likely to consider themselves brave, at least relative to most other types: 54% of Defenders consider themselves brave, with the average of all respondents across all personality types being 74%.

Defenders are not comfortable with massive shifts in methodology or when the general direction of things changes abruptly. A strong majority of Defenders (81%) say that last-minute changes to plans stress them out, even when the changes are for the better – well above the average of all respondents (62%).

Courage Isn’t Always Practical

Our survey results leave a distinct sense that, like everything else in the Defender’s world, courage is a practical matter. These personalities are likely to believe that a person shouldn’t take risks for the thrill of it or to enhance their social status. They are more likely to consider recreational types of risks unnecessary and meaningless. So Defenders are obviously among the personality types least likely to say they are “adrenaline junkies.”

(Please note: Only a minority of people we’ve surveyed have claimed this label for themselves. While about 24% of all respondents are self-proclaimed adrenaline junkies, only 12% of Defenders describe themselves that way, leaving them, relatively speaking, less likely than others to view themselves as thrill-seekers.)

Feelings and Consequences

Defenders, like many Feeling personality types, have strong bonds with the people they care about. Many Defender fears orbit around severing ties with important others or someone rejecting them. This fear in a Defender might be seen whenever they go out of their way to avoid conflicts. The fear caused by the prospect of rejection might also take the form of a Defender neglecting their own needs for fear of voicing an opinion or not doing something that might upset another person, even if it’s important for the Defender to do it.

A Defender (ISFJ) personality type wearing a nurse's uniform.

How many Defenders let the other person choose the movie or restaurant? Allowing other people to decide such things may be an act of generosity. But letting the other person choose could also be a people-pleasing move, and people-pleasing is often fear-based. “If I don’t make them happy, they won’t like me.”

Consequences tend to weigh heavily on the minds of Defenders. They are the least likely of all personality types to say they take risks without thinking about consequences. Of the consequences they worry about most, they are more likely to fear social consequences (embarrassment, shame, punishment) than physical consequences.

Failure and Fear

Defenders are more likely than most personalities to say that fear of failure is one of their biggest impediments to acting in some situations. They are also among the least likely to say that they are optimistic about the outcome of the risks they take. (This is somewhat influenced by whether they have an Assertive or Turbulent Identity, but Defenders, as a group, come out as less optimistic.)

Defenders may want to explore their relationship with the fear of failure and how that affects their courage. An old saying goes, “No risk, no reward.” Much depends on how each Defender defines their success and whether holding the safe line turns out to be enough for them. In the end, it’s a judgment call based on individual preferences and satisfaction with one’s quality of life. There is no singular way to look at these issues for any personality type.

Standing Firm

From all this, it makes sense that Defenders are more likely than most to say that they have difficulty taking risks when a risk is needed. “Having difficulty,” however, is not the same as saying that Defenders won’t or don’t take necessary risks at all. In fact, it may be yet another layer of courage to perform an act of bravery when it feels particularly hard to muster the strength to see the act through.

Defenders are well-named, due to their tendency to defend and preserve order. Loyalty is also an important motivator for this group, and standing up for their own, whether that involves the people in their lives, their jobs, or their communities, is a vital activity for these personalities. And taking such a stand frequently requires a measure of courage.

While overt risks may not be something Defenders typically find within the borders of their comfort zones, that doesn’t mean that they won’t rise to the occasion when necessary. This is more likely to be true if a risk is connected to a sense of duty or a Defender’s values.

Defenders’ uneasy relationship with change may give them a sense that they do not have the same amount of courage that more flexible, less change-averse personality types do. But the comparison might not be a matter of less or more, but rather the type of courage that each personality type expresses.

Holding tight to values and traditions when the world is changing around them is a brave thing for Defenders to do, regardless of how others might feel about change. Defenders are likely to express this courage by subtle, passive resistance rather than overt acts of bravery. Their form of courage may not be as flashy as others, but it can be just as intense in a quieter way. In some ways, quiet intensity that endures can be more impressive than a flashy, spur-of-the-moment expression of intensity that disappears as quickly as it appeared.

Summary: Defenders’ courage is likely a quieter courage that holds steady at a familiar line rather than a bolder courage that charges out into the unknown beyond the line. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their brand of courage is any less courageous. Most of us tend to think of courage only as grand gestures, and that may not be how most Defenders express courage. Their acts of courage can be so subtle that they never get credit for them. That doesn’t make their courage any less potent or valuable.

Building Courage Muscles

No matter what style of courage your personality type tends to lean toward, we can all strengthen our courage muscles. Here are a few suggestions that might help you with that. Those we offer here are chosen with Defenders in mind, but any personality type may find value in using any of these exercises to work their courage muscles.

Find Some Small Way to Be Courageous Daily

It might be something as simple as stopping at an unfamiliar store on the way home from work or asking a neighbor who has just moved in to lend you a cup of sugar. You know your life better than we do. What’s that tiny thing that you don’t do because you are a little uneasy about it? There. That thing. That’s the thing to do.

Decide to make it a habit to do something that brings you a little discomfort every day – but keep reasonable safety in mind.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

You may want to replace the idea of risk with awareness and planning. If you lean toward being pessimistic about outcomes, you are less likely to have the courage to jump into the unknown. So, what if you removed as much of the mystery as possible? Defender personalities might be more at ease and willing to act if they cushion a risky activity with a lot of forethought. (Keep in mind, some cushioning is better than none. You can’t plan for everything.)

A Defender (ISFJ) personality type holding a sword and a shield.

Being prepared isn’t necessarily a way to build courage as an enduring characteristic. It can be a substitute for bravery in the moment, and success breeds success. If you master enough of the situations that you consider risky, you are more likely to develop a more positive mindset about outcomes. This mindset alone may help you do more courageous things as your life progresses. So, indirectly, preparation may help fortify your bravery.

Decide to control risk by mapping out the best way to avoid a negative outcome. Be deliberate.

Assert Yourself

Assertiveness techniques involve getting what you want and need from others by telling them what you want and need, without bringing in a lot of emotional baggage. It’s done in such a fashion that the assertive individual avoids pushing the other person’s buttons, yet they stand firm when it comes to the thing they are asserting. Assertiveness leans more toward creating a win-win solution, although that outcome is by no means necessary and may depend on the situation. You can’t control how other people respond, nor should you depend on others’ responses to validate your needs and wants.

Some courage is needed when you ask others for what you want. Consequently, assertiveness techniques also provide an opportunity for building your courage muscles because of the greater likelihood of a positive outcome for you. Speaking your truth can take courage, but the more you do it, the stronger you get. Start with mini-assertive acts and build up to greater challenges.

Decide to learn assertiveness techniques and apply them. Remember to stay positive. (Role-playing with a friend or family member is an excellent way to learn this skill.)

Let Failure Be Your Friend and Guide

Fear of failure stops many Defenders from doing what they need or want to do. Cozying up to failure can help you do many things that you might be hesitant to do. Action is the key to building your courage muscles because actions broaden your experiences, whether that experience is a win or loss.

Let failure teach you what not to do. Failure also helps clarify direction by eliminating at least one way of doing something. In most cases, failure is not fatal, and, to paraphrase an old adage, it’s the courage to continue that counts.

Each time you stop in your tracks because your next step could lead to great success but also has the potential for great failure, stop and recognize the task as an opportunity to build your courage. Assess your risks and see if it’s worth it, but don’t let a chance of failure overshadow the chance of success by default. By embracing the value of failure as a learning tool, you lessen its power to halt your behavior. Each time you step forward despite the chance of failure, you are exercising your courage muscles.

Decide to become BFFs with failure. Give yourself a little breathing space with failure, and add some forgiveness when things don’t go right.

How exactly do you exercise your courage muscles?

Bravely Onward

Nobody is born with courage. As infants, we instinctively depend on our caretakers to shelter us from harm. Life then attempts to exercise our courage muscles with challenges as we venture out into the world. It’s up to each of us to embrace or reject life’s bravery challenges as we mature. We all choose whether to nurture our courage or neglect it. Even considering your relationship with courage and fear – as long as you are being honest and sincere – is a courageous act that can potentially make you braver.

What in your life can you use to exercise your bravery muscles? Just like reaping the benefits of lifting weights requires a plan and deliberate action, you’re also more likely to build courage if you have a deliberate plan to exercise or create habits around that purpose.

Further Reading

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