Why are we so reactive?

Reaction is a feeling of tension in the body – low or high – which tells us that something feels uncomfortable. When we are reactive to another – it usually means we are communicating from a hurt we don’t want to feel. Often we are not aware of the hurt and can only feel the upset, anger or frustration on top of the hurt.

Our reaction is often defensive because we are defending against feeling this hurt.

How do we do it?

We have different styles of reacting based on our adapted patterns of behaviour that we learned when we were young.

See which of the following options you recognize in yourself or others:

  • arguing
  • diminishing
  • dismissing
  • insulting
  • annihilating
  • withdrawing
  • shutting down
  • accommodating
  • adapting
  • acquiescing

When we find ourselves doing any of the above we can check in to see if we have a feeling that we need them to be different to how they are in the moment – this is a great clue! When we communicate from our own hurt it is usually laced with a feeling that we would like them to be different. For example you could feel hurt because your friend forgot your birthday. This stops you from being close and connected to them because your hurt says they don’t care for you. After checking in with yourself and your friend you could find out that they had heaps going on for them at that time and that they do still care for you.

When we stay in the emotional reaction we often don’t check in with ourselves or the other person and stay with the story made by our hurt. For example have you ever seen something on television that makes you feel upset and then react by changing channels or rubbishing the program because you don’t want to acknowledge how it is making you feel?

What would it be like to choose to pause and check in with ourselves and see what it is we are reacting to?

Sometimes we can feel the reaction rising up in us or making us feel tight and contracted and it gets in the way of harmonious communication

  • in our personal relationships
  • at work
  • with our families.

We have developed these styles based on our early environment and what we felt “worked” when we were growing up. This may now be outdated and no longer serving us in our current adult environment.

But how do we begin to change these patterns?

What if we could choose to respond rather than react?

Every time we feel frustrated or angry – there is usually a hurt behind that feeling. A response means expressing the way we truly feel, even sharing that we are hurt or harmed without the need for them to be different. It is about bringing your own and their awareness to how you are truly feeling in that moment.

When we share our feeling with the other, especially the difficult feelings like anger and the hurt behind the anger, we give them the example of how to begin to respond instead of react and we can all move to much more satisfying relationships. It helps if we can receive their hurt feelings the same way we would like ours to be received!

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  • By Jean Gamble, Psychotherapist

    Jean works with individuals, couples, families, teenagers and children. She knows that when we move past our layers of protection from hurt and connect deeply with our innermost self we can have rich, satisfying and purposeful lives and relationships.