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Reactive Tendencies Can Harm Your Relationships

written by Andrea Brandt, PHD, MFT May 29, 2019
Reactive Tendencies Can Harm Your Relationships

When you’re reactive, your feelings depend on external events outside your influence or control. Whether you have a good or bad day depends entirely on what happens to you and around you; the weather, what your boss says about your presentation, what mood your partner is in when you get home, how your favorite team played. All these outside things control your emotions; you don’t. And when your actions are based on your feelings — which they usually are — you’re in dangerous reactive behavior territory. Everything you do is someone else’s fault.

You’re not in control of your life.

A good friend says something hurtful; a romantic partner is in a lousy mood; your child refuses to eat what you cooked for dinner; your boss asks you to have work done by Monday, and it’s Friday afternoon. Your reaction comes straight from human evolution: Stress hormones flood your body, shutting down the rational part of your brain, and you enter the reactive fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Instead of seeing whether the insult was intended, you respond with an insult of your own; instead of inquiring about why your partner is in a bad mood, you give them the cold-shoulder in retaliation; you punish your child rather than find a solution; and you resentfully accept the work rather than ask for an extension. Your reactive behavior then makes the situation worse. When in reactive mode, you can turn trivial things into full-blown crises.

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