How To Resist The Urge To Overreact (And Hurt The People You Love)

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Reactivity:Overt and Covert

How do you usually react when someone is blaming you, criticizing or judging you, being irritated with you, yelling at you, withdrawing from you, or resisting you?

There are two forms of reaction from the wounded self: overt and covert. Both forms come from the intent to control. Both overt and covert reactivity are intended to get the other person to change through some form of teaching, punishment, or guilt-ing.

The wounded self often says, "This person is behaving in a way that is unacceptable to me, and I cannot allow him or her to get away with this. I have to teach them a lesson so they won't continue to treat me this way."

The wounded self is convinced that trying to get the other person to change with teaching, guilt-ing, or punishing is taking care of yourself. In reality, you can't control someone else and take care of yourself at the same moment.

Overt Reactivity

Overt reactivity is anything you say out loud to control the other person. This includes:

  • Any form of criticism, judgment, and parental tone of voice
  • Any form of blame, including telling your feelings with the intent of making the other person responsible for your feelings
  • Arguing, explaining, defending, and teaching
  • Whining or crying
  • Threatening

Overt reactivity also includes an overt violent action, such as throwing things or hitting.

When we are reacting overtly, we hope that by intimidating, punishing, guilting, or teaching, we can get the other person to change and be the way we want them to be or think they should be.

Covert Reactivity

Covert reactivity is when you don't overtly say or do anything, but in your head, you are judging, blaming, and condemning the other person. You are punishing the other person by withdrawing your love or attention.

Your wounded self is muttering things like, "What a jerk. I'll show her she can't treat me this way. I won't speak to her for two days. That will teach her a lesson." You have convinced yourself that if you withdraw love or attention, the other person will recognize the error of their ways and change.

Even though you are not saying anything, the other person picks up the energy of your blame and may further react with their anger, blame, or withdrawal.

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There are two main problems with either form of reactivity:

  • They don't work to get the other person to change.

In fact, they generally create the opposite of what you want. Instead of changing, the other person feels controlled or rejected by you and then responds with his or her own overt or covert form of reactivity.

This creates a very negative circle where both people feel wronged and are trying to get the other person to see what he or she has done that is causing the problems.

  • Overt and covert negative reactions end up making you feel awful.

Any time you react from your wounded self, you will feel bad. Your bad feelings are letting you know that your thoughts and behavior are not in your highest good — not in alignment with your essence. 

While the wounded self believes you have to teach the other person a lesson and not let them get away with their wounded behavior, responding with your wounded behavior only perpetuates the problem for both of you.

So how do you know how to react better and handle emotions when someone is treating you badly? 

When your intent is to take loving care of yourself, you will disengage without blame. One way of doing this is to hum a happy song in your head as you walk away from a negative interaction.

When your intent is to take care of yourself rather than control the other person, you can disengage without taking anything personally and without trying to get the other person to change.

When you do this, you will feel wonderful, regardless of how the other person is acting, and the other person will be stuck with his or her own bad feelings. The other person will be much more likely to take responsibility for their feelings and behavior when you are taking loving care of yourself.

Practicing non-reactivity is taking loving action!

RELATED: 12 Ways To Get Real About Your Life — So You Can Finally Love Yourself

Margaret Paul holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, chaplain, consultant and artist. Start learning to love yourself and heal your relationships with our free Inner Bonding course.

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