How To Resist The Urge To Overreact When Someone Treats You Badly

Five tools that will help you stand up for yourself without making the problem worse.

Couple not handing their emotions in a healthy way Prostock-studio | Canva

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?

The wounded self often says, "This person is behaving unacceptably, and I cannot allow them 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, or punishment is taking care of yourself. But it's not. Overreaction will not get you the outcome you desire. 


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Five ways to resist the urge to overreact

1. Understand overt reactivity

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 teaching, punishment, or guilt.

She is resisting the urge to overreact Reezky Pradata via Shutterstock


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 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.

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2. Don't ignore 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 them they 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 anger, blame, or withdrawal.

3. Remember: your reactivity won't get the other person to change.

They generally create the opposite of what you want. Instead of changing, the other person feels controlled or rejected by you and responds with overt or covert reactivity. This creates a very negative circle where both people feel wronged and try to get the other person to see what they have done to cause the problems.

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4. Breathe and remember that overt and covert negative reactions make you feel worse.

Any time you react to your wounded self, you will feel bad. Your bad feelings let 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.

5. Practice handling emotions when someone is treating you badly.

When you intend 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 you intend 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 their 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!


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Margaret Paul, PhD, is a relationship expert, noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, chaplain, consultant, and artist.