Can You Stay Connected When You Are Reactive?
By: Kathy
May 19, 2013

We talk a lot about trying to stay non-reactive, but nobody can do it 100%.  If you aren’t supposed to get reactive (yelling, defensive, attacking, etc.) and it is not healthy to cut-off (total disconnect emotionally or physically) from the person you are reactive to, what are you supposed to do?  Is it possible to stay connected and interact with the one you are reactive to?  How do you maintain the day-to-day interactions with someone when you are angry with them while resisting the urge to attack or cut-off?

I can jokingly think of many unhealthy ways to respond to that question!  In all seriousness, however, the concept I am speaking of is called self-differentiation.  It may seem nearly impossible to achieve when we first enter recovery, but each step we take with self-differentiation as our goal, we get closer to a healthier, more stable existence, controlling our own lives, and experiencing emotional freedom.

Staying connected to someone you are reactive to requires understanding, compassion, self-regulation and a basic understanding of boundaries. . .

First, we must understand that the other person is not trying to hurt us.   They may be hurting themselves and acting out of their woundedness.  They may not know that we have a sensitivity to something.  Or, we may be projecting something from within us onto the other person causing us to be reactive to it!  One thing I know for sure, though, is that they are either going to hear you and make a change, or not.  You cannot make them see it your way or change their behavior.  That is their choice!

Second, compassion for the other person is critical to self-differentiation.  We must make an honest effort to see the situation through the other person’s eyes because their feelings are real to them!  It is extremely difficult for us to have compassion for something that doesn’t make sense to us!  When we realize that the person acts or feels the way they do based on their life experience, however, we are better able to see them as a fallible human being and less as a tyrant who wants to hurt us.

Third, let’s face it.  At some point, we are going to have to begin to grow up and be responsible for our own actions.  We have to learn to control our behavior!  Mocking, interrupting, defensiveness, blaming, name-calling, attacking, hitting, storming out, hanging up on, unfriending on Facebook, etc. are all immature and non-productive behaviors that we simply must get control of ASAP!

Fourth, we need to learn where “we” end and “others” begin.  We have no control over what other people feel, say, think, or do.  We have to be able to emotionally understand that they have a right to be different from us.  When we let them be who they are, we can share with them non-reactively when they hurt us and if they continue to do so, we may have to re-evaluate the relationship.

With these things in mind, we are better able to set-aside the hurt that we feel towards a person and be around them, be respectful, civil, and interactive without being reactive.  Who are you reactive to?  Don’t avoid them.  Instead, begin practicing your self-differentiation skills today!  Once you’ve mastered it, you can be around anyone, anytime, under any circumstances!  How freeing!