No one likes to be told they are reactive. But hearing it for the first time is especially difficult and confusing. What does it mean to be reactive? Being reactive is what it sounds like, reacting. What your friends or partner may be telling you or what you suspect on your own is that you may have the tendency to react to someone’s words or actions quickly, without thought, in a defensive manner. For example, something you might have said when someone told you that they think you are reactive is ” I am not reactive!” or “You’re the one that’s reactive!”.
Here are some signs that you might be reactive: there is no pause between what they say and what you say, you feel you have to defend yourself, you think that others don’t really understand what you are trying to say, others tell you that you don’t listen, you find yourself getting into heated arguments fast, you tend to get emotional over conversations that should be emotionally neutral.
How does one become reactive you might be asking yourself. Perhaps it could be that you feel like the other person is not really listening to your points, or your not being heard. Other reasons might be that you are not feeling valued or you have been offended in some way in the past and it is coming out in present conversations. It is not uncommon for people to start fighting constantly about every little thing but really all the fights are due to an un-resolved feeling that hasn’t been dealt with. You might feel unappreciated, not valued by your partner, not loved, not attractive, etc. and every thing your partner does to support that causes a big fight.
What do you do now? The great news is that there is really one really easy step to reduce your re-activity and that is to PAUSE. There are a couple other tidbits of info that could improve your communication but we will get into that in a moment. First, let’s pause.
Ok, here we are in the pause, not reacting. What you do in the pause is pause your mouth so your brain can focus on the moment. Giving yourself these extra 5-10 seconds to coordinate your thoughts, feelings, and words can make all the difference.
Now, on to those other tidbits that can take you to the next level… during this pause you want to ask yourself a few things and using this mindfulness activity called R.A.I.N can help you remember what to examine. Here is how it goes:
R: Recognize the feelings your having in that moment. What did that other persons actions or words create in you? Anger, shame, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, not being valued, etc.
A: Allow yourself to just feel it, become familiar with those feelings. Being able to identify them and allow yourself to feel them is a form of awareness along with de-sensitization. It is ok to feel them, they will pass, you will survive, and you will gain empowerment over these feelings. Being reactive is a form of avoidance. Causing the other person to pay for making you feel this way. Once you realize that it is ok to have these feelings and what they are you can better communicate them to the other person.
I: Internal body scan. Bring your attention to your body. Is it tense in areas? Are you leaning forward with your finger pointing at the other person? Do you have your fists balled up or toes curled? How is your tension, anger, frustration manifesting in your body. Become familiar with it and systematically relax those areas.
N: Non-identify or detach. Allow yourself to detach for a second and imagine what this scene looks like from above or as though you are watching it as an observer, like it is a television show. What would it look like from that objective perspective? What would it look like if you responded the way you instinctively would have before you paused?
Now that you are aware of how you are feeling about that persons comment or action, you are better able to communicate it. An example is “I am feeling angry you think you do all the chores around here. It makes me feel like you don’t see all the hard work I do. But hearing your words also makes me wonder if you feel the same way about me. Did I hear you right?.”