If your spouse is withdrawn, your children refuse to eat the healthy meal you prepared, your boss has a derogatory tone when he speaks to you, you are stuck in traffic and you are late in catching a plane, or simply the weather sucks, these are all external factors which are outside of your control but still elicit a reaction from you. This reaction is based on your flight-or-flight mechanism that kicks in as an automatic reflex to stress. Instead of asking your spouse why s/he is withdrawn you react by withdrawing as well, or instead of asking your children why they refuse to eat the meal you prepared you react by having an angry outburst.
Reactive behavior damages relationships
When somebody does something to you that elicits anger for example, the reactive behavior would be to project this anger outwards instead of working with the anger. Feelings surface through your PERCEPTION of interactions with other people but this does not mean that you have to act on them. If you act on them without reflection then it is more certain than not that the other person will react back and the chain of reactivity could damage the relationship. Did you ever have instances in your life when you had an argument with a loved one and you felt you were talking over each other’s head? I certainly had a lot of those and this is the definition of reactive behavior.
Keep your perception in check
The thing is that you are not responsible for other people’s actions, but you are responsible for yours. The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who asked me what my plans for the summer are and I shared them with her. Two days after that conversation I received a call from a common friend who commented on my summer plans asking me if she could be part of them. My immediate reaction was to become furious firstly to the friend who spilled the bins about MY plans without my consent, and secondly to the friend who tried to impose herself on my summer plans. I composed myself, took a big breath and told my friend that this would not be possible this time around. She did not like it and I could feel she was cold for the rest of our call.
When we hung up I wanted to call my big-mouthed friend and tell her off, i.e., react to the event. I was really angry! But, instead of reacting I worked with my anger to obtain clarity. I was angry because I am a private person and do not want other people to know what I am doing; I perceived my friend’s bigmouth as an invasion to my privacy. This triggered my anger which was similar to what I was feeling when I was a child and my mother would invade my privacy. Being a child who could not scream at my mother, I was either suppressing my anger or acting out onto my toys, lol!
Going back to the recent event, when I checked my perception and realized that my big-mouthed friend’s spilling the bins about my summer plans was not a calculated attack on me or my privacy, lol, I called her and told her how I felt, why I felt this way and asked her to please not share information in the future that concerns me without checking with me first. We both learned something new and our friendship was not rocked.