The Challenge of Not Being Reactive

By Dr. Margaret Paul
June 15, 2020

How do you generally react when another is being unloving? How do you wish you could respond?
“When Eddie blames me, I react so fast, before I have a chance to get my loving adult onboard. I’m explaining and defending before I can even take a breath,” Lori told me in one of our sessions. I knew exactly what she was talking about, as I had struggled with this same challenge for years.

blame, reactivity

Most of us learned early in our lives to react to any kind of rejection – blame, anger, withdrawal, judgment, criticism, or being ignored – with some form of reactive behavior. I had learned as a child and adolescent to react to any form of rejection by explaining, defending, crying, blaming back, getting angry, complaining or giving myself up. Even today, if I’m overly tired, I might go right back to these protective, controlling behaviors.

When I’m feeling rested and centered, I now respond as a loving adult, which means that I respond with compassion for the suffering I see the other person is experiencing, or speak my truth and then disengage, or remain quiet and hear them out, or remain quiet and disengage. I remember that I have no control over the other person’s intent to act out of their wounded self, so I focus only on what is loving to me, rather than trying in any way to get them to see things differently or behave differently.


What are your frequent ways of behaving when you are being reactive?

  • Explaining, defending, lecturing
  • Shaming, judging
  • Complying, giving yourself up
  • Withdrawing, shutting down, ignoring, resisting
  • Yelling, blaming, attacking
  • Complaining
  • Crying as a victim
  • Other__________________________

Sometimes, when trauma is triggered, you might feel so scared that you go into the fight, flight or freeze response. I used to completely freeze in the face of blaming or shaming. I would freeze like a deer in the headlights, because I had no inner loving adult who knew how to take care of me in the face of another’s unloving behavior. I would get triggered way back to feeling my mother’s rage at me as a child, having no idea what to do.

Since practicing Inner Bonding and developing my own loving adult, I no longer have this misplaced freeze response, and for this I’m so grateful. Even at those times that I might get reactive, I don’t freeze. I speak my truth, and although I might still speak it as an attack or blame – trying to control – rather than having the presence of mind to fully accept my lack of control over the other person – I usually have some degree of self-awareness.

In order to fully accept my lack of control when another is in their wounded self and they are being unloving to themselves and me, I need to fully accept the loneliness of the disconnection from them, and my helplessness over them. This means that I need to be open hearted and in deep compassion for myself.


The challenge of not reacting means that:

  • I need to be fully present with compassion for my own core feelings of loneliness and heartache.
  • I need to completely and compassionately accept my lack of control – my helplessness – over another.
  • I need to be in connection with my guidance to know what is loving to me in the particular situation: to actively listen, to reach out to soothe them, to be with them and just listen, to lovingly speak my truth, and/or to lovingly disengage.
  • I also need to be fully willing to take the loving action on my own behalf, rather than try to influence the other person in any way.

None of this is easy, and it generally takes a lot of practice to move beyond reactivity and into loving action for yourself and with others. It’s absolutely worth the work.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

Join IBVillage to connect with others and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.



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