This month we are talking about reactivity and how it harms relationships. Reactivity blocks reason!! When you are reactive, you cannot listen. You cannot separate the past from the present. You cannot say things in a loving way. The goal is to respond, not react. Responsiveness is not clouded with reactivity. Let’s look at the common things that make each of the love styles over react.
Avoiders get reactive when some one is emotional and needy. Crying kids, a weeping spouse, or emotional upheavals cause avoiders to react. A person who is needy and asks for “too much” also irritates avoiders. Introverted avoiders may withdraw and detach where as extroverted avoiders may use anger and annoyance to make emotions stop. Somewhere in their past avoiders learned it was not safe to feel and need so they learned to be independent and self sufficient. They don’t know what to do with emotions, so they overreact. Avoiders stop overreacting when they allow themselves to feel and need once again.
Pleasers tend to be fearful and overprotective. They overreact to bad news, negative feelings and stressful circumstances with alarm….make it stop! Pleasers don’t look on the surface like they are overreacting, but if we could see all that goes on under the surface it would be obvious. When pleasers cannot make it all OK they get anxious, frantic and uneasy. They go into hyper drive to find a solution so they can calm down. Somewhere in their past, pleasers learned that anger and criticism were too painful to endure and must be avoided. Or, they absorbed the fear of their parent and feel life is scary and they must protect those they love from anything negative. Pleasers stop overreacting when they deal with the fear and anxiety that drives their lives. Learning to tolerate anger, ask hard questions, and process difficult feelings helps them respond rather than react.
Vacillators overreact when they are disappointed, have to wait, or feel abandoned or invisible. Since they are looking for the consistent connection they missed as kids, when they don’t get it they feel unloved and marginalized. A vacillators overreaction is easy to see. They get angry and are not afraid to let you know how they feel. Introverted vacillators may be quiet and sulk, but everyone in the family knows they are mad and upset. Vacillators stop overreacting when they learn to accept the good and the bad together instead of idealizing and then devaluing. Overreactions happen at the point of devaluing. Vacillators also have to learn to get sad, not mad and feel and express pain rather than anger. Asking directly for what they want, rather than hoping others mind read, also helps.
Controllers overreact to just about everything because they convert every vulnerable feeling into anger. They control so they don’t have to feel the painful vulnerable emotions of childhood….terror, shame, humiliation, inadequacy, powerlessness, hopelessness and confusion to name a few. As long as they keep control of people and circumstances, these painful feelings can be kept at arm’s length. Facing their childhood pain and learning to accept comfort takes away the need for so much anger and control. Less anger….less reactivity.
Victims overreact to anger and intimidation. It’s easy for them to feel the frozen terror they felt as kids. It’s difficult to remain an adult if one is paralyzed by fear and terror. It appears that a victim under reacts, but it’s important to remember that victims learned to tolerate the intolerable as kids. It’s hard to recognize, as an adult, what is normal and what is not normal. Victims have to learn the importance of safety to blossom and grow. They need to discover the importance of boundaries and exercise their “no” muscle so they have a voice. Victims can also overreact and dump all the stored up anger onto kids when the scary partner is not home. Unresolved grief and anger is the fuel for these overreactions. Facing the past and working though unresolved trauma is so important for both victims an controllers.
Next week we will finish with some more ideas about how to become a responder rather than an over reactor.