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Defining Reactivity

Being able to name clearly some key aspects of reactivity as it arises can prevent escalation and keep you grounded.  Reactivity as I am using it in the context of Compassionate Communication refers to any form of disconnect from your own or another's life energy.  The internal experience of reactivity is marked by the following:

  • Unconscious contraction or collapse of your body and energy
  • An inability to consciously consider and evaluate multiple views of a given situation.
  • A loss of awareness and honor of your own needs and/or the needs of others.
  • A lack of willingness to seek or accept feedback from others.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but rather some of the basic categories.  What else do you notice in your experience of reactivity?

On the outside, reactive behaviors can be categorized into four types: defend, attack, submit, and withdraw.

  • Defend:  in defending you offer all the good reasons you have for doing what you did and try to show that you are not wrong or bad.
  • Attack: when attacking you make a case for how the other person is wrong or bad in some way.
  • Submit:  when you submit, you believe and take on others' negative judgments of you and apologetically take the blame regardless of your true responsibility.
  • Withdraw.  In withdrawing you find yourself moving away or shutting down, physically, emotionally, and/or verbally.

In which of the four reactions, defend, attack, submit, or withdraw, do you most often find yourself?  With what body language, behavior, thoughts, and words, do you express that reaction?  Once you notice you are in reaction what is your de-escalating strategy?

At least one time this week notice when you find yourself in one of these reactions. See if you can watch the reaction without acting from it. Then start guessing the thoughts, feelings and needs that are alive for you underneath the reaction (self-empathy). After connecting with your feelings and needs decide what action/request you want to make of yourself or someone else to meet your needs.


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