Healing a Repetitive Reactive Dynamic

Even though the topic might be different each time, you recognize that same reactive dynamic no matter where it shows up.  The words, body language, and behavior are similar each time. Though the details of the situation can be distracting, you know there is something deeper you are fighting for, but you're not always sure what it is.

Most people choose a partner or close friend that will unconsciously replay a reactive pattern from their family of origin.  It is, a sort of, complimentary reactivity. Ideally, both you and the other person have more self-awareness, emotional resources, and skills than you had growing up.  This means there is a chance that the relationship can be a place of healing and transformation.

Still, to shift out of a repetitive reactive dynamic requires a lot of intentionality and willingness.  First, you both hopefully know each other's tender need.* Identifying each others' tender needs is the first step.  The next is to acknowledge that healing around a tender need will likely require more intention and effort than you think.  Most people underestimate what it takes to access a shift around a tender need.

Having identified the tender needs and oriented yourself to consistent intention and effort, take time to identify specific ways that those needs are nourished and and what reassurance around those needs looks like and sounds like.

For these strategies to be effective, they must be specific and doable, consistent, and frequent.  Specific and doable means that most of these questions are answered: What? When? Who? Where? How often? How long?   Consistent and frequent means reassurance and specific attempts to nourish those tender needs occurs several times a week.

Part of being self responsible means letting your partner and others who love you, know how to contribute to you.  Asking for reassurance and a specific kind of nourishment around a need not only helps you show up in a nonreactive way, it also opens the door for others to ask for the same.  This kind of intentional exchange of care for tender needs contributes to synergistic healing and thriving relationships.


Take a few minutes now to either identify or reflect on your tender needs.  Bring to mind moments when you experienced deep nourishment regarding that need. Identify anything about that experience that could be easily repeated.

*When particular needs are linked to reactivity and nourishment barriers, I call these "tender needs" as a shorthand, but, of course, the need itself is a universal energy and doesn't shift from person to person.  It's the relationship to the need that is tender.

If you have not identified your tender need(s), grab your feelings and needs list and use one or more of the reflection questions below to help you identify your tender need.

  • Identify your most common complaints, wishes, or requests.  Mindfully imagine yourself in those moments when you are making the complaint, wish, or request.  Then look through the needs list and find the needs alive for you in those situations

  • Mindfully imagine yourself in 2 or 3 of your most reactive interactions in the last year or few years.  Then look through the needs list find the needs alive for you in those situations.

  • Recall recent times of reactivity.  Then look through the needs list find the needs alive for you in those situations.

  • Reflect on situations in which you are quick to defend, justify, get angry, or protect?  What needs are alive for you in those moments?

  • Look through the needs list and notice if there is a need you don't think you have, that is, one that doesn't ever seem to come up for you.  This may be an exiled "tender need."