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What to Say When You’re Feeling Reactive

When emotions are heightened, your perception of a conversation or situation may be skewed. You might react impulsively or intensely. In these moments it can be difficult to be vulnerable and to communicate effectively. When you’re feeling reactive during a conversation or argument, it can even be tempting to lash out.

Reacting out of impulse is not usually a productive addition to conversation. It can lead to more hurt, confusion, or just general miscommunication or misunderstanding.

Here are some things you can say when you feel reactive to make the conversation more productive, and avoid causing more damage.

Outwardly acknowledge how you feel

Get in front of your impulses and reactions if you can feel them building up. Take a moment to admit what you are feeling. It could be frustration, confusion or a more general feeling of growing anxiety. This can help the other person think about what they are saying, and better understand your responses. If you feel yourself about to explode during an argument, tell the person you’re talking to that you’re feeling a lot of emotions and it’s not the best time for you to continue the conversation in a healthy way.

If you’ve already been reactive, whether that be by raising your voice, getting defensive, cutting someone off, or another form of communicating that wasn’t your best, acknowledge it.
When you feel reactive, if you don’t communicate and just walk away instead, this can add another layer of problems since you may be perceived as not caring about the conversation. Let your emotions join the conversation, rather than having them force their way in later. Stay honest with yourself and the person you are talking with, and much more clarity will be revealed to each of you.

Ask questions

People often react impulsively based on assumptions. The best way to make sure you’re accurately perceiving what the other person is saying is to ask them. Share that you’re taking the feedback personally and want to know what they really mean by what they’re saying. Then, actively listen. It could be that what your mind is telling you is more extreme than what they’re actually saying.

Share that you need space

When you’re feeling hurt and unable to effectively communicate, find a way to ask for space so you don’t have an outburst and say something hurtful that you can’t take back. Tell the person you’re talking to that you’re feeling overwhelmed and could use some space, even just for 10 minutes. When you come back after an argument, take responsibility for the way you acted or what you said.

Ask to be listened to

Many things can trigger feeling reactive, like if you feel you aren’t able to say what you need to say or aren’t being listened to. Be vulnerable and share that you could use some support and just want to be heard. If you feel you have the time and space to be heard, you won’t be in such a rush to communicate. If you need time to process your feelings and talk without being interrupted, say so.

Continue to work on your relationship

Relationships require healthy communication. Do your part to think through what triggers your reactivity and what tactics have helped you understand and maintain your feelings and actions. No relationship is perfect, whether between friends, siblings or life-partners, there will always be ways to improve communication with one another. So, accepting that there will be knots and kinks to work out will help you work through them when they do show up.

If your reactivity comes up most often in romantic relationships and is difficult to handle on your own, we’re here for you at Valley Oaks Health. Reach out to see if couples therapy may help you and your partner.

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