Reacting vs. Responding

communication emotional abuse emotional health mental health reacting responding Oct 01, 2021

When we are overwhelmed in situations, it can be tough to slow ourselves down and be mindful when we are interacting with another person. This is especially important when we are dealing with someone who is narcissistic or exhibits toxic traits. When we aren't confident in our ability to handle ourselves against another person with a big personality presence, then that person is going to overwhelm us.

To respond, it is important to learn about emotionally abusive behaviors, to recognize the signs, and then learn the steps you will need to take to manage the situation with this person. You will need to understand things like gaslighting, manipulation, and passive-aggressive behavior. To know when someone is trying to shame and guilt you, to abuse and control you. It is important not only to recognize the more in-your-face emotionally abusive behavior, like a spouse calling you cruel names, but also the more subtle behaviors and manipulation tactics.

When dealing with family, coworkers, and even strangers, it is important to recognize those toxic behaviors in the other person as well as yourself. When we react, we are either looking to control the other person or defend ourselves. We get entangled in the situation very quickly when our ego is triggered. What we need to do is recognize the behavior and address the elephant in the room. To confront the behavior and say, "you're manipulating/gaslighting me" or "you're being passive-aggressive." However, simply calling out the behavior won't immediately stop it. They are not likely to apologize and see their behavior as toxic. Most people do not have that level of self-reflection.

When we call out this behavior, we are trying to work towards healthier conversations and healthier dynamics.  It's a powerful feeling when we have the confidence to confront someone about a specific type of behavior. Showing that you don't fear the confrontation, that you aren't afraid of the backlash because you can hold your own. You know that none of that backlash really has anything to do with you.

It's important to verbally communicate with someone else in a healthy way. That means that we need to be aware of our own bodies and energies. You need to be aware that you might have to excuse yourself when you start to get upset in an interaction. You might have to say, "You know what? I'm getting a little overwhelmed right now, and I'm getting a little angry. So, I'm going to leave this discussion, and we can bring this up at another time once I've calmed down." That's fine. We don't want to get angry and start reacting; that is what we are trying to avoid. One of the most important things that you can always do during an interaction is keep your sentences short. We don't want to go on and on. We want to keep our voices calm and speak slowly and clearly.

If you need to disengage after the conversation starts to become riled up, you can say "I will only speak to you when you have calmed down" or "Blank, I feel you are being manipulative right now and I don't want to engage with you having this feeling. So when you are ready to talk about what we were discussing, please let me know." You can also diffuse the situation by saying " I notice you're getting very upset right now. Would you like a minute?"

When dealing with someone who is manipulative and passive aggressive, whatever it is that you're calling them out on, you have to state what it is that you would like to happen. So, if you're telling someone "I'm not going to engage with you when you behave this way. We can talk in another time once you've calmed down or once you begin respecting me because this is how I deserve to be treated." You are calling out the behavior and letting them know that you will not tolerate it. 

The most important thing that you can ever do is learn how to hold on to yourself and recognizing behavior. Recognizing when the anger comes, or you're starting to get irritated or annoyed, and knowing that you have a choice on what you do. Do you want to engage with that person? Is your ego involved? And know who you are interacting with, if they are someone who pushes your buttons. All you need to do is verbally communicate what you expect and if that doesn't happen, leave the conversation calmly and nicely. Show them that behavior is not something you will deal with or accept.