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Markers of Success with Reactivity

One of the first markers of success with reactivity is that you notice it before you act from it.  This requires subtle body awareness and familiarity with the signs and symptoms of reactivity.

The second, is that you accept it rather than tightening against it or telling yourself you shouldn't react.  While it is true that the more you honor and accept yourself and tend to your needs consistently and in harmony with others, the less reactivity you will experience.  It is also true that, being human, you are likely to experience some reactivity all of your life.  I am surprised at how often I need to be reminded of this simple point.  The point is not to vanquish reactivity, but rather to develop a compassionate and skillful relationship with it.

These first two markers of success with reactivity are usually part of your internal dialogue and sound something like this: "I notice I feel some tightening in my chest.  I'm reacting to something.  Okay, it's okay that I am reacting.  Let me just take a minute and feel these uncomfortable feelings."

The next success marker is that if you are interacting with another, you name it out loud and ask for time to process it: "I notice I feel reactive and I don't know what about yet.  I need to take a moment."

Your internal dialogue then continues: "What just happened that might have triggered me?  What am I telling myself about that?"

When you have some sense of this, you might turn to the other person and express what you found. For example, imagine one partner expressing to the other, "I got triggered right after you told me your ex came over and helped you yesterday.  I started telling myself that you can replace me.  I don't believe what I am telling myself, but it is triggering me anyway.  I think that the triggered part of me could calm down with a couple of words of reassurance.  Would you be willing to remind me that you love me and want to be with me?"  Notice that in this example the partner revealed the internal trigger for reactivity, the thought of being replaced, rather than blaming the other by demanding the ex not be invited to help out any more - marker three.  Also, this partner took responsibility by naming the need and making a clear and specific request - marker four.

In sum, the markers that you are successfully handling reactivity are:

1. Identifying reactivity before acting from it
2. Accepting reactivity with compassion for yourself
3. Recognizing that the cause for reactivity is internal 
4. Taking responsibility for reactivity by identifying the underlying needs and asking for help with that need from someone else or yourself.

While these steps are simple enough to understand, they require mindfulness, mental clarity, the ability to identify universal needs and more.  The subtle skills needed to maintain this responsible relationship to reactivity require consistent learning and practice.


Take a moment now to reflect on a time recently when you have had success handling reactivity.  Make a physical or mental note of the steps you took in that process.  What did you notice (observations of events, sensations, feelings, needs)?  What did you say to yourself?  What actions did you take? For other connection gems on handling reactivity click here:


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3 Responses

  1. May 29, 2009
    Aaron Hodges

    ==It seems particularly difficult when that trigger is something a person has very little control over and no true connection with. I think of job situations where someone is working with people that they simply do not like (i.e their essence) or they do not like something about their coworkers (e.g. habits). People cannot just up and change jobs or really force another person to engage them in the workplace.
    ==Think about triggers in terms of degrees. If a person is reacting to something they fundamentally disagree with (e.g. homosexuality, racism, religious freedom) then it seems the dialogue would be different. In fact, the reactivity may not even be seen as a negative even if it produces negative results. If it is something a person is fighting for maintaining or brining about in themselves or in the world then reaction to opposition or turbulence is welcomed.

  2. Dec 10, 2017
    Bob Rosengard

    I'm very grateful for this post. It's clearly though out and practical and one of the first things I looked at this am. A great way to start the day! It fits right in with my spiritual practice.

  3. Dec 10, 2017
    Bob Rosengard

    I'm very grateful for this post. It's clearly though out and practical and one of the first things I looked at this am. A great way to start the day! It fits right in with my spiritual practice.

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