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  • Writer's picture Zalman Nelson - Therapist

How to Tell A Reaction From An Overreaction

Updated: Feb 9

Reaction From An Overreaction

Stuff happens in life and we react. That’s normal, makes sense. Hurt me, I feel pain. Reject me, I’m upset. Betray me, and I’m angry. But what about the overreactions? The reactions that are over the top, super intense, and way beyond what you’d expect? It’s feels like a normal reaction on steroids: beefed up and supercharged. Leaves you scratching your head.

However, it’s not the reaction that’s the problem. It’s the overreaction…out of the blue. Where did that come from?

It’s both parties’ faults. Please do take responsibility for your share, but not the whole thing. Telling someone you’ll be there at 6pm and not showing up….telling a friend you’ll call her before you head out to something and fun and forgetting – it hurts. It’s disappointing. It’s on you.

But when the other guy’s reaction is explosive, with rage and aggression, and you have that, “the punishment doesn’t fit the crime” kinda feeling, you something’s up.

What Turns A Reactions Into An Overreaction

We all have patterns of thinking, feeling, and how we view ourselves, others, and events. We picked them up in life as we grew. Kids are primed to be absorbent sponges for the messages, verbal and non, that they get from parents. We form much of our sense of self from the responses we get from those around us. And while they aren’t who we truly are – more like a mask covering up a real, accurate, truthful picture of us – nevertheless, until we identify them, challenge them, push back on them, take away their all access pass to our thoughts, words, and actions, and then replace them with who we really are…they deeply impact us. They often dominate our reactions and responses.

The Guy Freaking Out

Back to the guy freaking out. Yeah he’s pissed you forgot to invite him. Everyone’s cool with that. Hopefully, they apologize. But the “freak” is all him. Actually, his pattern. You just triggered the long-held pattern of abandonment in his life. Maybe a parent left or died when he was young. Could be his mother was hospitalized or separated from him for a prolonged period of time when he was young. Might be he was passed from relative to relative as a child, or shipped off to boarding school.

Or, his father was there, physically, but was totally unstable: depressed, angry, drunk, or withdrawn in some other way. How about his parents divorced when he was young or they fought so much that he lived in constant fear that the family would fall apart. And on and on.

Parents and Childhood

Not looking to blame childhood and parents, and then kick back and do no work. Far from it. Getting triggered like that, being pushed to an overreaction, is both a sign his friends let him down, as well as a sign he’s got a pattern that needs some work. He wasn’t abandoned…they just didn’t call. But the feeling is similar. He freaks, fearing it’s all coming back again.

Overreaction = ?

An overreaction is like a “check engine” light on the dashboard letting us know we’re continuing to live out old patterns. Not because they’re true or they have to be since they always were. But because we didn’t know they were there, get help to see them clearly, and begin the process of pushing them away to reveal our true self inside. Then, when our overreactions start to fade more into regular reactions, we’ll know were getting somewhere.

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