Reactive Behaviors – Dysfunctional Patterns

Ideas to be Remembered
June 26, 2017
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Reactive Behaviors – Dysfunctional Patterns

Change in families and organizations starts with a the individual. The following is an excerpt from Resilient Leadership: Navigating the Hidden Chemistry of Organizations, by Bob Duggan and Jim Moyer. Below are examples of how we might soothe our anxiety. I address these problematic behaviors working with couples in marriage counseling and individuals for counseling and life coaching.

  • Either/Or thinking – Reactivity results in simplistic black and white categories. There is no grey, no nuance in the midst of reactivity. It’s all or nothing, you’re for us or against us, and anything less than complete agreement is seen as total disagreement. The result of this kind of functioning is a polarization of people and positions, with an adversarial approach to every contentious relationship.
  • Victim Mentality – Reactivity often surfaces as hypersensitivity, a perennial stance of woundedness in the face of other’s behaviors or even just life’s outrageous fortunes. The result is a flight from responsibility. “It is never my fault; the other is always to blame and I am inevitably the innocent victim who cannot be held accountable for circumstances beyond my control.” Ironically, the flip side of this also surfaces sometimes in the form of blaming self, even though there is no objective basis to do so.
  • Deadly Serious – Reactivity can mask itself in the guise of a learned, grave attitude where everything is treated with a deadly seriousness. There is no lightness, no humor to offer perspective; rather, reactive functioning can seem to operate in slow motion, as if one were wading through the heaviness of molasses. Another flip side to look for is a kind of nervous joking that is actually a way to mask one’s reactivity.
  • Impulsive/Thoughtless – Just the opposite of slow motion heaviness, another typically reactive way of functioning is to refuse to take time for thoughtful deliberation. Every situation triggers an immediate response; every new development requires quick action, and judgement comes only by way of an afterthought.
  • Invasive Behaviors – Automatic functioning is oblivious to the need to respect appropriate boundaries. This can manifest itself in behaviors such as disregard for proper channels of communication, ignoring or subverting the democratic process, refusing to play by the rules, over-functioning beyond one’s mandate/area of competency, offering unwanted advice, and trying to step in and “fix” others’ problems whether they want the help or not.
  • Focus on Crisis – Reactivity is often manifested in an excessive focus on pathology, to the point of ignoring the positive, healing potential present in every situation. This orientation often results in too much time and energy spent on the lowest functioning, least productive, most troubled members of the organization.
  • Narrow Vision – Reactivity narrows one’s range of vision. One gets “stuck” on a preoccupation with rituals, procedures and policies rather than being able to see the big picture. When situations present themselves, reactive functioning results in an exclusive focus (e.g., on the content of the issues), without regard for the surrounding context or the emotional dynamics underlying the issues. At the extreme end of this pattern is insensitivity to one’s environment and to other people that amounts to a real blindness. People who are accident-prone (with cars or relationships) may be “blind” in this way.
  • Hijacked Thinking – Reactivity occurs when feeling processes overwhelm thinking processes. Emotions – whether anger, sadness, elation, or whatever – can often be so powerful as to make careful thought nearly impossible. Because chronic anxiety is part of our automatic functioning, it is often much more difficult to realize our capacity for thoughtfulness has been compromised by anxiety-driven reactivity.
  • Limited Repertoire – Reactivity limits one’s ability to think and act creatively. In the grip of reactive functioning, the range of available options always appears less than it is in reality.
  • Easily Stampeded – Reactivity produces “groupthink” and results in people being easily swayed by emotional appeals, mindlessly following the crowd, over-reacting to perceived threats and so forth.
  • Rebellion/Submission – Both patterns can be forms of reactivity, two sides of a single coin. Stubborn refusal to comply with reasonable requests is a reactive as complete willingness to submit, regardless of the price.
  • Dominating/Scapegoating – Again, both behaviors are aspects of a particular form of reactivity. When chronic anxiety has resulted in a person feeling a loss of control, either of these behaviors aims at regaining control by claiming a superior position in the relationship.

www.resilientleadershipdevelopment.com

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