• Shona Dee

How I Learned to Stop Reacting to Bad Behaviour

How I learned to stop reacting to bad behaviour

Do you sometimes, or often, find yourself at the mercy of other people’s bad behaviour? Maybe an ex-spouse (or current spouse – let’s not discriminate), a family member, boss or all of the above? Mmmm… I can relate.

Before my divorce grew me stronger and forced me to start loving and looking out for myself, I was a virtual slave to the actions, emotions and general all-round bad behaviour of those around me. I didn’t know that I was worth more, or that there was really any other way.

It’s something I still struggle with from time to time. Lifetime habits are not always easy to shake and I’ve found that until a lesson is mastered, it will likely continue to present itself to us mere mortals – one way or another.

Let’s be real. Relationships can be hard. Bloody HARD. ALL relationships – not just romantic. And in the stress of life and midst of conflict it can be all too easy to forget a fundamental truth: We are NEVER powerless. We CAN choose which behaviours we will and won’t accept.

We can choose not to let our peace be taken or snatched away by something external to us – something or someone that we ultimately have no control over.

When we acknowledge that the battle is actually within us, we can make the decision to end it. As with everything in life, it will all fall a little easier into place once we make a commitment to ourselves. To love ourselves. To respect ourselves. To honour ourselves.

Here is how you can gain the power to stop reacting to other people’s bad behaviour:

Take TIME to respond

First up, notice the difference between respond and react. Re-acting is what we do when we’ve been hit with something sudden and unpleasant. Very little thought goes into our reactions. Something is said and all of a sudden we find ourselves triggered. We become upset, anxious, angry or confused. Sometimes all of these things.

Here’s something to remember: our triggers are our unhealed wounds. Wounds that we’ve most likely been carrying around since childhood. Until we acknowledge our wounds and make the commitment to heal them once and for all, they will continue to make their presence known.

When we know and understand our triggers, we are no longer driven to mindlessly re-act to the things that are said and done to us. We STOP ourselves from getting lost in the emotion that immediately follows what has been said or done and we pause. We give ourselves to time to respond (not react). Sometimes our response is to simply walk away.

We all have triggers. Taking the time to go deep within and learn mine has been one of the most empowering things I have ever done for myself.

Manage your EMOTION first

It is always your responsibility to manage what is yours, and this includes your emotions. The good news is, when you’re able to recognise what it was that caused you to feel triggered, it’s a whole lot easier to manage the emotion or emotions that soon follow the trigger.

Here’s something simple you can do instead of immediately re-acting to something that has been said or done to you:

1. Breathe

2. Remind yourself that the feeling is temporary

​If, after a few minutes you are still feeling upset by what has been said or done to you, you can choose to respond. Because you have taken the time to pause, breathe and reflect you can be sure that your response will not be coming from a place of despair or anger (feelings that may linger long after the situation has passed). It will be coming from a learned place; a place of reflection.

Look for the LESSON

Choose to look a little deeper into what is happening – that is, your emotional reaction to what has been said or done to you – and consider why it is happening. Is this particular drama a common one for you? Does this person have a particular type of personality, or energy, that you find intimidating, frightening or confronting in some way? Do they perhaps remind you of a parent (a big trigger for me)?

Remember, until we heal our longstanding wounds they will continue to make their presence known. Sometimes over and over and over. Yet instead of being disconcerted by this, we can learn to use it to our advantage. We can use these experiences as platforms for growth. We can look at recurring patterns in our interactions with others and make the empowered and loving decision to stop interacting in ways that are harmful to our wellbeing.

It is never too late to do this.

And it is what I invite you to do now. Next time you feel dismayed, angered and shocked by the actions of another, be brave enough to go deep inside and question what is really going on. Ask yourself why this person and situation is so troubling. Look for ongoing patterns, and remind yourself that you are never powerless.


Our power is always and only ever in our reactions.

No-one can take your power from you without your permission.

Make the decision not to let your path be directed, or your peace destroyed, by the actions of another. It is never too late to make this decision.

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