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SALT LAKE CITY — After 20-plus years as a life coach and human behavior expert, I have discovered some interesting patterns in the way we humans react to situations. I believe there are three basic types of reactions to offenses, and understanding these reactions could make it easier to find the best response when you get bothered.
The three basic reaction options are:
- A fear-based reaction from a place of weakness, people-pleasing and being overly afraid of failure. This reaction creates selfless, doormat behavior.
- A fear-based reaction from a place of strength, protectiveness and being overly afraid of loss. This reaction creates aggressive, defensive, selfish behavior.
- A trust- and love-based reaction where you know you are safe because you trust your value cannot be diminished and that each situation is your perfect classroom journey. Because you feel safe in the world — and you don't need safety from this person — you aren't that offended by things and can therefore respond with love toward the other person and yourself at the same time. You can say how you feel in a loving, affirming way. It is only when you feel safe that you are capable of showing up with love. Responding from this place means being mature, wise and caring instead of defensive or hurt.
This may feel like an oversimplification, but I find it's accurate most of the time. If you look at your reaction to any past offense or mistreatment, you will see that you probably either felt victimized and allowed it, fought back and defended yourself, or had the wisdom and clarity to see it wasn't really about you and responded with love.
Where the fear comes from
I wish I could say that the trust and love response comes naturally to us, but it usually isn't. People-pleasing and defending yourself are hard-wired into most of our subconscious programming. Let me explain why.
In prehistoric times, people lived in groups and depended on each other for survival. If you were rejected it could literally mean death. If you were kicked out of the group or tribe, you probably wouldn't survive on your own. In my experience working with people as a master life coach, it appears that this has left us all with a deep subconscious need for approval and acceptance by others.
I believe this is why what others think of you feels so critical or important: You are hard-wired to believe that your life depends on approval (even though it doesn't). This means, there might always be a part of you that desperately wants to be liked, accepted and get along with others. This part of you might be so scared of conflict it would rather allow others to mistreat you, than risk rejection.
It is my experience that you are also subconsciously programmed to feel unsafe in the world and believe that you must protect and defend yourself from threats all around you to survive. I believe, again, this is a deeply wired survival mechanism but one that causes a great number of problems in relationships.
You have a part of you that is always looking for mistreatment, slights, danger or threats in the people and situations around you. You might even get defensive too easily and be quick to jump into conflict because it feels safe to protect yourself.
These two types of reactions are so deeply wired into your subconscious programming that they can happen fast. Your brain doesn't need to think about either of them; they are immediate reactions.
You may also notice that one of the two fear reactions is more dominant in you than the other. You might still do the other on occasion, but you are more likely either a defender or a people-pleaser. Which behavior is more frequent for you?
What your 3 options look like
Now, let me show you how understanding the three reaction options will help you in a real-life situation.
Let's say your partner does something that offends, bothers or hurts you. You will have one reaction that shows up immediately as your dominant fear response. Don't do this. Take a minute and step back; before you say or do anything, see if you can identify all three options and what they would look like in this situation.
Option No. 1: Fear-of-failure response
You can react with fear-of-failure behavior allow yourself to be mistreated. You could silently resent the other person, be bothered by them, get quiet, sulk or talk about them behind their back. You could see them as the bad guy and play the victim.
If you choose to react this way, you may get some sympathy, love and attention when they notice you are sulking, but your spouse may also lose some respect for you. This immature behavior, over time, cam damage the relationship.
Option No. 2: Fear-of-loss response
You can react with fear-of-loss behavior and confront them with anger or get defensive. You could judge them and see them as the "bad guy," seeing them as worse than you. You could accuse them and put them down, which is ego-based fear behavior. This response feels stronger, but there is fear behind it; it is not real strength, and there is no love in it either.
If you choose to respond this way, your ego may feel better temporarily, but you could be slowly destring the relationship as your partner could begin to resent you.
Option No. 3: Trust and love response
You may actually have a couple of trust and love, balanced behavior options in these situations: You might choose a "let it go in love" response or a "talk about it with love" response. If done without fear, in a balanced place, seeing you and the other person as equals, either of these options could be a good choice.
The "let it go in love" response is where you recognize that their bad behavior probably wasn't intentional, wasn't really about you, or wasn't meant to harm you. Because you recognize that, you choose to forgive it or let it go and hope they will do the same with your small, unintentional mistakes. You can do this from a place of strength when you know they can't actually diminish you or your value and that whatever happened was your perfect classroom journey anyway. You can respond with love toward them and yourself, with no resentment, and completely let the offense go.
However, if this is something that happens frequently and/or you know you can't let it go without having a conversation about it, you can do that. But you must have this conversation without judgment, defensiveness, anger, emotion, fear or criticism. You must start the conversation by seeing the other person as an equal, not the bad guy. You have the same value as your partner no matter what either of you does. You must not talk down to them in any way. You must strive for a mutually validating conversation that comes from a place of love, accuracy, kindness and respect.
You should first ask your partner what was going on with them in that moment, what their intention was, and what they thought and meant. You then get to listen and strive to really understand them. Following this exchange, you can ask permission to share what you experienced and ask for what you would like them to do differently next time or moving forward.
Either of these responses might be the right one for you and you should pick the one you feel most capable of doing from a place of trust and love, without fear or judgment. Next time you get offended, try identifying each of the three options and see if it helps you rise and be your better self.
You can do this.