Before you crumple under their reaction. . .

{Image: dragon_fang / 123RF Stock Photo; Quote: Laurie Wallin}

{Image: dragon_fang / 123RF Stock Photo; Quote: Laurie Wallin}

I might have known that to stick my neck out and say what I did would shake things up. It was a bit of a risk, after all. Words just outside of the current comfort level of that relationship in hopes of tugging it deeper, making it stronger.

I should have known, but I still didn’t expect the hurt, the intensity of the reaction, the criticism. Three things that wad my quirky need to make a difference into a ball and lob it into the dumpster.

Unless I don’t let them.

Because in those moments, it’s up to me to engage or not, to learn or not. Aristotle said it well: “To avoid criticism [or reactions of any kind] say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” When we live life, people will react. Will we embrace the uncomfortable moments? Or let them crumple us? {—> tweet this}

What other people’s reactions tell us:

Our words and actions have power. Something we did or said stirred feelings in the other person for reasons we may or may not never know. We may have been harsh, blunt, selfish or spoken from our fear. Or maybe we said or lived the truth graciously and it still felt to them like lemon juice on an open wound. Either way (or, more often, some combination of the two), what we say and do has weight.

We aren’t alone. We live in community and affect each other. When we bless in our words and actions, humanity blooms. When we’re selfish or unloving—even when we think nobody’s watching—humanity suffers. Our actions and words don’t exist in a vacuum, and the reactions of others remind us what we say and do will always end up touching someone’s life, whether either of us see (or like) it or not.

They care. When people where we work, live, go to school or spend time react strongly to what we say or do, it shows what they value. Maybe about our relationship, or about truth they feel we misrepresented. Or maybe they value how people spend their time, communicate, listen, give gifts, or celebrate milestones. Whatever it is, as much as their sensitivity may overwhelm us, its presence reveals they have convictions—that they care about us or something else deeply.

What their reactions DON’T automatically tell us:

  • We are wrong.
  • We are bad people.
  • We need to do or say what they think we should.
  • We’re responsible for how they feel.
  • The relationship needs to end.

What does this mean for resolving hurt feelings?

When they react, we can listen. We can’t know whether another’s reaction is healthy or unhealthy unless we hear them out. We won’t know if we’ve done the hurting unless we listen. To open the door to reconciliation and allow the relationship to grow through life’s hiccups, we have to take a deep breath, resist the urge to defend ourselves, and simply listen.

When they react, the relationship can grow. That reaction is a signal for us, a tool. It tells us something needs attention in the relationship or situation. Once the reaction gets our attention, we can be about the business of repairing and restoring the rift. Hurt feelings and misunderstandings litter every relationship, but they don’t all spell relational death.

When they react, we can learn. Not only is their reaction a signal in the relationship, it’s an invitation for us to grow as individuals. We might learn how to rephrase a harsh word. Or learn to think a heartbeat longer before we speak or act. Or maybe we’ll learn about something deeper in us that needs some healing or change.

Like with me and that situation above, where my “need to make a difference” tendency needed to be reminded:

It’s not up to me to make the difference all the time. It’s up to Someone bigger. {—>tweet this}

I can turn my quirk away from feeling driven and toward studying scripture that reminds me how much of a difference I make to the One who created me. Or I can turn that tendency toward someone else or someplace where I can better make a difference right now.

What do strong reactions from others trigger in you? What helps you get through those moments?


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  1. MotheringFromScratch says

    Oh, my … do I get this. So well said, Laurie. This recovering people-pleaser has had to learn that just because someone else reacts badly to something I’ve said or done, doesn’t automatically mean that I did the wrong thing. Which is always my “go-to” place ….

  2. Jennifer Hallmark says

    They trigger fear. Then I have to watch what I think and what I say…

    • says

      Fear. . . yes, me too. Defensiveness is right on fear’s heels tho. I have to remember to breathe, calm, breathe, calm. . . not react back. Then say something. 🙂