Owning Your Reaction to Another Person’s Action


This year our family spent two weeks together in hotel rooms and friends’ houses up and down the coast of New England. I loved the togetherness.

And they also got on my nerves.

The hot buttons and shortcomings that we know so well about each other were on full display as we debated directions and coordinated everyone’s interests. Occasionally our moods and actions were unproductively ignited in reaction to each other’s behavior.

burning match2

This is what I call IDBYD behavior. IDBYD: I did because you did.

For example, my kids might escalate an argument to hurtful words or actions. If we jumped in to tell one of them to stop, the response would always be, “I did this because he did that first!”

IDBYD isn’t just for kids. Several times, we adults mentally checked out, changed moods, criticized or created tension because, well, people can be annoying! They get under our skin. They compete with our agenda. They let us down.

Psychologists and counselors often say that “I did because you did” thinking occurs when we lack healthy boundaries between ourselves and others. Ultimately, it can make us less attractive to others, less emotionally healthy and less capable of navigating human relationships.

It’s difficult to see this in ourselves, but vacation provided me a new perspective. Outside my own paradigm, I could see that, when I’m in IDBYD mode, I’m less thoughtful, considerate, mindful and intentional. And because of that, I’m less present, enjoyable and trustworthy.

And this is the insight I developed on IDBYD:

We are in control of our own behavior.

When the feelings and actions of other people control our feelings and reactions, it usually produces dysfunctional results. But you and I don’t have to be victims. We can be owners of our own thoughts, feelings and actions.

Vacation afforded me the perspective to see where the moods and behaviors of others were triggering changes in me. It became clear that I needed to declare my emotional and behavioral independence from my family. I needed to reestablish control over my feelings and actions. By affirming this psychological separation from the ones I love, I can love them more.

This applies at home, and it applies at work. We are more effective and connected when we are less reactive and dependent.

Who is triggering reactions in you? Can you separate and differentiate in order to grow?

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