In Steps 1-4, we outlined some potential techniques we can use to reduce our reactions to emotional triggers and even heal the wounds that cause them. We’ve suggested ways to control rage as a starting point, and then discussed how we can dig deeper to the root causes of our emotional triggers and challenge the distorted thinking that leads to overreactions.
Hopefully as a result of practicing these methods you are not reacting so strongly to the everyday stressors that may have led you to being violent with your partner in the past. We hope you’re feeling much more at peace with whatever is happening around you, and much better about yourself, too. The inner peace may be the best part.
You may be wondering – how do I know I’m “there”? How do I really know I’ve healed from my wounds and permanently eliminated my abusive behavior? While the process is gradual and there is no single point at which a person can claim they have arrived, it is possible to get “there.” Allow yourself time. Don’t rush the process. Hopefully you’ll find the discussion below helpful.
What “there” looks like
“There” is better than we were before. We:
- React to fewer situations
- Catch our reactions much, much sooner
- Disconnected some buttons and significantly reduced others
- Respond rather than react (see below)
- Have an attitude of continuous growth, especially if we mess up
But keep in mind, “There” does not mean “perfection.” We may still:
- Overreact to situations – although less frequently and less strongly
- Start down the path of anger – but don’t get to rage
- Raise our voice or say something we regret
- Blame our partner rather than look at what’s going on inside of us
- Catch ourselves “reacting” rather than “responding” to situations
None of these are desirable, and reducing or eliminating them should still be the goal. However, if you’re prone to being hard on yourself (as most of us are), we include this list to let you know you are human, and allowed to be imperfect.
Many of our buttons are connected to our close, intimate relationships. This makes sense because it is where we are most vulnerable. As we grow and change, however, we often see improvements in our other relationships – such as those with co-workers, our kids, and even strangers.
Reacting vs. responding
- You don’t stop to think
- You don’t consider different possible responses
- You say or do the first thing that comes to mind
- Your reaction may be irrational or over-the-top
- Your reaction is not very helpful to the situation
- You engage the rational thinking part of your brain
- You consider several possible responses to the situation
- You select which words or actions will be the most effective
- Your response is measured and sensible
- Your response effectively contributes to a positive outcome
The selection part is critical. By considering the different possible ways in which you can respond to a situation, you actually give yourself more power by making an effective choice.
This begs the question, “What is an effective choice?” Bear in mind that the goal, of course, is to maintain and build closeness and trust in our relationships.
Actively listening, understanding our partner’s perspective, and apologizing for things we could have done better are good strategies. If we resort to creating guilt, shame, threats, fear, or attacking our partner’s character, then our actions are a reaction and not a response.
It’s natural to have reactionary thoughts or to want to retaliate when things aren’t going our way. Acknowledge them, allow them to pass by, and then make the choice to respond with more constructive words or actions.
How do I know if I’m safe?
The question of safety is an important question for both you and your current or future partner. If you are separated from your partner and considering reuniting, review the checklist on our Reuniting page.
What if I relapse?
You messed up and did something that you know you shouldn’t have done. Maybe you’re in big trouble for it. Or maybe not, but chances are both your partner and you are wondering if you’ve actually changed at all. The pressure to avoid repeating your behavior and the consequences that come with it may feel really intense.
Growth takes focus, effort, and time. If you’ve been working hard, remember that big changes seldom come all at once. Don’t let a setback cause you to give up. Think of every mistake as an opportunity to learn, which in turn creates an opportunity to grow.
On the other hand, if you’ve just given this material a quick look over and you’ve not been taking the process seriously, we caution you that taking shortcuts with any of these steps can be a big mistake. It puts you at risk of repeating behavior you want to stop. And that puts your partner and your relationship at risk, too.
Regardless of what effort you’ve made so far, you have three choices:
- Dismiss the situation as no big deal and deny there’s anything wrong,
- Give up trying and decide you’ll never be able to change, or
- Take full responsibility, use it as a learning experience, and get back to work.
Choose the third one. Use the incident as a wake-up call and a learning experience. What part of what you’ve been trying to do failed? Do you need some help mastering the tough stuff? We’re here for you. You can do it.
One way to get more practice handling tough situations is through the exercise found on our Simulator 2 page: