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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behavior. An "effective response"
occurs when you get your
well enough, and both people feel
This article offers useful responses to
the behavior of someone you experience as
"over-reactive' or "over-dramatic."
assumes you're familiar with...
Have you ever known someone with an
"expressionless" face and a "flat" voice? How
about someone who had a very animated,
expressive face, body, and voice, and loved to
speak dramatically? Can you think of someone
who often over-reacts (in your
opinion) to mundane events?
Such people often emphatically pepper their
comments with fantastic, exciting, horrible,
terrible, horrifying, disastrous, catastrophe,
awful, embarrassing, amazing, thrilling, outstanding,
marvelous, precious, etc. They may laugh,
gasp, scream, rage, or
cry "at nothing" and
"over-emote." If you hurt, confront, or offend
them, they may react as tho you physically
"Reactivity" refers to how impulsive and
volatile a child or adult is in various
situations. The opposite of "reactive" is
"stoic," "impassive," "unemotional," and
reactive behavior can hinder effective
the current topic;
emotional than rational, inviting
discounting and disrespect;
certain topics or confrontations ("If I
bring up finances, Pat goes ballistic!");
disrespect and distrust ("Alex just can't
keep a lid on it!"); and...
emotionally-provocative terms, phrases, and
gestures (e.g. shaming labels, profanity, or
extreme metaphors and images) that
distract or disturb the listener.
Adults and kids range from never to occasionally
to always overdramatic. What accounts for this
range? The question really asks "Can people
intentionally learn to (want to) moderate their emotions and impulsive behaviors?" A
comprehensive answer is beyond the scope of this
article. Instead, consider this...
factor that shapes how intensely people (like
you) react to their environment is whether
or their wise true Self
People ruled by volatile
subselves risk losing the calm, reasoned
guidance of their wise
are unaware of it and what it means. One meaning
is - logical requests, demands, and threats to
"calm down" will never work for long because the person's controlling
subselves distrust her or his true Self to keep
Implication When a (wounded) adult or
child says "I can't help being so
emotional!" - s/he really can't! - s/he
is not disregarding or disrespecting your
requests, tho it may appear otherwise.
Chastising or shaming an overdramatic person
only increases their frustration, guilt,
practical response is to refer them to this
You may have a range of
responses to over-reactive behavior, like amusement,
affection, irritation, frustration, impatience, anxiety, scorn, detachment (tuning out),
interrupting, out-shouting, shut-ting down,
Can you describe your normal responses to
over-reactive, over-dramatic kids and adults?
Your response will depend on what you need - to vent,
inform, affirm, confront, change their behavior, set or
en-force a limit, avoid conflict, or something
Compare your reactions to these...
(a) realize the other person is being
overdramatic and/or over-reactive, and to (b)
identify how their behavior is affecting you
until they become automatic;
Decide if you
want to respond now or later. If so, decide
what outcome you need from your response.
Ask if the
person is willing to hear some personal
feedback now. If not, consider asking why. if so, get
good eye contact and choose responses like
Vent or Inform
when you talk so loudly / fast / emotionally
/ intensely / dramatically / I get
distracted / tune you out / feel
This is an
Notice the difference between it and a
judgmental message like "When you're so
hysterical / over-expressive / over-dramatic
/ out of control / reactive /
you gesture so vigorously, I focus on what
you're doing, rand I miss what you're
"(Name), I'm aware of how intensely you feel
about _________." This is
way above your ears now."
"Do you realize
how you're expressing yourself now, and how
it affects me?'
"(Name), I feel
like you're over-reacting to _____________."
people are disturbed by your emoting, I get
uncomfortable / uneasy / distracted."
"When you use
(vulgar, disgusting, provocative) terms and
examples like that, I lose respect for you."
like a false self is controlling you now."
doing it (being over-reactive) again."
Change Their Behavior
need you to speak more slowly and quietly,
and stop waving your arms so I can hear you
better. Are you willing to do that?"
the difference between this and a response
like "Jeez! Calm down, will you?"
"So you really feel
__________ about __________, and you need
__________." This is empathic listening, which
often helps an over-excited person calm
"Will you try to
get your true Self back in charge (of your
Set a Limit
asked you before to try and talk more calmly
(about _______)." If you're not willing to
do that for me I'm going to (hang up /
walk away / put my fingers in my
ears / turn my back /
yell 'STOP!!" / (or
Whatever response you choose,
the other person to "resist" - i.e.
to deny, attack you, get resentful, clam up,
whine, explain, minimize, discount, justify,
argue, shut down, and/or withdraw. If you
don't get a response that feels right, use
empathic listening to respond, and then
calmly and respectfully repeat your original
response. Do this as often as you need until
you feel heard.
Note the theme of these sample responses
- clear, brief, respectful, and direct. No
hinting, name-calling, pleading, joking,
labeling, moralizing, sarcasm, or lecturing.
Then experiment with your own responses to
excessive drama or reactivity. As you do, keep
your definition of
in mind, and enjoy the results!