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Managing Your Emotional Reactivity – Karla Downing

January 23, 2019

Managing Your Emotional Reactivity

If I had to identify one of my worst character flaws, it would be that I am emotionally reactive. This means that I blurt out the first thing that pops into my mind forcefully. These thoughts aren’t necessarily the same ones I have after giving the situation consideration. Honestly, I have grown a lot in this area, but I still need to pay attention to what I say when I am emotional.    


When we aren’t emotional, we are acting from our higher thinking brains where we have impulse control and filters for our thoughts and words. Whether it is fear, anger, irritation, disappointment, rejection, embarrassment, or any other emotion, when we are in “feeling mode,” we are acting from our lower brains where there is no thinking or reasoning. Our lower brains react automatically without filters to protect us, but they don’t always know what is the best way for us to react.


Proverbs 14:1 says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (NIV). Emotional reactivity is destructive to our relationships because we say things that damage people.


In 1 Peter 3:1-4, Peter talks about a woman having a gentle and quiet spirit that will win her husband over by her behavior rather than her words. The word “gentle” means mild or meek with a soothing disposition. It is the same word that is used to describe Jesus in Matthew 11:29 where He is described as “gentle and humble in heart.”


Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this describes someone who is a doormat; instead, it is describing someone who has His strength and power under control.


Jesus had all the resources of God available to Him and yet He managed them in such a way as to be self-controlled and deliberate in everything He said and did.


My name, Karla, means strong woman. I am a type A, choleric, first born strong woman. I love knowing that God doesn’t want me to try to be someone He didn’t create me to be. I can be strong – I just need to manage that strength.


As women, we influence everyone and everything in our homes. When we are reactive, the other person reacts back. Conflict escalates and healthy communication becomes unlikely.       


Rather than setting up an environment where everyone is reacting to each other, we can model being intentional in what we say and do.


All of us have layers of emotions that drive our reactions to other people. The emotions are based on our past experiences, personalities, coping mechanisms, current state of being, and relationship dynamics. These layers makes close relationships more difficult and reactive than casual relationships. It is hard to step back when it feels personal, but we must, or the emotional reactivity will sabotage our relationships.


Instead of reacting emotionally, we can become masters at managing our emotions.


Pay attention to what you are feeling. Step back and think. Get your emotion under control so you can filter your reaction to make it helpful rather than hurtful. Now, that takes strength.  


Wife Step: Assess the damage emotional reactivity has done in your marriage. Commit yourself to managing your emotions. The next time you are emotional, step back and think before speaking.


Karla Downing, the founder of, offers Christian marriage help and Christian relationship help as a speaker, author, counselor, and Bible study teacher. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and then found herself struggling with Christian codependency in her own difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles, which she now teaches to others. She also trains counselors, pastors, women’s ministry leaders, church leaders, small-group leaders, non-profit ministry leaders, and individuals to minister to Christians in difficult relationships. Karla’s passion is to see individuals, marriages, and families set free from the chains of dysfunction, misunderstanding, and emotional pain through a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches about relationships.

Karla Downing is the author of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2004 Silver Medallion Award winner, 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages. Her second book, When Love Hurts: 10 Principles to Transform Difficult Relationships, applies the same principles to all family members. Her third book, The Truth in the Mirror: A Guide to Healthy Self-Image, offers a unique and life-changing approach to looking at self-image.

She holds a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Hope International University. Karla also holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communicative Disorders from California State University, Fullerton. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. Karla was also the director of Friends in Recovery, a Christ-based, Twelve-Step recovery program.

Karla lives in Southern California. She has been married for over thirty years and has three adult daughters.


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