Are You a Reaction Machine?

Linda & Charlie Bloom
3 min readJul 29, 2022
pixabay/ID 3194556

People gifted with wonder tend to be easy to spot. They have a joy that seems to require no data and is not diminished by seeming evidence to the contrary. They look up when that decision seems counterintuitive. They are solution seekers, bright side-finders, dream-stokers, and defiant dancers. The world never has enough of such people. –John Pavlovitz in Hope and Other Superpowers (pg. 166)

Linda: When we are reaction machines, acting out our fears, we deny ourselves important information that could be enormously beneficial in terms of the larger purpose of our relationship. Successful couples have learned to bring the more skillful means of curiosity, wonder, and openness to deal with threats. No matter what the issue, they strive to be respectful in the expression of differences. Through their vulnerability and non-defensiveness, they learn from the lessons contained in each situation. This way of being allows them to remain open when things get hot. As they stay open, they see underneath the surface of reactivity to the deeper reality that underlies these emotions.

If we never get to this level of feeling, we can’t learn from our experience. If we don’t learn from our experience, we are condemned to endless cycles of repetitive patterns regardless of who we’re in a relationship with. Successful couples know that when going deeper, they are less likely to be seduced by the idea that they would be happier and find life easier if they were with someone else. This understanding strengthens their commitment to each other.

They come to understand that the problem is not the other person. He or she is simply activating the emotional triggers that signal a need for healing. When we are in our reaction machine mode, we try to discredit or silence them. It is equivalent to shooting the messenger who is bringing bad news. Trying to appease the messenger by telling him what we think he wants to hear isn’t going to change things either. The challenge is to become curious and to learn how to listen openly and non-defensively.

When we start to pay attention to the way we handle differences, we begin to understand the distinction between productive conversations and arguments that tend to focus on blaming each other and leave us each feeling wounded and angry. Conversations focused on understanding each other leave us feeling closer and more trusting. Handling anger skillfully is necessary for wholesome relating. To be whole and free, one needs to be in touch with the entire range of emotions. The process of repressing anger absorbs a tremendous amount of our personal power.

It’s an entirely different world to live in when we make a commitment to life-long learning, which is one of the most important aspects of a joy-filled life. As we deliberately continue to learn throughout our life, we increase our inclusiveness. When we catch ourselves staying with our same old activities, same old ideas, we notice that our life becomes narrow and boring. Realizing what we are missing, we begin the transition from being a reaction machine to becoming an open human being. When we expose ourselves to ideas that are different from our own, this process opens up our mind.

Even science shows how the brain is so plastic that stimulations allow for new neural pathways. When we commit to challenging our beliefs and assumptions, we learn and grow. When we have regular mental stimulation from people who think differently, we expand our understanding. We live with more risk and may find out ourselves inviting complete strangers in a restaurant to come to sit with us to talk. When we trust that as long as we continue to do these things, our life will continue to be interesting. No longer reaction machines, helpless victims of our conditioning, we begin to live a life of freedom and our relationships begin to flourish. Which world do you choose to live in?

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Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW, married since 1972, are experts in the field of relationships and have published four successful books.