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Dysfunction Interrupted-Act or React? How to Handle Those Pesky Negative Events in Your Life

I think we have all been there. Something emotionally distressing happens such as being insulted, bullied, abandoned, fired, slighted or mistreated in some other fashion. The event may be real or it may be that we misperceive what is happening by viewing it through our own personal lens of dysfunctional thinking. The bad behavior of insulting us or whatever is on the person doing it, but whether we choose to blow up, blow it out of proportion or take it inside of us and transform it into self hatred is on us.

How you respond to negative events or stimuli in your environment affects many aspects of your life. Beyond being physically unhealthy to you to become very angry or chronically stressed, these states interfere with the ability to experience joy, remain positive and hopeful and feel in control of your life instead of being controlled by others.

It also affects how you are perceived by others. If you are seemingly out of control or overly negative you are less likely to have supportive and rewarding friendships and may even be missing out on career opportunities. You may find yourself left out of activities with colleagues and experience chronic loneliness which has been related to anxiety and depression.

You may seek solace in alcohol, food, drugs or risky behaviors. You may shop or spend money you can’t afford in order to feel comforted by something new and fun. You may retreat to your bed for extended periods of time and fall behind in your life. You may be modeling all these destructive coping mechanisms to your own children.

Being generally happy and emotionally successful is a skill base. There may be some temperament or genetic factors at play as well but overall you can choose how you react to external events. Controlling your reactions and how you process less than ideal events has everything to do with how emotionally successful and resilient you become and how successfully you navigate what life has to throw at you.

There are several reasons why you may go off the deep end when something unfortunate happens, such as possessing limiting beliefs that don’t allow you to see a different or positive end result, such as finding a better relationship if one is ending.  These limiting beliefs are usually closely tied to low self esteem, which can be corrected.

Another reason is that you may process the information incorrectly or through a dysfunctional lens that wreaks havoc with your emotional and behavioral world. These lenses are not things that you have cooked up to make yourself miserable but rather things that you have learned or picked up along the way. Just as we learn content information, we learn emotional information from those around us. If we have dysfunctional families or others around us we can easily take on their thinking and behavior as our own, not realizing there are better ways out there.

A couple of different psychological skills come into play here and are discussed in depth in the posts to which they are linked. One is the concept of self-soothing which I talk a lot about, and the other is reality testing and eliminating dysfunctional thought patterns that may have clouded how you interpreted the event or how you should respond. Engaging in these two activities prior to responding helps you remain in control, keep your power and not do something you will regret later or that harms you more than it harms the other person.

The third thing you will do after sorting out the reality of things is to examine all your options and make a plan to move through this negative event in such a way that you come out on top instead of a hot mess of emotion guzzling ice cream and alcohol.

These are skills that are easy to learn and practice yourself, although if you have a history of blowing up or imploding in some way you  may need some time and practice, or a coach or therapist to help you.

So here is your procedure when faced with an unfortunate emotional event:

  1. Remain neutral on purpose so that you are able to examine what just happened without the heat of the moment. Tell yourself that you will deal with this and give yourself permission to do so. You don’t have to fly off in a tizzy the minute it happens.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Reality Testing Formula discussed above as well as the Dysfunctional Thought Patterns and be able to identify if they have come into play. If they have then do the corrective work to override them. (This work can be found in my free resource below).
  3. Employ the self-soothing methods also discussed in the linked article to help yourself through the distressful emotions. We all experience distressing emotions, it is how we handle them that matters.
  4. Now that you are in control of yourself, formulate your plan on how to best move through whatever happened. For example, if it was a painful breakup, examine what went wrong in the relationship, whether or not you had a role in it or if you were involved with someone wrong for you and decide how to choose or do better next time. Don’t get bogged down in thinking you will never have another relationship, if you have had one you can have more.

If you think you may be going through life making poor life decisions and repeating dysfunctional patterns that are holding you back and keeping you unhappy, visit us at and use our free resource-

How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns … and a handy chart to help you track your progress

You may also take the Dysfunctional Patterns Questionnaire and see how these are affecting your life right now.

Feel Good For Life!!

Dysfunction Interrupted-Act or React? How to Handle Those Pesky Negative Events in Your Life

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2020). Dysfunction Interrupted-Act or React? How to Handle Those Pesky Negative Events in Your Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2020
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