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Are You a Reaction Machine?

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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Are You a Reaction Machine?


Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationship counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well. They have appeared on over two hundred radio and TV programs. Linda and Charlie are co-authors of the widely acclaimed books: 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last (over 100,000 copies sold) Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love, and Happily Ever After...and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams. The Blooms are excited to announce the release of their fourth book, That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They live in Santa Cruz, California, near their two children and three grandchildren. To view our upcoming events and to sign up for our free newsletter, visit our website at:

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APA Reference
Bloom, L. (2020). Are You a Reaction Machine?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jul 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.