How to Avoid Falling into the Reactive Abuse Trap

Oh, how Hijackals love to poke, prod, and provoke you into losing it and reacting, right? And then they like to wind you up further so you’ll yell, blame, complain, and meltdown. Crazy-making?


Learn ways to not go there, to not react, to not behave like the Hijackal…or the way the Hijackal wants to manipulate you into behaving, How to choose control and calm instead. Yay!


  • Nasty, manipulate way to make you out to be the abuser – Don’t let it happen.
  • Be careful: Hijackals and other narcissists attempt “reactive abuse” to keep you feeling wrong, thoughtless, confused, and small. DoNT’t let them!
  • Hijackals like to push you to reactive abuse when you are out with other people. Some do it to make a reason to call the police and make a scene. Don’t let them.


Here is some more on reactive abuse:

12 Ways Fawning Keeps You Stuck in Emotional Abuse

TRANSCRIPT for this episode:

Dr. Shaler [00:00:24]:
You, you know, reactive abuse, we know what it sounds like, but it is much more grungy, much more backward, much more fundamentally offensive than we can maybe even think about when we first hear it. Because reactive abuse is a set up. It’s a manipulative setup in order to prod you and poke you and provoke you into getting into an argument with a hijackle or a narcissistic person. And their whole purpose is to trigger you until you become upset. And then when you become upset, they push you further. And then they hope that in the pushing you will do or say something that you will then be able to be spoken to by them. To say that you are the abusive person. Look what you just did.

Dr. Shaler [00:01:35]:
That’s nasty. It’s manipulative, it’s very intentional. And it is with. Not only intentional, but with the purpose often of being able to call the police. And this is important for us to see. It’s particularly important at festive times of the year because hijackles don’t like to not be the center of attention. How about that for a double negative? They want to be the center of attention. So if they can set you up to be worse than they are and then call the police, they have a big win in store in their minds.

Dr. Shaler [00:02:22]:
And because it’s happening at a time of year when people have expectations that things are going to go well, that we’re all going to get along, that everybody’s happy, everybody’s planning on having a good time, then it can go very far for sideways. And the memory of it can last such a long time. Have you had that happen? Maybe not during the holidays, but maybe just. There’s no just maybe in your relationship. And the reactive abuse is meant to say, you’re bad. You are the one who causes all the problems. You are the abuser. Now, you know that that occasionally is probably true.

Dr. Shaler [00:03:15]:
Occasionally you say things out of sheer frustration, anger, upset, that you don’t want to say, but you just hit the wall and said it. But when it’s set up for you, particularly intentionally set up for you, it is very manipulative. Doesn’t just happen, but it’s very directive. And we want to talk about that in this episode because I’ve done other episodes on reactive abuse, and it’s important to know what it is and I’ve gone into it deeply there. But we want to know how to stop falling into the trap of reactive abuse because it can be something that you just fall into frequently and then kind of leaves you with that feeling of, how did I get here and how do I get out of it? And it’s confusing because it’s as though you fell over something you didn’t know was there and ended up on the ground hurting. And then someone’s telling you, well, it’s your fault, you did it. So reactive abuse is very important to understand because it is sneaky and it’s manipulative and it’s kind of under the radar way of getting you to be upset and to say something that they want you to say, but they can call it and call you on it. So it’s an attempt to engage you in a debate about behavior, yours, but usually it stems from you wanting to have a conversation about their behavior.

Dr. Shaler [00:05:25]:
And when they see that coming, they start to manipulate it to their own advantage and start turning it into your behavior as opposed to their behavior that you’re discussing. And then they push on it. And your natural tendency is to feel, that’s unfair, that’s not right. I didn’t do that. I didn’t say that. But they’re pushing. They’re pressing. Then we get those pieces that I did a podcast on just a couple of weeks ago, the idea of plausibility, the plausible law lie, rather the plausible narrative, and you get very confused.

Dr. Shaler [00:06:10]:
It’s very easy to get very confused because pieces of it will be accurate and pieces of it will not. But when they want to bring you into this debate with the sheer purpose of making you wrong, that starts the story changing and changing and shifting and shifting and can get very caught. And one of the other big pieces that go with this, and I think everyone who’s listened to me for a while, and I’m so glad you’re here, if you’ve listened for a while, you understand what projection is important to see it in the light of reactive abuse. Projection is when a hijackle or anybody doesn’t want to take responsibility for what they’re doing and saying. So instead of taking responsibility or being accountable, they turn what’s actually their behavior and they say it’s your behavior, they project it onto you. And that’s at the basis of reactive abuse. They’re going to turn the behavior that you know and they know is their behavior because they do know what they’re doing. They’re going to turn that behavior to say, oh, no, it’s what you do.

Dr. Shaler [00:07:51]:
It’s you who starts this mess. If it weren’t for you, everything would be better, but it’s your fault. And so we get into that projection piece. When you see that happening, it goes hand in hand with the gaslighting piece. Gaslighting is when someone decides to tell you what your reality is. They will tell you that. They know what you think, or they know what you feel, or they know what you remember or what you want or what you prefer or what your motives are. They’ll tell you that.

Dr. Shaler [00:08:34]:
They’ll have the audacity to tell you that. And that’s projection. They’re afraid it’s true of them, and they don’t want to hear about it. So they say it’s true of you. And that goes hand in hand, as I said, with the reactive abuse, because they know what you’re afraid of. They know where the wrinkles are. They know where your triggers are. They know where your vulnerabilities are, and they will turn it on you.

Dr. Shaler [00:09:15]:
And it’s really important to see it coming because of the plausibility. Maybe I do it sometimes. Yeah. Remember I did it once, but they’re telling you, you always do it, and that’s how you roll. That’s who you are. That’s how it is. And it’s not all projection. We’re talking about reality in terms of the hijackle.

Dr. Shaler [00:09:47]:
It’s about projection. And we don’t want to get sucked into that conversation. That conversation is not honest. Truly not honest. So I hope in this episode we can really think about. Got to remember this, because in the holidays we’re on this strange programming, the strange programming to be super nice, even to people who are raging hijackles. And I’m a super fan of people not being invited to the homes of people they abuse. That’s just a little sidelight in tonight’s episode, but it’s really important, don’t ever tell children to stay away from a certain person who you’ve invited into the home.

Dr. Shaler [00:10:50]:
That person should never have been invited. You’re teaching your children to make excuses for people who are abusers. Please don’t do that. But also, please don’t accept reactive abuse instigation from people that you know will engage in it. And they like to do it in front of people. That’s another reason I’m bringing it up just now because of the holiday season. They like to push the buttons. They like to say, I’m not doing anything.

Dr. Shaler [00:11:32]:
I’m just telling you how it is, how you usually are. If you get upset about that, that’s on you. But I’m just telling you, and they like to do it, as I said in front of other people, and that’s you as the healthier you, the healthier human in the group, you are not going to make a big fuss, and they’re going to count on that. But you do need to be clear that you are not going to engage in getting to a place where you lose it because they pushed your buttons. Agreed. Have a high five above that because that’s what they want to do. They want to push your buttons. So how do you stay away from that? You stay away one way, by staying those four healthy steps back.

Dr. Shaler [00:12:33]:
Don’t be right in it emotionally. Don’t be ready to say, no, that’s not true, or you’re wrong or you’re doing that on purpose. Take four healthy steps back in your mind and say to yourself, that has nothing to do with what actually happened, Aura. I know that this is a set up for reactive abuse, and I’m not going there. I’m simply not going there. I’m just going to breathe my way out of it. And each time they try to suck you in, you exhale and breathe your way out of it. You find that you can become much stronger than you think.

Dr. Shaler [00:13:19]:
When you’re a little bit ahead of the curve, you know what’s coming. You know that they want to engage you in this reactive abuse and you are saying, no, I know this game. I’m not playing. I’m absolutely not playing. Sometimes I heard clients who just said, I know what you’re doing. You think you’re going to blame me. You think I’m going to get upset about it, and then I’m going to get upset enough to be angry, and then I’m going to say or do something that you will be able to use against me. No, already have the playbook.

Dr. Shaler [00:14:02]:
Already understand completely how that works. Doesn’t work anymore, isn’t working, won’t work. And make sure it doesn’t. Just make sure it doesn’t, because you can have that strength. It doesn’t take a lot when you see it in the beginning, when you begin to realize, oh, we’re going to go down that path. They’re going to want to reach for the abusive control, see if they can get me to blow up. No, there’s a lot to think about. You can deep breathe, you can go for a walk.

Dr. Shaler [00:14:45]:
You can start a conversation with someone else. You can see where they’re going and refuse to go along with them. And you can even leave the premises if you need to. You’re very powerful, but when you get caught off guard, it’s more difficult to be powerful. But you have a lot of power now. Yes, they don’t like you to leave. Sometimes they’ll make it impossible for you to leave, but at other times you can ask someone to take you somewhere and then they can’t do anything about it. But you can leave in your mind, which comes to shove, that’s what you need to do.

Dr. Shaler [00:15:31]:
Leave in your mind just so. Okay, their mouth is going, they must be lying and I am not going to be the least bit touched by what they’re lying about. All I need to know is that I’m just going to tell my truth and I do not have to go sideways with those folks. So this becomes very important. They’ll get very quick about it if they think that they are losing market share, if they’re not getting enough airtime at a family event, particularly holiday time, is a time when hijackles love to showcase themselves as the superior one or the victim, and they love to do it in a showy way. They like to do it where more people see it than not know these things are going to happen and refuse to participate. Just take yourself out of it. Don’t bother rolling your eyes where they can see it because that’s the same as poking a hijackle.

Dr. Shaler [00:16:49]:
But internally, roll your eyes and go, oh, we’re going to do playbook number six, trying to get a reactive abuse suggestion. What do I do here? I don’t play. I don’t play. I simply say, not the way I remember it. No, it didn’t happen where I was. Things like that stay very neutral, stay very honest, and don’t go along with what it is that they’re engaging you with because they really want to engage you. And then they can say, there, see, I proved to you that this person is abusive because I got them all riled up and then they said something nasty and that’s what I have to put up with. I have to put up with it all the time.

Dr. Shaler [00:17:48]:
Have you had that experience? I bet you have. If you’ve been with a hijackle for very long and you do not want to allow reactive abuse to become part of the frequent flyer club that’s created in the different things that the hijackle does, as soon as you can disabuse the hijackle of the idea that they are going to get what they want by doing a certain strategy or by saying certain things and they go through a period where they’re really angry that they’re not able to topple you like that. And then they go and try a different strategy, but eventually they get tired. Now, yeah, there are a few that never get tired. They just get more and more difficult. They get more and more combative and they can be more and more dangerous. But generally we’re talking about people who are emotionally abusive and verbally abusive. And so when they learn that their emotional abuse skills that they have, like trying to engage you in reactive abuse, don’t work, they get angry.

Dr. Shaler [00:19:20]:
But then when it continues, when these skills still don’t work, then they get bored and then they move on. So it’s up to you to understand that if you give in to the reactive abuse, then you haven’t honed your skills very well. And one thing I hear about during the holidays a lot is people with hijackle parents. They go home to reactive abuse because the parents haven’t been around them for a while. And so the parents will start kidding and choking. Ha. I think we should put that in air quotes. And they try to get away with saying something and they try the oh, I’m just joking line and then they try again to poke at you.

Dr. Shaler [00:20:17]:
And then when you get sullen or you sulk or you walk away, then they think they’ve won, but they haven’t. When you walk away, you have won because you are not going to go down that path with them and allow them to tell you that you were abusive. You walked away. There was nothing for them to say that you were abusive about. And that becomes super important. So you want to see it coming and then you want to get wise to that. At that moment you see it coming, you start saying, but I don’t want any of that. So you make a decision that, no, I’m not going to participate in that.

Dr. Shaler [00:21:09]:
And then dial it back yourself. Just dial it back. That you might laugh a little more at the behavior. You might have to go to the restroom. You may need to talk to someone who’s just arrived. There’s a million things that you can go and do, but do not allow them to set the tone nor decide on the direction of the conversation. When you can see that the direction is all about getting you into reactive abuse because that’s a way to show power over you in a way that will teach many that they have it all at once. Now where it really backfires is when you don’t go there and they get angry.

Dr. Shaler [00:22:11]:
You don’t go there. So I want to also, I know you may not think this is nice at all, but I want you to be ready that when they are abusive, that you will call the police, no matter whose party you’re at, no matter how old your parents are, no matter whose feathers you’re ruffling, don’t let hijackles behave badly. Don’t let them threaten you. Don’t let them make fun of you. Don’t let them threaten you. Don’t let any of that happen. So when they try to pull one of these things in front of other humans, they should be wiser than that because you have a bunch of people who just heard what they did and saw what they did. Be on it.

Dr. Shaler [00:23:09]:
Be in it. Sure, it’s the holidays. It doesn’t matter. Their behavior is their behavior is their behavior. Watch that little part of you that says, oh, well, we want to make nice at the holidays. I think it would be nice for you to have somebody’s behavior on record so that they may not do it again or may not do it again for a long time. I think that’s what would be nice. It’s not nice to excuse their behavior.

Dr. Shaler [00:23:43]:
It’s not nice to let them get by with the behavior. That’s certainly not helpful. But we tend to do it because we come from the healthier human planet, not the hijackle human planet. And there’s always that distinction in my books because I divide the world into hijackle humans and healthier humans, and hijackle humans always need somebody to be wrong. They always need somebody to be better than. They always need somebody to be more accurate than, and they like to do it in front of others. Have you noticed that they count on that you will be the healthier human that they can say or do something nasty, and you will let it slide and let it ride. And when you don’t, even though, yes, sure, you’ve definitely stepped out, caused something to go sideways, but when you finally step out and cause something to go sideways, you put the hijackle on notice.

Dr. Shaler [00:25:01]:
This isn’t happening again, this whole reactive abuse thing, not happening, not available, not part of what goes on between us or in front of other people. Have you had that feeling like, oh, he can’t show them up in front of other people, or you have to make nice, or you have to make them look good or you don’t want to disturb the party. Do you think you could break yourself with that? I know it’s difficult because you’re healthier, human, and you want it to be nice, and you don’t want to be the one who spoiled it. But remember, the hijackle is setting you up for failure. They’re setting you up to be less than. They’re setting you up to be wrong. They’re setting you up to even be wrong. In the eyes of the law.

Dr. Shaler [00:26:08]:
They do that and think how often that’s happened. So I just wanted to bring that attention to you this evening to see that for what it is. Could we have a holiday season that we don’t allow it again? Could you do that? Would you do that? Would you refuse to go with them somewhere because you can feel it building? You know that they’re going to go down, the reactive abuse silo and you don’t want to be part of it. Can you say no? I hope you can. These are really important pieces. So I just wanted us all to have thought that one through before we end up at a family home or family gathering or somewhere, that it’s very likely that there’s going to be abuse that is supposed to be able to be ignored. And abuse needs to never be ignored. It needs appropriate action taken, and that’s what police are for.

Dr. Shaler [00:27:32]:
So I hope that helps you. And until we meet again, take very good care of yourself because you’re precious and you matter. So show yourself that you do. Talk soon thank you for joining me.

Dr. Shaler [00:27:50]:
On the Savior Sanity podcast today. I hope you’ve had some insights, ideas and strategies to help you gain clarity and confidence for moving forward toward greater emotional health and safety. You deserve that and so do your children. If you found value here and would like to support this podcast with one or $5 each month, please do Saveyoursanity also, learn more about how to with me via video conference. Join my emerging empowered community. Subscribe to this podcast, find my books all by visiting Talk soon.


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