Reactive abuse occurs when one or both parties lose control of their negative emotions, their frustrations, or their tempers during times of stress or provocation. An outburst or eruption occurs. In this type of abuse the person does not stop to consider the wisest way to handle the situation and gives vent to immature impulses. They may yell, threaten, throw things, punch walls, belittle, name call, or curse.
Most of us have experienced some of these episodes either with our parents or our spouses. They usually make things worse and they are definitely destructive. In reactive abuse there can be lethal consequences, the worst being murder – which seems to be a clear possibility in the recent Pistorious case. In other situations, injuries to children can occur resulting in child abuse. While reactive abuse and controlling abuse can occur in the same relationship, there is an important difference.
Many counselors do not make this distinction. In reactive abuse the behaviors may look very similar but they are not intended to control the other person or broadly exercise decision-making power over the victim. When we lose control, we can do a lot of harm, but in controlling abuse the main difference is that the abuser does not believe that the victim has the right to make independent decisions if the abuser disagrees with them.
Reactive abuse occurs when one or both people in a disagreement lose control and begin to act in destructive ways. Controlling abuse is an ongoing relationship between an abuser and a victim which can take many forms including reactive abuse, but most often is displayed in more subtle or even hidden ways. It is the result of an ever present attitude and more often calculated reactions, rather than an outburst or loss of control.