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3-Stage Abreaction

The 3-Stage Ab Reaction is a linear process based on a pattern of emotional chaining. When someone does not like the response they are getting, or are not getting their own way, then they often fall into this pattern where their behaviour gets progressively worse as they progress through the stages.

Children and teenagers are experts at the 3-Stage Abreaction and use it regularly to try to get their own way. Think of a young child in a supermarket being told they cannot have any sweets or a teenager being told to change the way they have dressed for a night out with friends.

Adults tend to use it less often but, once they do discover it, they often rely on it to try to influence or manipulate their colleagues - many do this subconsciously without even realising it.

Stage 1 - The Signal
This is the first stage where the person presents an implied threat by stating how they feel. There is usually a non-verbal implication which suggests they are not only handing the responsibility for the way they feel back to you as their leader, but are also handing you the responsibility for changing the way they feel.

Stage 2 - The Threat
If the person does not get their own way then, in this second stage, they increase the amplitude of their original signal. In other words, there is an increased emphasis on the original signal with an increase in the symptom but this also comes with an increased implication that you, as the leader, are responsible for the solution.


Stage 3 - The Punishment
This final stage is the abreaction itself, in which the person creates a high level of emotional disturbance often associated with a physical manifestation. They are placing the entire blame on you (as the leader) for their emotional feelings and outbursts, and this can often be quite a violent experience.







The trick for a leader is to recognise the behavioural chain pattern for each individual they work with and this will then interrupt it before it runs through to the final stage which is often destructive.

  1. Recognise the first stage symptoms - keep a log of any patterns you identify so that you recognise them quickly when they appear.

  2. Refuse to engage in the interaction with the person - simply walk away and let them continue their own drama - lack of an audience can often be a calming effect.

  3. If walking away is not possible then use a provocative pattern interrupt - do something that the other person does not expect e.g. stand silently and ignore them, pick up a book and start reading it, start singing to yourself and dance around, scream - anything that is totally unexpected and out of character because this typically shocks the other person for a split second (thereby interrupting their behaviour pattern) and will give you time to regain control of the situation.

Obviously, the best way is to prevent an abreaction from occurring in the first place and this is typically done by creating an environment in which any escalation in behaviour is recognised and dealt with instantly, especially if the individual is abdicating responsibility for their own emotions and actions. Although this may sound harsh, it is a lesson that many leaders need to learn, especially when they first move into a leadership position and have to interact and engage with their colleagues in a different way.

Here are some examples of how someone might behave at the different stages in different scenarios. 

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