In my previous blog, I wrote about how reactivity shuts off the thinking part of your brain and leaves you feeling out-of-control.
How can you get a grip?
You might think that avoiding someone who makes you angry is a way to be less reactive.
Yet, cutting yourself off from someone can itself be reactive behavior: Distance doesn’t mean that you stop thinking about that person or that the connection is broken. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that the other person doesn’t exist.
Moreover, the people who make you angry are often also the same people you love deeply, so cutoffs are not really an option unless you want to avoid close relationships. If you are going to be in relationship to others, it is worth learning to tolerate uncomfortable situations.
Another way you might try to keep your reactivity in check would be to assume an attitude of thoughtfulness and calm even if you don’t feel that way.
Sometimes, acting as if you are calm–even if you are upset–may actually help you to calm down and be more thoughtful. But beware of taking this posture just to demonstrate your superior ability to behave wisely. If you are doing anything to “stick it” to the other person or show them up, you are still being reactive, even if your behavior has the outward appearance of coming from the best in you.
On the other hand, working to cultivate the ability to stay calmer under stress (for example, through meditation) will help you to be your best self when your buttons get pressed.
So, how can you develop the ability to respond well to difficult situations?
A good place to start is to develop an idea of how you would like to act when faced with anxiety.
For example, how would you like to respond:
- When someone you love disappoints you deeply?
- When someone you love challenges your deeply held beliefs, or encourages you to challenge your deeply held beliefs?
- When someone you love treats you in a way that reminds you of painful experiences in your past?
Clearly, choosing to be less reactive in such situations is not easy work. It often means questioning cherished beliefs. You will have to give up the notion that life should always unfold as you want it to. You will have to recognize that people who are important to you do not always behave as you want them to.
In my work with individuals and couples, I help people to develop clarity about how they want to respond to life and to those they love. As I noted above, a big part of this is learning how to calm yourself.
Because we’re human, we are always going to be reactive at times. But when you are clear about how you want to behave and how you want to live, it becomes a little easier to monitor your feelings, slow down your reactions, curb your reactivity, and act in a way that has integrity for you.