All humans are emotional. We just don’t all show it in the same way. If you have a quick, dramatic outbursts or shifts in emotions that can be overwhelming, we call that “reactive.”
What a lot of people don’t understand about emotional reactivity is that it’s not a choice. It’s a trigger that fires and we’re off to the races! This happens because the part of the brain that controls thought and reasoning has gone off line.
The part that is in control of survival is driving the train and it just wants to be safe. It will do anything to to get there.
Examples of Emotional Reactivity
Explosive anger, puffing up, and getting big or loud is an obvious sign of reactivity. It typically leads to other people backing off. It also lets off a lot of repressed energy quickly.Shutting down. This could be ignoring the other person or resorting to the silent treatment. This is a passive form of reacting that can be overlooked because it’s not loud and scary.Leaving. This could mean leaving the space or relationship or cutting someone out of your life. This could be a reasonable response to a toxic situation. When it’s a way to avoid solving problems, it’s a sign of reactivity. Appeasing someone by saying yes when you mean no, making them laugh, or taking on responsibility for cheering them up. It diffuses the strong emotions and creates peace for you, but it doesn’t address your own feelings.
If It’s Not a Choice, How Do We Manage It?
There are two paths to extinguishing emotional reactivity. For full self-control, it’s best to use both.
The first is to calm the brain so it isn’t so sensitive. A calm brain will only react when there is true danger. This reserves big responses for big problems.
The second is to learn ways to deal with problems in a healthier way. Anger is good, but when it’s scary and abusive, it hurts people, so we don’t want to do that.
Shutting down stops the conflict from escalating, but it comes at a cost of you checking out of life.
Leaving is also useful, but the things you flee from are still there. You don’t learn how to stand up for what you believe in, negotiate, hear the other person out, and come to a mutually satisfying agreement that keeps the relationship intact.
Appeasement diffuses stress, but you can’t control the world. It won’t work all the time. And when do you get to feel your feelings if you are controlling things all the time? It’s a very unfair and manipulative situation.
Most likely, you’re not going to let go of any of these strategies unless you have something better to replace it with. That’s why you need skills.
If I can help with either of these things, don’t hesitate to reach out.