Ever wonder why we respond to some emotions and react to others? Why we tend to respond to joy, gladness, or happiness, and yet react to anger, grief, and fear?
When we feel, what some refer to as, positive emotions, responses come easy. We smile, laugh, perhaps even beam. People move closer to us. We feel accepted. We learn that positive emotions are preferred. We learn the preference for positive emotions when asked, “How are you?” and we respond eagerly with “Good” “Fine” “Okay” “Great!” We become programmed to respond in preferred ways that, I believe, keep us safe, predictable, and comfortable.
When we feel emotions that some consider more negative, risky, raw, or unacceptable, responses do not come as easy or they come in the form of knee-jerk emotional reactivity that creates discomfort and distance. We cry, yell, scream, swear, sob, throw, hit, run, and even turn colors. People move away from us. We don’t feel understood or accepted.
Ever wonder how we learned emotional reactivity?
Perhaps we were told that we should not feel particular feelings, or we were laughed at, ridiculed, or discounted when we expressed certain feeling. We learned to censor, even sacrifice our feelings out of fear of how others might or might not treat us. We began to feel embarrassed, out of place, guilty, or even stupid when we’d feel certain feelings, such as fear, anxiety, anger, pain, grief, or anguish arose.
Perhaps when we did try to respond to our feelings and emotions, we didn’t get what we needed from others. Instead, people stared, or their eyes darted away, or they avoided us, challenged us, disappeared, walked away, or said something insensitive such as, “This to shall pass” “They’re in a better place” “It’ll be okay” “Don’t cry” or “You have no reason to feel that way.”
Perhaps we were raised in a home where emotional reactivity was common. As children, perhaps we grew up learning how to react to emotions instead of how to regulate and respond to them. Watching adults and other family members argue, yell, and scream to get their needs met most likely taught us ineffective ways of responding to our emotions.
Eventually, we learned to deny our feelings and stuff our emotions, which instigates emotional reactivity.
I’ve known several of these reactive response patterns all too well and have given consideration effort and practice to changing how I respond to my emotions, fortunately for the better. Believe me, we can all learn how to calm emotional reactivity and respond to our feelings and emotions in ways that honor our truth, show kindness to our bodies, and keep us connected to others.
Here’s the thing, calming emotional reactivity involves first, acknowledging and honoring our feelings, each and every one of them. Second, we must choose and practice honest, authentic, and aligned ways of responding to our feelings and emotions, instead of reacting to them. We must, in the essence of Mark Nemo, learn how to float.
First, become mindfully aware of your feelings and emotions before launching into a response. Own them. Avoid resisting them. Be clear about what the feelings are telling you and allow them to be your barometer to what’s unfolding in the moment. Meditation and journaling are beneficial practices for sorting through feelings and emotions. If you discover that the past is creeping into the present, get clear about what that’s about for you. Realize that the past is history. What is occurring in the present might very well have nothing to with the past or the assumptions that you’re mind is creating.
Second, be clear about the thoughts associated with the feelings. Again, own them and don’t resist them. Meditation and journaling can also help sort through the myriad of thoughts that our chatty minds create. Likewise, we sometimes make erroneous assumptions about our feelings that, quite often, are immersed in the past. We resist the present. If I feel anger, it’s best that I feel the anger in the present instead of associating it with someone or something in the past. The past is over.
If assumptions are challenging for you, as they are for me, I recommend Don Miguel-Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. It’s a quick, beautifully profound read and simplistic practice. Additionally, if the feelings your are experiencing are stirring up the past and preventing you from responding, seek some professional support or assistance with processing the past so that you can release it and begin living more fully in the present.
Third, once you are clear about your thoughts and feelings, pause, breathe, and choose an honest, authentic, aligned response that allows you to stay centered, connected, and in control. Mark Nemo’s poem, Learning How To Float provides inspiration for calming emotional reactivity. When we acknowledge, own, honor, and stop resisting our thoughts and feelings, our responses float to the surface.
Sound easy? I can tell you that calming emotional reactivity and learning how to float is not easy. It’s not a light switch that we simply turn on or off. It’s a daily practice. Some days, encounters, and interactions will go smoother than others will…and that’s okay. As The Four Agreements teaches, do your best!
Important to remember: Our lives do not always permit us to respond in controlled and regulated ways. When we experience extreme events and interactions that bring us to our knees, such as the death of a loved one, crushing news, or trauma that takes our breath, responding honestly, authentically, and in alignment might not look or sound “in control.” We do our best while honoring our truth.
If you’re currently practicing responding to difficult emotions and calming emotional reactivity, you are learning how to float. Please consider commenting or sharing resources and practices that are supporting you. I’d love to hear from you!
Sending you inspiration,