I do not back down from a fight. I think quickly on my feet and enjoy pugilist types who are always looking to land a point or a punch. I think it is fun to scrap and throw a hook. But I increasingly find reactivity to be unappealing. The difference between enjoying a fight and being reactive is simple: fighters are in control and reactives are not.
Reactivity comes from emotions. When someone says “I feel triggered” in popular culture it’s viewed as a funny jokey way of indicating that something set you off. But being triggered has a real meaning in psychology. It’s a reaction to a memory, consciousness or unconscious, that is emotional in nature. Generally it’s in reference to something traumatic.
Traumas exist for most of us in our past. When you go back to childhood what we perceived as a trauma when young may not rationally be worthy of the emotional response we have as an adult self, but it is crucial to remember is actually real to the inner child. It’s hard to remember that feelings are not facts. So when you are triggered it’s because you have gone back to a traumatic time where those feelings were absolutely real. But they are not real now.
I used to be intensely emotionally reactive in my twenties and early thirties. I am still physically reactive and likely always will be. That’s a different issue. I’m talking about emotions. When I was younger I was sensitive to being hurt and abandoned. I nurtured codependency and recoiled from those who I perceived as disliking me. Thankfully my godfather noticed this pattern and how it was making me both miserable and unproductive, and introduced me to an old school Swedish family systems psychiatrist.
Now five years into my practice I am finding that I am able to take a beat and assess “why” I am having an emotional reaction. I can track back it’s source to my childhood. I can parent my “inner child” through the reactivity and get back on track. You will often hear me use lots of feeling words. I feel hurt. I feel sad. These help me stop the emotional reactivity. It’s ok to have feelings. It’s ok to express them. But you must be like the fighter. You must as an adult be in control. Your inner child who experiences the trauma as real will never be in control. That’s ok. It is your job to parent your inner child through it.
Obviously this is incredibly hard work. I slip up every day. But I try to work on my self awareness. I try to control my reactivity so my inner child isn’t puking all over the floor. It’s not that I don’t have reactions or emotions. I do. Big time! But I no longer wish to be emotionally reactive. Nor do I wish to be around those who are. We must work on compassion and empathy so that when someone triggers an emotion in you instead of snapping back you work to understand where they are coming from.