People Like to Freak Out
“My number one thing to work on is not being reactive – but appropriateness doesn’t come easily to me sometimes. ”
It’s been well-documented that food allergy reactions are, for some reason, on the rise. I would offer that an even worse kind of reactivity is also on an uptick: emotional reactivity (which we call “screaming”)
Don’t get me wrong; people have always freaked out on each other. But I think you’d agree, that in our era of instant electronic connection, people are freaking out more than ever. Quick, unthoughtful, cruel tweets. Trolls online, filling up comment pages with instant negativity. Couples breaking up because one of ‘em took too long to reply to a text. (She hasn’t texted me back, and it’s been over 20 minutes! She must be cheating!)
A hundred years ago, when people traveled by train or boat, the loved ones left behind would have to wait days or weeks to hear from their dearly departed. Word would finally come through a carefully written postcard or letter. And then they would, upon much reflection, craft a response letter back.
Contrast that with today. As soon as the plane touches down, people rush to whip out their phones, ‘cause Heaven forbid their loved ones go one minute more without knowing if the flight went down in flames.
Yes, emotional reactivity is on the rise, and it’s everywhere. It’s what makes for great reality TV, that’s for sure. But in true reality, it makes for pretty bad relationships. Just like when a body reacts to an allergen, people can react to a perceived threat, or slight, by choking off any future possibilities. That’s the real power of reactivity—it usually creates the very outcomes you were hoping to avoid. A friend fears you’re being too distant, for instance. Now, maybe you’re pulling away from this person intentionally, maybe not. But your friend gets reactive and starts trying to pull you closer in (constantly texting, inviting you to all kinds of stuff, complaining about you to your mutual friends). Suddenly you find yourself wanting to create even more distance! Your friend reacted to feelings of distance, and thus ended up creating more distance in the process.
That’s how reactivity works. Get reactive; get more of what you were reacting to. Or worse. You think a boss is treating you unfairly? Get in her face, or whine about her to others, and guess what? Don’t be surprised if they fire you. Perhaps unfairly, but still.
So, does all this mean we should go through life in a cold, unresponsive way? Never replying to anything for fear of creating the very outcomes we were hoping to avoid? Absolutely not. In fact, that type of cutting yourself off from any and all stimuli is just another form of screaming. Neither freaking out, nor becoming stone cold and silent, is advisable. Both are just reactions, bound to backfire. Think about it: if the body did nothing at all in response to an allergic threat—that could be just as destructive as an anaphylactic reaction. So what do we do?
Learn to respond more, and react less. What’s the difference? A response is thoughtful, while a reaction is an automatic reflex. A response is careful, while a reaction is careless. A response is measured—informed by education, experience, and an estimate of its immediate and long-term effects. When we respond, rather than react, we actually communicate from our highest principles and deepest desires. Reactions, on the other hand, come straight from our most shallow anxieties and fears.
In many ways, this principle is the foundation of all that we teach at ScreamFree.
Peace begins with pause,