Does your blood boil when you have to deal with certain people?
Are you unable to converse with one particular colleague or relative without having an argument?
If that’s the case, then you have successfully handed over control of your emotional response system to someone who, for lack of a better term, drives you crazy.
You can’t seem to help it. This person just pushes your buttons.
This inability to deal with someone who gets under your skin actually has a simple, technical name: reactivity.
Technically, reactivity occurs when your emotions flood your brain and you are no longer able to manage your responses rationally.
For many people, this happens with a sibling, a parent, an in-law or a boss. But it could be anyone with whom you have an emotional connection.
When you deal with people with whom you are deeply connected, your subconscious processes start revving up. Your emotions automatically trigger, based on how that individual made you feel in the past.
Exchanges with these people can be terrifically unsatisfying. When you act out your emotive response, you risk further damaging an already frayed relationship.
If you’re like most healthy people, you don’t want that to happen. So, what can you do to take back control?
It’s actually pretty straightforward.
But before I give the solution, I want you to understand the process.
What really happens is that this person, whoever it is, gains control over your behavior.
As she continues to engage with you the way that she does, the exchange escalates and escalates and escalates. As it does, you feed the very process that brings out the worst in you.
In the process, your heart starts to race. Your jaw clenches up. Your palms may start to sweat. Physiologically, your body is getting ready for conflict.
You may even consciously observe these changes. And yet you don’t stop.
You can feel reactivity as it happens inside your body.
Instead, you keep spiraling down the very cycle you are dying to exit. As you continue to engage in this amped up way, you are reinforcing this behavioral pattern by reacting and asking for a reaction back.
So what if you just didn’t react?
What if you remained composed enough to change? To break the cycle?
What if you could settle down, breathe, pause and calmly display your strength by saying,
“hmmm…I’m going to have to think about that?”
The good news is that you can always take back control. You just have to let your brain do the heavy lifting.
The most satisfying part?
You render your agitator completely ineffective. That person who used to steal your brain—who would bring out the worst in you—is left with nothing.
When you feel your body change, and hear your voice going to that shaky place, just stop. Consciously command yourself to stop.
Take a moment to fully re-engage your brain.
Literally, think about claiming the driver’s seat in the conversation. Make the other person a passenger in your car. Make them move at your speed and in your direction.
The thoughtful response is always more powerful because it’s in charge.
It is simple in concept but takes great willpower in the moment.
By overcoming your reactivity, you gain a new, intelligent and responsive way of communicating.
No longer does your button-pusher have the power to control your reactions.
Try it out. When that moment comes, find your logical brain and engage it. Relax.
And watch the power of your thoughtful response.
Carrie is a therapist and licensed attorney in Connecticut with a specialization in divorce mediation and parenting plans. She also runs CT Relational Therapy, LLC and holds a Master's Degree from Fairfield University.
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