What is something all of the reactive-type people you know have in common? I can only answer for myself, but I am asking so that each of us might spend a little time considering our own circle of family, friends and acquaintances. In my experience, this style of communication comes from the people who share a common thread of unease about their safety, mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. The issues differ person to person, but each one of us struggles in some way to feel like we are standing on solid ground. Yes, I said Us. I place myself among my reactive friends, because my initial, internal response is almost always an emotional one. Well, that and I’m pretty good at being a friend to myself. It has taken many years, and the framework of Our Raw Material, for me to observe that reaction with clear objectivity.
I can now ask myself whether my feelings really need to be addressed at the moment, or not. It’s been an ego shock to learn that the answer is most often Not. My first instinct comes from fear for my own safety, not the circumstances themselves. My need to express myself is almost always the loudest speaker, but rarely the most effective. It’s protective of my person, but not necessarily a reflection of anything but my inner reality. Kinda heavy shit, right?
My ignorance about my own reactions had me fighting nearly every battle I encountered for the first part of my life. A big part of me even enjoyed the ‘fight’, as I learned how to push against boundaries early. Creatively, of course–I didn't want to get in too much trouble! I was always the oldest and the tallest, so in elementary school it wasn’t that hard to get my way. I definitely abused that power beyond what I knew was fair, I just hadn’t yet developed the side of me that cared... I was just beginning to get comfortable with my seriously misguided feelings of superiority, when I was blindsided by the emotional petry dish that is Junior High. The universe is funny like that.
Teenage tendencies produce an intricate hormonal root system that puts out so much energy it should be used to power something massive. Walk into any Middle School and you will feel the palpable coursing of energies flowing in millions of directions if you try... From the administration to the students, an ongoing, common belief system is grown, shaped, and tested by how each of us approaches it, and that particular belief system will stick with us for the rest of our lives if we don’t creatively challenge it for ourselves.
The beliefs that I held in Junior High failed to consider how little I knew about the world and how it works, which likely protected me from my highly discordant feelings at the time. That is exactly what happens when we become more reactive than considerate. We are then unable to see the Wholeness of anything because we are operating in some degree of fight or flight most of the time. When we can’t see that (objectively) in ourselves, it becomes a challenge to see it in other people’s responses, because our judgment kicks in, quite naturally.
We all have a general and/or personal idea of what Junior High’ feels’ like, but how closely do you think yours matches up to that of the other kids you went to school with? Our experiences happen in the same building, with the same structure, and the same teachers, yet we are each so different that our opinions about what is good and what is bad are quickly blurred. We encounter differences of opinion. Our communication gets so cloudy so quickly that we begin to feel judged by our environment, and a lot of us end up becoming our own worst critic. If those feelings simmer for too long without any movement, they will become part of our more permanent inner landscape, making it hard for us to trust ourselves to be spontaneous and creative, or support that in the people around us, because we can’t risk something. Fill in the blank.
Knowing ourselves and the things that trigger us, positive and negative, is the fastest way to feeling whole and dealing with life’s presenting conflicts. Just this morning, I struggled to decide what I wanted to eat for breakfast (Libra conflict!). I was thinking oatmeal and Fred wanted eggs and bacon. I threw a third option into the mix, too, even though I’m not supposed to be going anywhere after having a tumor removed from my ankle. An old friend just took a job at a local coffee shop, so I complicated the situation by wanting to go there, too. I knew I needed to rein it in before I spent some portion of my day evaluating this silly choice. Here I am talking about it, so I put my food conflict to constructive use. Here’s how I broke it down for myself:
We have bananas that are perfectly ripe and would be great in the oatmeal. It’s an easy morning and Fred is happy to be cooking. He wants eggs and bacon (with spinach so it’s healthy). I have been off my feet for a week and if I follow the doctor’s orders, I have another one to go, so I’m ‘sticking’ on a concern about feeding my stagnant muscles. I start to push back on bacon, and then realize I’m trying to choose my fear over the joy he’s bringing to the kitchen. I took back my push back and sat down to write. The smell of bacon just began to waft into the living room, where I have set up my command center while I recuperate. I take a deep breath and realize that the whole thought process took longer to write than to think through–it was less than two minutes, overall, and I notice I feel great about that.
I’m fully aware that breakfast indecision isn’t much of a conflict, compared to the serious problems we face in the world, but it is a simple example demonstrating the value of backing up and seeing the bigger picture before going all in on instinct. I’m happy I didn’t dig in about wanting oatmeal, because the smell of the house actually feels safe and supportive to me right now. My oatmeal will be just as good tomorrow morning, and may taste even better, because I’m looking forward to it!
I believe there is an easy way for us to navigate most types of conflict, and it shows up organically when we make it an intentional habit to check in with ourselves - emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. A quick study of our own reactions will lead us to understand why certain things bother us while others are easy to let go. Since our personal preferences and beliefs about how things should be often spill over into our expectations for other people, we frequently lose sight of the context of our own judgment.
This occurs naturally, and can happen in an instant – leading us into a fearful style of thinking before we have had the chance to realize how far we have run with it. We don’t usually see it because we haven’t practiced looking for it. And we haven’t practiced looking because we have all collectively ‘forgotten’ how important the search for it is when we want true communication and conflict resolution. At this stage of our development, we have created an innumerable amount of things in our world, and they have systematically drawn our attention away from our true feelings. We call it advancement, but in paradox, it often sets us back, too.
When we are aware of our own internal and external triggers, we can find ways to soothe our ruffled feathers and know which alert flag to fly, if any. Our judgements are fewer, couched by humanity and reflective discernment, and we let fear fall away where we can. When it becomes ‘uncomfortable’ to allow space for others, it’s time to stop offering it. You are then up against one of your own triggers, so take a few breaths, and care for yourself as needed. Don’t push yourself any further into acceptance than you are comfortable with, because this is all a part of your personal story - your Wholeness. You get to consider your own truths and tell your own story, as others weave their way in and out along the journey. In theory, our Ego keeps us safe, and our Soul keeps us connected.
In practice, the energy of their combined roots will help us all learn to respond to conflict with intentional solutions out in front of angry reactions. Our feelings are only anchored in place if we fail to respond to them. Conflict happens, and then we have growth, over and over again, as a natural part of our being., so it would follow that our resistance to our own emotional experiences informs our style of reaction, from straight denial to full outburst.