Picture being out on a nice stroll. It’s a beautiful evening and the sunset is revealing lovely blue and pink hues. Then, all the sudden, while passing a neighbor’s yard, an enormous dog comes storming up to the fence line, running back and forth and barking aggressively. This is what one does when being emotionally reactive.
People are flooded with feelings and emotions all day long. And for some of us, when we see something we don’t really like or that goes against our values, we react somewhat like a savage. It’s an unconscious delivery and already in motion before we have a chance to get control.
This type of reaction causes much more strife than it’s worth. Being held captive to our emotions is a slippery slope. This isn’t limited to road rage and controversial conversations.
Emotionally reactive people oftentimes have outbursts with their loved ones, friends and work relationships. And it certainly doesn’t elicit intelligence. In fact, it’s a terrible weakness and unhealthy for mind, body and spirit.
Techniques to Control an Emotionally Reactive Response
It’s not easy to gain control and master emotions, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Being emotionally reactive is a hindrance to basic communication skills. And in today’s world, it can be incredibly hard to interpret the meaning and tone behind texts and emails.
The following techniques are helpful in gaining emotional control and learning to practice proactivity, rather than reactivity.
Inquire, Don’t Accuse
Usually when an emotionally reactive response is about to take place there is an unintentional misunderstanding, or one simply feels attacked. Before the reaction, ask questions. Get clarification. Be curious about the true meaning or intention of the circumstance. Assuming one already knows the answers is dangerous territory. So, don’t be afraid to ask and get clarity. It could save face and prevent an apology later.
Remember, It’s Not Always About YOU!
Taking things personally is an emotional trigger for many folks. This is usually centered around low self-esteem and ego battling one another for control. Before any type of reaction, take a deep breath, count to 10 and decide if this is really about oneself or if another person is dumping their own emotional baggage. Sometimes people have bad days. And, sometimes those bad days come out as bitterness and hell-raising outbursts.
When the mind is uptight, so is the body. Take a few seconds to relax posture, facial expression and heart rate before responding. A lot of people, when feeling threatened, cross their arms and grit their teeth. Try some deep breathing exercises or visualize a calm and soothing place. This simple technique not only loosens up the body, but also gives the brain time to prepare an alternate response.
Validate the Other Person
When heated discussions arise, the easiest way to redirect another person is to validate their stance. Use compassion and empathy to achieve a greater understanding of their perspective. We aren’t going to always agree with everyone else.
Take the time to thank someone for their input and refrain from immediately attacking their opinion with phrases like “I appreciate your theory” or “I love how passionate you are about this subject”. It’s impossible to argue with someone who agrees.
Is It Worth It?
When we are emotionally reactive, we simply aren’t thinking… just responding. Consider the circumstance or person evoking this emotional turmoil. Is it worth it? Is this person worth it? Is this important? Are the consequences worthwhile?
Many times, overreacting is second nature and repercussions aren’t considered until it’s too late. Losing control rarely outweighs clear thinking and deliberate responses.
Write it Out!
For some people the best defense against being emotionally responsive is to write it down. Be it a journal or a pros and cons list, it doesn’t matter. When the emotions are in black and white and reread, it becomes easier to identify and reframe an untoward response.
Before quickly replying to a text makes one angry, create a practice text and hit that backspace key over and over again until the perfect reply is formed. We aren’t in control of another’s intentions; we are only in control of how we choose to interpret things and our responses.
Perhaps the best part of reframing responses and avoiding emotionally reactive retorts is in the change we initiate in others. When people are treated with respect and feel understood their disposition is much more pleasant than when they feel under attack.