How To Be Less Emotionally Reactive

Here I offer my best advice on how to be less emotionally reactive. The process of transcending emotional reactivity is gradual and most challenging. These are also the main reasons I have decided to cover the topic over again.

In this post you will learn about the workings of emotional reactivity which makes for general understanding, while the right pointers and suggestions make it significantly easier to be less emotionally reactive?

To make the process as easy as just possible, it has been divided into 3 steps. The first step is easy, the second step is difficult and the third step is extremely difficult. This is due to the impact emotions have on us.

Note that the first step normally is completely overlooked. Rather than jumping straight to challenging situations, we take a step back and start with the easiest possible real life situations, which leads to immediate results.

Progress is natural encouragement.

As always, the entire text is based on my personal experiences.

What Is Emotional Reactivity?

Every impulse or hint of impatience, irritation, frustration, anger and hatred are forms of emotional reactivity. Happiness and sadness are also emotional reactions.

Verbal abuse, physical assault and murder are the fruits of emotional reactivity as well. Can you see how destructive emotional reactivity is?

What is more, every argument feeds on negative emotions. When two individuals are emotionally reactive at the same time, it quickly escalates to an outright fight. I offend you, and you offend me. Anger builds up like when fuel is poured on fire.

It is the unpleasant or negative emotions that make emotional reactivity so ugly. It is as nasty as the sight of a rotting rat or the smell of pungent sewage.

All of us are emotionally reactive, some more than others. It is a fact that emotional reactivity is extremely difficult to eradicate.

The environment you grow up in forms your emotional patterns to a high degree. Your parents and the culture are the key conditioning factors. Yet, your disposition also plays a vital role.

How often have your parents upset you by pressing the right buttons? How about others who are close to you? This is emotional reactivity.

Here is an important point, you are much more likely to be emotionally reactive to people you know well than strangers. There are several reasons for this. Certain things they say or do really upset you, and it has become a habitual emotional reaction that is hard to restrain.

Moreover, it is generally socially acceptable to be emotionally reactive around people we know well. Thus, it is okay to behave unskillfully.

Being emotionally reactive to strangers, acquaintances or people you only meet occasionally, is a sign that you have an emotional reactivity problem. To be emotionally reactive around people you don't know well is usually not socially acceptable. As a result, most of us do whatever we can to contain the stirring emotions.

When someone doesn't have control over their emotional reactions, the unpleasant mental state or mood can take over the whole room.

How Emotional Reactivity Affects You

It is unpleasant to be irritated and angry. Give attention to your own irritation and anger to find out for yourself.

Individuals who are gravely emotionally reactive often make a scene. That may make you feel you have a lack of control. It is also likely to give rise to guilt and shame, not only in immediate connection with the scene. The guilt and shame may trouble you for the rest of your life.

How Emotional Reactivity Affects Others

For one, no one enjoys spending time with anyone who doesn't have control over their temper. Picture being with someone who flares up with anger over and over again. It is most unpleasant.

Children immediately get afraid when they are exposed to anger. The same holds true for adults, but to a lesser degree. It is unwholesome to be around irritable and angry people.

We tend to think less of those who lack emotional restraint.

Personally, I avoid emotionally reactive people just like I avoid smokers.

The Workings Of Emotional Reactivity

When your Mom tells you to comb your hair every morning before going to school, or your son asks for a new smartphone five times a day, an unpleasant emotional reaction arises in you. Why is that?

The emotional reaction is the result of not liking, not wanting and resisting the situation.

For example, you don't like it when your Mom asks you to comb your hair every morning before you go to school. You think you look cooler with the hair uncombed. After years of, "Comb your hair darling," you are sick of hearing it. You may shout, "Leave me alone," or bang the front door to a close without saying a word.

Emotional reactions are instantaneous, subconscious and can be intense. In other words, the emotional reactions are speedy, you are not aware of them and the pull of the emotion can be really strong. Instead of being aware of the emotion, you are overtaken by it. Phrased differently, one could say that you become the emotion.

In order to stand any chance against emotional reactivity, you need to be aware of your emotional state. The combination of speed, lack of awareness and the sheer power of emotions is what makes it so challenging.

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Being Less Emotionally Reactive (Step 1)

It is many many times easier to become aware of emotional reactivity after the emotional outburst than during it. The speed at which the emotions flare up is that fast. Likewise, the emotional pull is truly challenging, which makes it really difficult to curb the emotion.

Step 1 is the easy way to be less emotionally reactive. Before we look closer at the simple approach, let us go over the prerequisites to success.

You must be willing to change your behavior and harder yet, you must be willing to let go of the unpleasant emotional reactions.

Most of us feel guilty and shameful about our lack of emotional control. Let this inspire and motivate you to work on yourself.

Step 1 is all about distancing yourself from the situation that triggers the emotional reaction. By distancing yourself you have more time at hand. As you already know, emotional reactions arise instantaneously. With some distance you can easily overcome that challenge.

Further, it is much easier to become aware of emotional reactions after they have arisen than during the actual outburst. The distance to the situation solves that problem too.

Finally, the emotional pull is much easier to handle from a distance than during the emotional flare up. Distance is the key to making it easy.

Do this, select an email or a smartphone message to work with. It should be a message that calls forth an unpleasant emotional reaction in you. Then wait for a few hours or days, if necessary. Time (distance) is a powerful tool.

When you have become clearly aware of the emotional reaction and it has worn off, reply to the message without being emotionally reactive.

At first, select emails or messages that cause minor emotional reactions. Once you have built confidence, pick messages that trigger intermediate emotional reactions and so on.

Give credit to yourself every time you succeed in sending a message without being emotionally reactive.

So, what can we learn from step 1? That it is much much easier to contain emotional reactions from a distance, in other words, some time after you have read the message. You also learn to let go of your negative emotions.

Practice step 1 for quite some time. Don't rush to step 2, which is much more challenging.

Being Less Emotionally Reactive (Step 2)

Unlike step 1, step 2 is in real time. That makes it much more difficult to become aware of the quickly arising emotion and to resist its pull.

Step 2 is about working with lingering emotions and the potential threat of an emotional outburst. It is much easier to handle lingering emotions in real time than explosive outbursts. In addition, step 2 only deals with brief encounters to keep it as easy as possible.

Here is an ideal example of a step 2 scenario:

When you get home you see that your roommate hasn't washed the dishes, this immediately calls forth anger in you. You knock on his door and remind him to clean up after himself, in an irritated voice. Soon after he clears all the dishes.

A few hours later, your roommate comes by the living room to say goodnight. You are still upset, the negative emotions are lingering. Rather than speaking with irritation in your voice, fully let go of the unpleasant emotions when you say, "Goodnight." Your face shouldn't express irritation or anger either.

Pick your situations with care and be prepared to interact with your friend, whenever he shows up, without being emotionally reactive. Thinking about what has happened, while waiting, will only fuel the unpleasant emotions. Try your best to put it aside.

Keep in mind that there is a potential risk of an emotional flare up.

It is also possible for you to seek up your roommate. That does away with the element of not knowing when he will come by, which makes it easier.

Step 2 teaches us to momentarily let go of unpleasant lingering emotions, in real time. Working like this creates a pleasant atmosphere.

Most of us will never make it beyond step 2. Strong emotions are simply too difficult to curb. Practice well and you will be able to let go of lingering emotions.

Being Less Emotionally Reactive (Step 3)

Step 3 is in real time and you have to face the emotional reactions as they erupt. The unpleasant emotions are fast, challenging to become aware of and the emotional pull can be intense.

Focus on wholeheartedly accepting the situation as it is, which lessens the emotional reaction. Make utmost effort not to be emotionally reactive. Simply don't allow yourself to lose emotional control.

For most of us, this is by far the most challenging area of personal development. How do you soothe or calm burning emotions?

Emotions are like wild animals. How do you tame them? Can you ever trust a tamed animal?

Even decades of dedicated meditation practice do little to change emotional reactivity patterns, but it is true to say that meditation effectively heals emotional wounds.

I would like to add that major spiritual transformations do reduce emotional reactivity.

Don't skip meals, since hunger make us prone to emotional reactivity.

Keep in mind that even working on step 1 makes the world more beautiful. Do what you can to minimize your emotional reactivity.

Best of luck!

Related:   Irritation And Anger   Dealing With Frustration   The Revengeful Mind

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