Dealing with Reactivity

For the scope of this article let’s define ‘reactivity’ in part as a failure to rationally respond to a situation; instead, the subject instinctively reacts or behaves inadequately. Regardless of his better judgement he is compelled to act in accordance to the way he feels. In this sense the reactive person does not exercise practical reason but impulsively acts, giving little or no thought at all to the consequences that may follow from his actions.

The subject can also react to impressions or things that appear real to the mind, such as a piece of rope on the ground mistaken for a deadly snake. Even though there may be no such animal in the area, the person irrationally perceives it all the same, thus stirs within himself a fearful state of having to fight with the creature, which in turn may give rise to all sorts of troubling or obsessive thoughts. So the impressions that provoke our reaction can also stem from within our own imaginings, rather than strictly from the objective environment.

Now in regards to dealing with reactivity, and working to lessen its overwhelming effect, consider adapting the following exercise:

The objective here is to realize that the conditioned processes of reactive behaviour have no absolute authority or hold over our capacity to think freely and rationally. Our ability to reason allows for personal autonomy and release from the disturbing emotions that have their bases in poor habitual modes of thinking.

1) When you find yourself reacting to a difficult situation, pause & notice how your body feels. Scan your entire body from head to toe for any tension in your muscles. Check to see if your breathing is irregular or if there is any dryness in your throat. Do you detect butterflies in your stomach or a burning sensation in your chest. In other words simply experience every part of your physical structure without judging it to be bad or good.

2) Then observe your emotions. Are you afraid, angry or inundated with mixed emotions. Perhaps you are not experiencing any emotion at all; a sort of numbness maybe. Whatever the case, just be aware of the way you feel, and then shift your attention to your mind.

3) Can you tell if your concentration is weak or if your thoughts are fixated on something from your past or if you are concerned about something that might happen in the future. Are your thoughts racing or are they difficult to understand. Observe the state of your mind without trying to control your thinking.

4) Now that you have spent some time with your body, emotions, and your mind, next examine your personal will power. In other words what do you want to do more than anything. Perhaps you want to run away from your present situation or maybe you are craving for something to calm yourself. Whatever it is that you really want to do, just delay it for the time being, and give yourself permission to fully experience the intensity of your wanting, or lack thereof.

5) While you sit with this state, ask yourself if this is the sort of wanting that prompts you to remove something from your present reality, or if it’s the sort of wanting that provokes you to strongly grasp after something. Whatever the object of your personal will might be, allow yourself to be OK with it.

So now that you have created some space between you and the cause of your agitation, it is likely that you will find it much easier to let go of your impulse to react. By bringing some peace to your mind there is more clarity, thus possibilities to choose from, in turn allowing you to execute a course of action that is more constructive and effective, rather than harmful and unproductive.

Don’t just take my word for it, but deliberate upon this psychological exercise to determine if it should hold any merit for you. Perhaps with practice you will not only reduce the level of reactivity in your life but you might come to see that you have much more freedom to act responsibly and conscientiously. There is great joy in coming to know our full reach of command; to put in order and act upon first things first.

About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.
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24 Responses to Dealing with Reactivity

  1. zennfish says:

    Fleabag’s a great example for reactive/impulsive behavior. Creating the space to act and not react in the middle of an emotional storm is not easy and requires a lot of deliberate practice.

    • Fleabag? Are you referring to a book?

      • zennfish says:

        Nah. It is a TV series. BBC. With Phyllis Walter-Bridge.

      • Kewl! How about yourself, what do you do to immediately get your composure back when you find yourself tossed and turned upon the waves of reactivity?

      • zennfish says:

        I withdraw. Not the best way to deal with it but pulling myself back and getting out of the situation/physical space until i recover is the way i cope. sometimes just being present and not take what’s happening personally helps in the moment.

      • zennfish says:

        Well, let’s see. Staying in the moment and breathing into it helps. Withdrawing from the situation/physical space does too.

      • Interesting techniques! There are many types of situations that call for different kinds of action, so the more tools we have at our disposal the better. Building resilience certainly empowers the human soul and enhances our personal freedom. What else might help you lessen your reactivity? Especially during those occasions when you are gripped with intense emotions that seem to cloud your judgement.

      • zennfish says:

        What do you turn to or recommend? Yes, not all situations are equal. It also depends on the people you’re dealing with. I think becoming more self-aware is a good starting point for almost anything.

      • Self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent-will seem to play a major role in reshaping how we react to things. If that is the case then we may have to envision ourselves acting in a more constructive manner. In other words, foresight, which is an important feature of practical reason, seems to be a significant agent in how we respond, i.e. in a wise and loving way. Now to answer your question directly, and in regards of cultivating this inner space, we may do well to ponder the meaning of this verse and what led the author to such a realization: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

      • zennfish says:

        Thanks for sharing. This quote by Frankl really speaks to me as does independent will.

  2. Mick Canning says:

    Perhaps it would be useful to send this to a certain number of world ‘leaders’, who seem unable to act in any other way.

  3. inese says:

    Thank you Jason! That’s a very timely post, something I needed to hear.

  4. Well said Jason. Yes. the ability to observe oneself is a sure steps towards mastery 🙂

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