Updated: Feb 7, 2022
The illusions that most of us are taught to believe seem so completely real. We believe that we are not the cause of our own pain. We are taught that whatever is the problem, whether it’s within us or outside of us, can be “fixed” by something changing “out there”.
In reactivity, coping with this illusion becomes a painful conflict with our own mind and with the world around us. We adapt to this version of reality by going into stress, overwhelm, feeling threatened, fear, anger, or antagonism. At it’s worst, we are ill-equipped to handle these negative emotions, and were never taught how to deal with them, so instead we convert their energy into anxiety.
To get rid of the anxiety, we push away what we believe is the “source” of the anxiety, or we fight with the source of anxiety. It can be a loved one. A situation. A conversation. A family drama. Whatever we’ve decided the “cause” of the anxiety is gets our intense scrutiny, judgement, and blame. It was them. It is this situation. It is their manner in the conversation. It’s because they don’t understand. It’s because they don’t listen. It’s because no one cares. It’s because my job sucks. It’s because they’re so rude/mean/angry/unbearable.
We don’t pause and give ourselves a breath. We don’t pause and consider what’s going on within us. All the energy, fear, and focus are placed “out there”, directed at the person, the thing, or the event.
If they change. If this situation is better. If I don’t have to deal with this. If only they would understand. If this would just disappear. If only this had never happened. If I withdraw. If I act like I don’t care. If I cut them off. If I retaliate. If I get loud and demanding. If I make them understand. If I shame them. If I blame them.
The energy becomes what I call reactivity. It’s the immediate, rapid reply to what we don’t want. The reactivity is energy directed outward at someone or something. Or it could be directed at ourselves with self-recrimination and blame. It will happen quickly, without conscious thought, and will feel completely justified and appropriate to the situation. There will be righteousness. There will be the certainty that the reactivity could be no other way. There will be a closed mind to any alternative but the reactivity.
Anyone who is part of this drama is also going to be doing their version of reactivity. They will have their version of “stuff” they haven’t resolved, yet. Now there are two people with “stuff” expecting the other person, because everything is external, to not bring their stuff, as well as handle the other person’s stuff. Both people are giving their “stuff” to the other person. Neither person can deal with their own stuff, so how could they possibly also take on the “stuff” handed to them by someone else?
Add to that the strong emotions that can be involved when it’s an intimate relationship, and the cycles become heightened, and the negative spiral becomes inevitable and often repeated. It becomes so automatic it’s as if this is how it is meant to be, and that there is no other choice. Both people are blind to the chaos they set off in the other person because they can only feel their own pain, and only listen to their own self-talk about how it’s the other person’s “fault” they feel how they feel. As the other person reacts with their stuff, we see them not treating us with the kindness, compassion and care that we were needing to soothe our own anxiety. They see the same problem in us. Both people are in flight, fight, fawn