Is your own thinking driving you crazy? Are your thought processes muddled, scattered, and highly emotionally-charged? Rarely, occasionally… or very regularly? If so, do you have the guts to admit this to yourself, and commit to change – for the sake of your own sanity (and possibly other people’s, too!)?
Emotionally reactive thinking is rapidly becoming a modern-day problem, especially amongst the 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s – and sometimes even within the 50’s and 60’s. It disempowers us because it usually has its roots in procrastination and resistance… a fact we may be tempted to talk around and deny (get it? Procrastination and resistance?). It also prevents us from being able to see the bottom line, the brass tacks, the facts and figures – and it certainly doesn’t help us to reach any workable solutions!
Sometimes we don’t even recognise the fact that our own thinking is causing us more pain and confusion than whatever it is we consider to be the ‘problem’. And it is so easy to drag others into our own personal hall-of-mirrors, and then blame them because either they can’t see what we are seeing, or because they can’t come up with an answer we are willing to accept. We’ve all lost the will to live, whilst listening, for the hundredth time, to a friend whose emotions are crazily hanging off the edge of a cliff, but who defensively bites the hand of rescue every time it is offered (oh, how tempting it can eventually become, to just shove them over and have done with it!). And, let’s face it – most of us have been the one hanging off the edge of that emotional cliff ourselves at times, and probably more than once!
So, what kind of circumstance tends to lead us into emotionally reactive thinking? Well, emotional ones, obviously… such as romantic relationships. But our feelings are also often at the root of it too, such as those of low self-worth and belief, and fear of confrontation. We often feel helpless or powerless when we indulge in frustrated, stuck-in-a-loop thought processes, convincing ourselves that there is no solution… but, worst of all, that we aren’t even able to let go.
Here are just a few of the reasons we find ourselves becoming caught up in emotionally reactive thinking:
Our default setting is panic-and-react, or fear-and-doubt, or question-and-distrust… and we continuously and automatically go into that mode without putting on the brakes.
We are applying the same insecurities, doubts, fear of not being good enough, old resentments, and expectations of failure, to every area of our life, convincing ourselves that this is just how things are for us… and/or that the universe just isn’t giving us a break!
We make things seem more complicated than they really are or need to be because it makes them feel more meaningful… and it keeps us hooked.
We can’t believe that the answer to our situation could actually be simple or straightforward! How could something possibly feel so intense, and be so all-consuming, if it is that easy to resolve??
We could find a solution, but we know, deep down inside, that it won’t be the one we actually want. And if we do go for that solution, it means that we are going to have to let go of some stuff that we aren’t willing to let go of right now… whether we admit to it or not.
We have become programmed to believe that if things are too easy, or fall too naturally into place, then something just has to be wrong… and so we really need to dissect and over-analyse them – just to be on the safe side.
We know that the situation in question is not worth the effort, or is hopeless, or a waste of time and energy… but it is depressing to have to face up to it. And anyway, what if there is never going to be anything else that is better, to replace it?
Drama and intensity is more interesting than ‘normality’, and gives us something to focus on (and obsess over!).
I recently had a conversation that went something like this:
Other person: “I have met this guy, and he is really nice, not putting any pressure on me, and giving me time. But I am suspicious and wonder what his motives are? I mean, why would he be so easy going, so patient? And I don’t believe it when he tells me that I am beautiful… I don’t feel beautiful, or good enough, so why would he say it? I want to know what he is really up to. I don’t find him very sexually attractive, and I think he needs to grow up a bit. Anyway… I want to know how things are likely to develop.”
It was hard to communicate with this person, because she wasn’t really listening. She was obviously going over and over the situation in her mind, but without any clarity. The best and most obvious solution would be to call it quits, let him go his way, move on, and find someone more compatible. Why give it such head-space, and so much time and energy, when no matter what he did she wasn’t going to trust him one iota? They hadn’t been together (well, not so much together, as she admitted that she was determinedly keeping him at arm’s length) for any major length of time, and so there wasn’t any real investment. So, why allow it to become such an emotional mess?
Because it wasn’t really about him… it was about her own feelings and beliefs about herself, and about a habitual way of reacting to life. Would a guy who was less patient, less willing to hang around in the hope of things improving between them, be a better bet? Would she be more likely to believe and trust a guy who had a take-it-or-leave-it, like-it-or-lump-it, approach to the relationship? I really don’t know… and it would be too frustrating an experience to even try to find out! There would be a ‘yes-but’ at every turn, an ongoing wall of resistance to seeing it purely for what it is… because of the seductive charm of emotionally reactive, unfocused thinking.
There are certain things I have come to be sure about, over the years:
You cannot persuade a person who is committed to seeing bogie men around every corner that they don’t exist.
You cannot compliment a person who is intent upon tearing themselves down at every turn, dismissing your words as insincere or invalid – because they will hurt you in their rejection of you.
You cannot reach a point of genuine agreement with a person who is so effectively programmed to become involved in emotional turmoil and drama, that when it isn’t even present, they either actively seek it out or create it… and then absolutely deny doing so.
You cannot pacify, for any length of time, a person who habitually looks for evidence that they are going to be let down, lied to, and conned. Or the person who wants change, but resists it with every ounce of their being.
You cannot come up with any logical, useful answer or solution for the person who is caught up in emotionally reactive thinking, because even if they appear to buy into it, within a very short space of time they head straight back into the muddle – probably because it feels familiar, and therefore safe, in a strange and uncomfortable way.
So, what is the answer? If we become habitual emotional reactors, are we stuck with it forever, unable to break the pattern and escape the misery-inducing loop? Of course not… but if we are going to grow beyond it, we have to recognise that it is an inside job. We can benefit from outer guidance, and the wisdom and patience of others, but it still comes down to us – because we are the only ones who have the capacity to operate our mind. And, at the end of the day, that is all that it is really about – the way in which we use (and train) our mind.
Going back to the lady and her ‘too nice’ boyfriend – who is not really a boyfriend because she isn’t allowing him to be – to the outside world the situation could appear to be incredibly silly, and an unnecessary source of pain and rejection for both parties involved. The solution seems to be simple: let the guy off the hook, cut him loose, and move on. He may or may not have ulterior motives (I don’t believe that he does), but certainly his behaviour smacks of desperation and low-self worth, rather than genuine adoration. He has probably become so accustomed to rejection that it has become the norm for him, and all that he now expects from life. What we are really dealing with here is the tangled, unexplored and unacknowledged emotional hopes and fears of two individuals, who happen to have unconsciously gravitated toward one another because of the current state of their inner worlds! The ‘relationship’ is only the stage upon which all of this is being acted out, and instead of putting it under a microscope for miserable scrutiny, the focus should be on the painful emotions that lie behind it all. But, because that potentially could be a mammoth task, it is easier to deflect and place the focus, and the blame, on the relationship and the other person involved: they need to prove themselves to me, they need to change, they need to be different. Unless we recognise our own pattern, even when we move on from whatever situation has been the current source of our angst, the likelihood is that we will experience it again in another way, under a different set of circumstances.
And that is why habitual, emotionally reactive thinking is so destructive… at least, until we actually hear what it is trying to convey to us, and commit to the process of healing. Then, it becomes a very valuable messenger!
There are many, many sources of help out there in the world, including books, blogs, YouTube videos, and of course counselling services. The first step is to acknowledge that you may have become an emotional reactor, which is a mask for all kinds of things, including sadness, anger, low self-worth/belief, unrealistic expectations, fear of rejection, and even of being ‘invisible’ – and of never finding that which you desperately want, but yet struggle to specifically define. If any or all of that is consistently going on in your life, no situation exists that has the power to soothe it and make it magically disappear – and there is no relationship that can fix us. So, surely, it makes sense to concentrate on the actual problem, rather than the outward, physical manifestation of it?
Don’t be down-hearted if you recognise yourself within this blog. Most of us are ‘guilty’ of being emotional reactors from time to time, but if it is consistently causing you anxiety and upset (and if people are beginning to avoid you, or deflecting your issues!), then join the zillions before you who have decided that enough is enough, and that it is time to wrestle back the control of your own mind from your emotions, applying the brakes where necessary, and gaining a healthier sense of perspective. It takes awareness and practice, but it is absolutely doable!