BY Dr. Athena Staik
March 16, 2023
Does emotional reactivity hijack your attempts to resolve issues? This is a common experience. Even when you want to do otherwise, it can seem as if a part of you is acting on its own.
It is! It’s the part that runs all of the autonomic systems of your body, often called the subconscious mind. In effect, it is your body mind. This part of the brain also monitors your emotional states; and, when it detects fear or anxiety, it automatically activates your survival response.
One way to "see" defensiveness in your communications is as a quick fix way your body restores your sense of safety. It’s the body’s way of automatically reducing. In effect, this reaction helps you avoid what your self-talk deems too uncomfortable to face at the time, often a core fear, such as fear of rejection.
You see, the subconscious does no thinking of its own. It depends on your conscious thinking ability to discern between life enriching and life harming habits. When the survival response gets activated, however, it nearly halts most normal functioning, and that includes your ability to consciously think. In an instant, your subconscious mind puts you in auto pilot mode, then inserts a recorded program!
This old program consists of a list of “ideas about how to survive,” a report your subconscious mind accrues throughout your life, to ensure you survive. For the most part, the contents that get top billing are the memories of when your survival response was activated from the time you were a small child.
Also, it cannot distinguish between a physical threat, such as a snake, and an emotional one, such as a criticism.
Since you “survived” the events, your subconscious bookmarked these “proven and reliable favorites,” to access them quickly, and automatically returns to these in response to what triggers you to feel pain and discomfort.
What has tricked this part of your brain into thinking you “need” these defense strategies to survive? Your thoughts, more specifically, the ones that explain or interpret your experiences.
Think of it this way. The cells of your body are ever eavesdropping on what you say around the close. Your body mind:
- Monitors your “self-talk,” listening carefully to how you are interpreting events in your mind.
- Treats "limiting beliefs” and fear-inducing thoughts as absolute “truths.”
- Automatically produces images from the words you think or speak.
- Causes physio-emotional states in your body in response to the images your thoughts produce.
- Activates the fight-flight system to put the frontal cortex of your brain offline.
In other words, your thoughts may be unnecessarily scaring your body mind. , unless you know how to consciously calm yourself to feel safe enough to stay emotionally engaged in a conversation, fear causes you to act in certain ways. The subconscious is ever ready to take over the mind and body and put it in survival mode.
So, how do you stop this reactivity? It starts with you setting an intention to consciously calm your mind and body, so that you remain connected to your inner experience of events in the moment core power to make informed conscious choices. By doing so, you can effect changes, as you become aware of toxic thought patterns and limiting beliefs and replace these with nourishing, life enriching ones.
There are specific compones on which to practice conscious awareness, such as your breathing, identifying triggering thoughts to replace them with calming ones, among others.
For now, perhaps the most important thing to know about reactivity is that your body mind expects you to take charge of your thoughts. When you do, you are consciously cultivating your capacity to self-activate your body's relaxation response, meaning the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system.
It’s your job to persuade the mind of your body that you are in charge of your emotions, that you can feel them and you can handle them without losing your overall sense of calm. And, one of the most important steps is to set an intention to become consciously aware of your thoughts and notice how they affect your emotional states.
As an agent of your life, this will also put you in charge of your happiness!