How to Stop Emotional Reactivity From Hijacking Your Thinking Mind

How to Stop Emotional Reactivity From Hijacking Your Thinking Mind

BY Dr. Athena Staik

March 16, 2023

Does emotional reactivity hijack your attempts to resolve issues? Rest assured, many feel this way. Even when you want to do otherwise, it can seem as if a part of you is acting on its own. 

It is! That’s the part that runs all of the autonomic systems of your body, often called the subconscious mind. In effect, it is the mind of your body. This part of the brain is also what monitors your emotional states. 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 uses to restore your sense of safety in relation to one another. It’s the body’s way of automatically reducing or numbing emotional pain. In effect, this reaction helps you avoid what your self-talk deems is too uncomfortable at the time, more 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” that your subconscious mind has accrued throughout your life, just to ensure you survive. For the most part, the contents that get top billing are the memories of when, as a young child, your survival response was activated, for example, when one of your parents got angry at you or another member of the family. 

Since you “survived” the events, your subconscious bookmarked these “as favorites,” to access them quickly, when necessary. Thus, it automatically returns to these , regarding them as proven and reliable ways to get you out of 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 of events.

Think of it this way. Your subconscious is always eavesdropping on you. How?

  • It monitors your “self-talk,” listening carefully to how you are interpreting events in your mind. It
  •  automatically produces images, associated with what you think or say.
  • It causes physio-emotional states in your body, based on the image your thoughts produce.
  • It activates the survival response, which automatically blocks influence from the higher thinking part of your brain.
  • It treats fear-inducing “beliefs” as absolute “truths.”

In other words, if your thoughts are scaring you, 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.

This part of your brain is designed to handle fear-inducing thoughts in this way. Also, notable, it cannot distinguish between a physical threat, such as a snake, and an emotional one, such as a criticism.

So, how do you stop this reactivity? It starts with you making a commitment to learn as many ways possible 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. 

There are many methods and approaches to doing so, and there are core components, such as to develop conscious awareness, practice deep breathing, identify triggering thoughts to replace them with calming ones, among others. 

For now, perhaps the most important thing to know about reactivity is that, in order to take charge of it, you need to know how to calm the mind of your body before it will allow you to be, and feel, like the agent of your behaviors and life.

Otherwise, regardless how much you protest, it will automatically activate your survival response.

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, the first step 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!