The Simply Reactive Life

Photo courtesy of Alfonso Pagano of Getty Images

If you are LIVE-ing then you are conscious. Most importantly you are conscious of who you are and then who you hope to become, but you don’t at all lose sight of who you were or how far you’ve come.  You are in tune to you first and foremost and then the world around you. You don’t choose to exist through your days via autopilot or cruise control. You don’t allow yourself to be programmed to run on default  Sunday through Saturday.  You’re awake, acutely observant, and if you’re like me you pay attention to things and take note of what causes you to react.

I didn’t always pay attention to the things that I reacted to. In fact the whole being acutely aware to myself is relatively new. It’s a practice started circa 2001. It’s a practice that had it’s initiation at my undergraduate institution when I became acutely aware that racism still existed. I passed initiation when my consciousness accepted the dysfunction of my family. My membership gets renewed each time I notice how I physically, mentally, and emotionally react to certain words and phrases.  My mind prepares for defense, anxiety and doubt break down the flood gates, my hands curl and become fists. 

Some of you reading this may say “Honey you sound traumatized”. That’s neither here nor there because it’s not the purpose of this post.  What is the purpose of this post is that how we react to things informs us more than I think sometimes we are even aware. Furthermore they can be helpful to us as we become the persons we were designed to be, informing us of the things we still need to process.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Mleczko Passion for

I mentioned “the guy” I met in DC a couple posts ago. What I didn’t mention was the discomfort, panic, and slight anxiety I felt when he shared he was a professional boxer. I didn’t share I talked to him for all of three minutes but had already thought “He could hurt me.”  I didn’t share that thought caught me off guard. He gave me no real reason to believe he would harm me in any way, yet my emotions yelled otherwise.

I pushed myself a little further to think about my reaction. Part of it I knew stemmed from the influx of students disclosing sexual assault perpetrated by males- males they had no reason to believe would hurt them. I knew part of it was all of the instability that comes with the transition I’ve been experiencing recently- moving to my new house, a changed and longer commute to work, staff leaving, the challenges with my brother who still chooses not to tend to his mental health, etc. I also knew that a larger part of my reaction was due to my own need for safety, to be around people I know to be safe and to be in spaces I know to be safe.  Part of safety for me is consistency. When your experience of who, what, and where is safe is distorted and inconsistent during your formative years being able to choose to invite and create stability and safety in your life as you get older becomes pretty important. At least for me.

I was disappointed by my reaction. I thought I was past all of that. Over it. Not afraid. I thought I could be like my friends who the thought of a guy who was a boxer and was lean and fit meant they had a protector. Their first thought was not they met someone who would hurt them. Despite the disappointment I wasn’t defeated. I didn’t feel like I was doomed to forever feel unsafe and never date handsome muscular fit guys because they would hurt me.

Photo courtesy of Vogue

I was also more informed by my reaction. My consciousness was raised to a need that’s been heightened and that I need to tend to.  I needed to pay more attention to all that contributed to my lack of feeling safe and what I could control and address. I needed to have a conversation with another clinician about the influx of sexual assault survivors to help offset some vicarious trauma. I needed to up the anty on things that feed me, nourish me, and add fruitfulness  and meaning to my life.  I also needed to run down a quick list of the people in my life, especially the guys, who actually do make me feel safe.

Years ago I met with a different counselor. I was introduced to him via a family counseling session. It was the session my mom requested my siblings and I attend along with her. It was a session within weeks of her leaving my dad. I started to see him for my own individual counseling and I remember him saying that despite some of my siblings being vocal about being “over” the dysfunction of our household, he could tell they were anything but. He shared he could tell by their reactions. He watched their faces, body language, and paid attention to word choice when certain instances and family members were mentioned. Their reactions informed him of whether or not they were over something and he constantly saw them emotionally react. I let his words sink in, although I must have looked puzzled because he went on to say “When you have addressed unfinished business and made your peace with situations and people, you don’t emotionally react. You can talk about the situation, can share how it used to make you feel, but the more work you have put in to heal, the less you emotionally react. Typically emotionally reactive people haven’t addresed what needs to be addressed and just avoid it and blame shift. Furthermore, they keep the cycle going and often end up doing the same things they didn’t like or in relationship with the people who hurt them.”

Photo courtesy of Ali Marttell of Cheaper Than

It’s been years since I worked with him, but those words have stuck with me and I pay close attention to how I react. I pay close attention to see how much progress I have made and still need to make. I pay close attention to these things because if not it’s easy to set up a way of life that is far from the one I want and even further from the one I believe I was purposed to give. I think Jesus would  be okay if I dated and married a strong, lean, fit man.

This week I want to encourage you to learn a little bit more about who you are by paying attention to your reactions.  Are they telling you that every time a certain some one calls and you get butterflies that you like them much more than a friend and that maybe just maybe when they ask you on a date for the 12 time you may want to say yes? Are they telling you that despite our devotion to being an educator, the continued budget cuts, lack of support from your administrator, and increased irritability with your own kids when you get home might mean you need to work elsewhere or change careers?
Is the defensiveness you experience when you encounter various people informing you that you still have work to do on your trust issues,  identifying the qualities of trustworthy people, and reducing or altogether disengaging from people who who don’t have those qualities?  Is your immiediate inabilty to accept an approrpriate compliment signaling you still don’t truly value yourself?

Do your best not to shy away from what your reactions tell you. Do your best to  sit with the information, make a choice as to how true you want it to be  for your life, and then choose to act accordingly to address what you don’t want to be true and wholeheartedly embrace that which you do want to be true.

Photo courtesy of Cover Girl

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