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January 10, 2023 11 Comments
ALL people are sensitive. Sensitivity is what gives us life, art, music, dance, emotions, empathy, the list goes on. It allows us to dial into the heart. Don't deny you have those capabilities inside of you and that others do as well. Although it is often hard to see.
The levels of sensitivity we have, if they are dialed up too high, can cause unwanted responses or reactions. What we react to and how we react is different for everyone. For instance. I might react to a hurtful word or phrase, but you might react to my reaction. It doesn't matter what came first.
So let's not point fingers at what causes sensitive reactions. The causes are numerous, from biochemical changes, to language, to the simple fact that people bump into each other, both physically and emotionally due to the function of being gregarious.
Instead of trying to mitigate all possible circumstances for reactivity, let's take a look at what to do when someone is sensitive and reactive. Let's start with a someone named YOU. Well... me actually. Always start with yourself.
When I am over-sensitive and maybe overreacting to something or someone there's a few things to consider. First, I have to own it. I cannot point blame at anyone but myself. You are not responsible for my reactions. Every word that escapes my mouth originates from my mouth. You didn't make me do anything. You don't control my body's processes. I do. Can you influence me? Sure, if I let you, but can you control me? No! Only I get to do that. Therefore, no matter what happened first, no matter how justified, I must own that I am in charge of my response.
If I don't own my reactions, I will literally be a destructive force in all my relationships, whether I mean to or not. Think of the global effect this has. Imagine if no one owns their reactions... "Oof." The reason it's destructive is because it keeps me spinning in a negative place, helpless and victimized, and possibly, even promotes aggressive power plays to reclaim my position.
But, when I own it, when I claim my own reactions as my own, regardless of what comes first or what triggers me, I own my personal power to change the world inside me and therefore, around me. It changes everything because I am no longer the victim but the compassionate partner in any exchange.
Example. Imagine I'm a horse trainer (Side note: I really am a horse trainer), and my horse reacts to a plastic bag blowing across the road while riding. Now... if I'm not practiced at owning my sensitivity, his reaction will spur me into a frenzy. I may become aggressive toward him, gaslighting him and making him feel stupid for having an experience, or I may become fearful and endanger myself by becoming rigid and ineffective. But... and this is the cool part, if I am aware of my reactions to my horse's reactions, with sensitivity, I will remain calm and help him feel validated for his experience and also remain fluid enough to navigate and lead the situation gracefully.
Imagine if I could do that with people. Well. Ironically, this is why I'm writing about it. Its on the top of my mind a lot lately. And, as we speak now, I'm consciously practicing exactly this same mode of behavior with you and everyone I meet. I'm taking careful inventory of when I blame someone else for my reactions. I'm interrupting myself when I do. And then resetting my behavior to something more helpful. First, by validating it's OK to be sensitive and have an experience but then recognizing blaming gets me, and everyone else on the whole planet, exactly... no where!
My experiences of late have deeply enriched my life and happiness and compassion and communication with others.
So now, in principle, we've conquered ourselves, (need more practice because we really just scratched the surface, wink wink). What about when someone else is too sensitive and reactive?
Answer... the same principles apply but there is one added thing. What are those principles for the sake of clarity?
1. Believe sensitivity is natural to everyone and it's okay to have experiences, right or wrong, helpful or not. Their reasons are real to them. Acknowledge this simple truth.
2. Don't blame anyone. Own your own reactions, without justification. And move on.
The added piece is when someone else is reactive and you can't seem to help them see past their justifications. They don't know about the principles or worse, refuse to believe them. So what's the added piece?
3. Elegantly walk through principles one and two with them. If you're truly calm, you will de-escalate them. If you remain unreactive, you can tell them it's okay to be sensitive or human or whatever words fit their language best, and kindly guide them to see how they control their bodily processes. They control their words, their responses to stimuli. No one else can do that. (Remember... you MUST first be emotionally unmovable. Otherwise it will absolutely escalate the whole exchange.) Eventually the other person will cease to blame and regain their own calm, productive energy.
Occasionally, and this is horrifying to witness, the person your helping will become very aggressive toward you. Forcing their blame firmly on everything but themselves. In this situation, you have two options. One: Leave. Let them find their own way forward with what support you've already given. If they are an essential part of your life, they will return with a clear head in time. Or two: Stay. For this you have to remain calm through out the entire exchange. You have to work on their energy, not their words, you have to see their pain and empathize but not take on any of their blame or judgment. You have to be able to pause, breathe, set boundaries, stay open, block without frustration, praise at the right time. Never making the other person feel invalid or unimportant. It's tricky if you stay.
With a horse, I'm so practiced, I can help a reactive horse without becoming the slightest bit upset, never escalating the situation. I can be in the moment with out reacting negatively at all. Like the scene below where Danny Kay drinks from his cup while sword fighting. Totally neutral but still effective.
But with a human... oh, that's harder for me. That's part of the reason I'm writing about it. Remember though... If I get upset, who is upsetting me? People, circumstances, or is it me? IT'S ME! I have to own my upset no matter what comes first. I don't control the triggers or influences, but I do control how I respond when I'm triggered.
So, most people don't get super aggressive. Most people feel validated and drop the blame thing pretty quick if you interact with them in a positive way, following the principles. But just in case you meet the more assertive types, make sure you have the energy needed. When a horse gets rambunctious I need twenty minutes to help them settle. With a human, I might need two hours or even two days in extreme cases.
The time difference is all related my own practice level, my own ability to stay neutral and keep my energy in a good place, and of course, my tools. With a horse I have a halter and lead rope or bridle and saddle and no timelines. But with a human, I only have words and body language and many time pressures. It's like working with a mustang without any fences or ropes. It takes some finesse and patience if you're gonna pull it off.
For the sake of practice... would you like to do a little with me now? This will be fun!
I'm going to run a few examples past you and see how you do.
Scene one: You're in traffic and get cutoff by Road Rage Randy. You feel yourself get irritated. What should you do next?
A. Race up on his tail, follow him home, then jump out of the car and have an altercation. Then, explain to the police officer how it was all his fault.
B. Call your friend and describe how stupid people are and how you hate traffic.
C. Validate that Road Rage Randy must have some reason, not something you can relate to perhaps, but something is driving him crazy. Empathize with him. Believe it's okay to have an experience, his and yours. You might be shocked, even irritated, but you remind yourself that you choose your own experience. You are in control of you and you remain calm, cool, and generally undisturbed.
D. Realize, you're actually not paying attention because you're on your phone, causing everyone on the highway grief, and laugh off the whole thing, sending spiritual apologizes to Road Rage Randy.
Scene two: Your partner calls you fat.
A. Yell at them for being rude. Tell them they shouldn't say mean things and they are dumb. Make them feel horrible because they made you feel horrible. Use blame against them.
B. Shrink down, feel like a victim of verbal abuse, and go find a some soothing stimulus.
C. Validate the experience. Don't react negatively but embrace the fact they must have a reason to speak so bluntly. Maybe its some fear about their personal image or your health that’s driving their own psychology. Empathize and remain calm. Then choose to engage or disengage in the moment from that super self assured place.
Scene three, last one: You have something you need to say but you're terrified about how the other person will react.
(First... if you're already terrified, you're not ready yet. Go do more work on you. You have to be 100% self assured and emotionally unmovable.)
A. You avoid telling them for fear of their response, so instead you plant impossibly invisible hints, hoping they will get it one day.
B. You tell them. Then, if they react, tell them they shouldn't be reactive and make them feel dumb, crazy, and wrong.
C. You prepare them for the news and preset the experience as best as you can. Then, when they do react, breathe, allow them to have their experience and slowly find their way forward. If they are necessary in your life, they will come back. If not. It's all for the best. No stress on you regardless, because you are emotional whole and capable of all outcomes.
I'm sure you found the right answer playfully set up for you there. Now join me on a daily practice of handling sensitivity and reactivity. Pay attention. Be more aware of when you're triggered. When you've mastered yourself, begin helping others.
Notes: The word "triggered" can be a negative word for some people. I hope to use it plainly to describe a simple human experience, like the word spooked, or surprised.
And finally... as an analogy, there are two types of horse trainers. One is far superior. They are: The trainer that guides the horse to be non-reactive to the stimulus at hand. And the other, is the trainer that guides the horse to be non-reactive to ALL things using the stimulus at hand.
For example. The first trainer will rub the plastic bag all over the horse until he no longer cares. But then... an umbrella shows up and the horse reacts poorly again because it's different. Now the trainer has to reinvent the wheel for every new object.
Whereas... the better trainer will begin with the bag, but every time the horse moves his feet, will also correct the horse to start back at square one. Direct them to not move about, but stand their ground under pressure. For this horse, if he learns it well, when the umbrella comes out, or any object, the horse doesn't react poorly. He's already learned how to handle himself when in tough situations.
The point is... many people diagnose triggers and then either avoid them or work through them one by one. It's okay to do that, but also consider you don't have to look for all your triggers. Take any single experience and train yourself to become a better leader for yourself and others using the principles above so that it crosses over into everything.
In the end you will be an expert at handling sensitive and reactive people, starting with you. And wouldn't that be nice? 😀
Thanks for reading.
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