Have you ever overreacted – and wondered why? Maybe you cry every time there’s a funeral in a movie. Or you panic whenever you hear a noise at night, convinced that someone has broken into your home. Or you could be on a date, and everything is going well – until he leans in to kiss you – and you freeze up.
After these incidents, you may have asked yourself, Why did I do that?
Of course, when something or someone upsets or scares you, you have every right to be honest with how you feel. But when the situation didn’t necessarily warrant your extreme outburst or over-the-top response, it’s important to understand what’s really going on.
The Lie: “It Is What It Is”
You may think that your response is a reaction to the real-time event (the sad movie, the unexplainable noise, or the impending kiss), but there’s more to the story when you overreact like this. The cliché, “it is what it is” couldn’t be further from the truth, because the event or experience that initiated your baffling reaction actually happened a long time ago.
As a small child, you learned how to compensate when your needs were not met, and as a result you built up layers of adaptations around the originating event. These adaptations manifest themselves in those exaggerated reactions that don’t make sense to you. And even though the current situation may look and feel different, you’re still dredging up this whole history from the past, leading you to your seemingly unexplainable outburst.
The emotions that you’ve stored deep in the body become triggers – like a body-felt radar. It’s as if you’re on the hunt for similar situations again so that you can respond in a way that ‘protects’ you. Over time, these highly reactive triggers become generalized, so whenever you sense a similar situation, your reaction will be completely out of proportion to what’s really happening in the present.
How This Works
Let’s say your father makes a comment, and you blow up at him. Later, you wonder what led to your outburst. In this case, there was something in your interaction with him that reminded you of something he did while you were in college…which reminded you of something he said to you in high school…which triggered an early childhood memory, and so on.
Of course, you’re not consciously aware of these ‘memories’, yet the trigger – his comment – caused your body to go on high alert, leading your exaggerated response.
Finding Your Way
These irrational reactions can actually be beneficial, since your best ‘entry point’ to self-development occurs when something happens in your life that is highly charged. When you experience something very emotional, you may be prompted to work on yourself, which leads to lasting change.
It’s easy to pinpoint these emotional events: simply pay attention to times when your reaction or feelings are more extreme than the current situation warrants. That’s when you can transform your current response and pave the way for healthier future reactions.
Trying to deal only with the current issue may allow you to handle the isolated incident, but that approach is an uphill battle and it does nothing to release your emotional chains and triggers. If you can go back to that earliest event (even if you can’t remember all the details), you can alter future interactions and events. Going further back down the chain allows you to shift your current and future reactions, and best of all, you can begin living in the present – instead of being an emotional slave to your past.
In my own life, I used to struggle with socializing with large groups of people. I found these situations to be intimidating and completely draining – and sometimes I would cope by declining invitations and avoiding large groups altogether. Once I got to the root by using the Fear and Shame guided meditations, I was finally able to address my discomfort in social situations by releasing those negative emotions.
Today, I have much more energy in general, and I can truly enjoy large gatherings. And even though socializing can still be a bit tiring for me, it’s also invigorating in a way it never was before.
Think of traveling in a raft: if you try to paddle upstream – against the rapids – you’re in for a struggle. But when you allow the current to carry you downstream, and you paddle through the waves, the ride becomes effortless and fun. Life is like this, and when you don’t need to exert self-control to monitor your reactions, life will get easier for you… in every way.