Our reactivity is an automated defence to protect us from feeling the pain of our negative core beliefs. Normally, we do not recognise that an old and painful memory has been stirred up; we simply feel overwhelmed and automatically react as a defence. We can either shut down what we are feeling by underreacting, overreact with emotions out of proportion to the situation, or we can act out. The person who underreacts unconsciously shuts down his emotions to either reduce their intensity or completely hide them. The person who overreacts is unconsciously fighting against the situation in the hope of changing it and releasing himself from uncomfortable feelings. The person who acts out unconsciously does so to purge his anxious feelings. In these cases, when we are being reactive, we are completely self-absorbed, which comes from the child-like mind-set stored in repressed or denied memories. We are in the mode of protecting ourselves from our own painful feelings, frequently at the expense of people around us.
Angry and Defensive
Often when we become reactive, we can act self-righteous, grandiose, contemptuous, judgmental, critical, blaming, arrogant, controlling, or tyrannical. The list goes on and on. We can either experience pride when we feel better than others or envious when we feel like less. For the longest time, rage was my hiding place. Whenever I unconsciously felt insecure or small, I would become incredibly angry. Just as it happened to me in my childhood, I found myself purging those terrible feelings inside myself at whoever or whatever was triggering those memories. Yelling would instantly relieve some of the pressure I felt and would always be followed with an incredible sense of guilt. Negative core beliefs are self-perpetuating in this way.
There are also more extreme forms of protection against being exposed to negative core beliefs, like deviant or criminal behaviour and addictions. These can serve as an easily accessed and familiar way to purge the buildup of painful emotions and anxiety invoked by exposed negative core beliefs. Usually, they are followed by feelings of guilt that only further feed these negative core beliefs. Reactive and addictive behaviour can take many forms. Unresolved issues that created our negative core beliefs often continue to create very real problems and limitations in our lives today.
Recognise and Respond
In learning to live more fully in the present moment, we begin to recognise that we can respond to situations instead of blindly reacting to them. In responding, we are aware of ourselves, any reactive emotions we might be feeling, and the reality of the situation at hand. It is about making choices instead of reacting.
We must remember that anything we feel is okay; it is the action we take that counts. We can't always help it if someone hits an insecurity we have and invokes anger, sadness, or some other feeling. But we do have the opportunity to control how we respond. Our jailer, reactivity, is also our path to freedom. By acknowledging our reactivity and how we maintain our dramas, we have the opportunity to examine, and ultimately, let go of, the negative core beliefs that empower them.
Our negative core beliefs are charged with unresolved painful emotions. Because there has never been resolution brought to the situations that led to those negative core beliefs, they remain, controlling our lives. When we are forced to face them, they can feel much like quicksand. When we struggle against them, it can seem as if we are being suffocated in painful emotions. We can genuinely improve our lives, however, by allowing that stored emotional baggage to complete its journey through us, thus bringing closure to the incidents that caused it. What so many miss is that the only way out of our emotional pain is to pass through it. We must face our fears, pure and simple. Our anxiety around those fears is almost always much worse than facing the fears themselves.
Stay in the Present
When we can stay in the moment with our reactivity instead of losing control of ourselves, we have the chance to objectively look at the negative core beliefs driving it all. To do this, we need to stay present with those painful, anxiety-charged emotions our reactivity has been hiding for us. In doing this, we are often moving against what our instincts scream for us to do. Any time we feel something painful, we instinctively want to move away from it. This is especially true for emotional pain. The key is to simply hold whatever we are feeling in our awareness instead of mentally gripping it through resistance or denial. We need to fully accept that we feel angry, frightened, sad, guilty, or whatever else we might be experiencing. In allowing these emotions to process, we can finally begin to let go of that emotional burden.