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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Emotional Reflex

It was 3:00am on a Thursday morning when I made my way into the bathroom. After washing my hands, I turned around and jumped halfway out of my skin. There, slithering across the bathroom floor, was Jack, my oldest daughter's pet snake. I'm not afraid of Jack. In fact, he's a cute little guy (until he tries to crawl down your shirt). However, not expecting to find a slithering serpent in my floor, I reacted before my brain had an opportunity to assess the situation.

My experience with Jack made me think about how often we tend to react to situations in life before we actually process all of the information associated with those situations. Sometimes it's a mere word, or even a look, and we make assumptions without stopping to ask for clarification. Why do we do this? Because we are emotional creatures and our emotions are triggered by things we see, hear, feel, and experience.

While my brief interaction with Jack may be more closely related to the "flight or fight" response, it does show how quickly our reflexes rush to save us from harm. In the same way, our emotional reflexes hurry in to rescue us from any real or perceived attack on our person. When and how did we form these emotional reflexes? Were we born with them or are they products of our relationships? Though I do believe that some are natural, I think most of these reflexes are developed through life experience.

When I was a child, my father said many things to me that I can't imagine saying to my own children. When I had forgotten something or committed some trivial error, he would call me stupid. The pain from that one word was tremendous. Out of that pain was born a heightened sensitivity to being referred to in any way that would insult my intelligence. I spent ten years crying every time my intellect was questioned and ten more years after that becoming angry, defensive, and resentful at the insult. Then... I decided it was time to heal the damage.

While emotional reflexes may always trigger a response within, we can train ourselves not to
automatically react to those triggers. By becoming aware of our sensitivities, we can remind ourselves to take a breath and think about the situation before reacting. Practicing this awareness allows us to differentiate the true meaning of our situation from any false ideas we may form based on events and situations from our past. It also gives us the opportunity to choose not to retaliate against those who have actually set out to cause us harm.

When we can stop for a moment and view the situation from a higher perspective, we may realize the situation is born from the other person's own sensitivities, fears, or insecurities. This realization offers us the opportunity to practice compassion for others instead of allowing ourselves to be controlled by our own emotional reflexes.

That's my story... and I'm sticking with it. :-)

2 comments:

Reverie said...

We must bury the past and remember that when we gow up we have the power to reject harmful memories. As children we are vulnerable to cruel treatment, especially from those whose approval we crave. You know how wrong your hurtful parent was, just as I do about mine.
I hope you will read my blogs.

http://compassionthelifeblood.blogspot.com/

http://inspiredseekers.blogspot.com/

Blue Static said...

Nicely said! Reminds me of something Ram Dass once said, which was something like, "You can't go through life trying not to get hurt. Hurt is what happens here in this life. Hurt's a part of the human experience. But you don't have to be its slave!"


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