Characteristically speaking, we all have different means of reacting to stress. There are many theories as to how these characteristics come to fruition, but the unwavering foundation remains grounded in the idea that nature (what we are born with) and nurture (how our innate characteristics intersect with the environment around us) play equal roles in the outcome.
We all react to stress, but have you identified what your typical way is?
Stress comes in many different forms. What is considered stressful for some may be a breeze for others. But, there’s a few that stand out as heavy hitters- guaranteed to get some degree of reaction from everyone. Grief and loss- losing someone that is close to using. Or dealing with a job loss or significant socioeconomic disruption. Trauma, abuse, neglect-especially if these experiences are new.
So, I think the focus should be less about whether or not we are going to encounter stress and more about what our reaction looks like. I’ve studied Dr. Dan Siegel’s reactional dispositions, and his division of people into three categories keeps resonating the most closely with my clinical and personal experiences. People have the tendency to react with anger, sadness, or worry. There isn’t a “better” way to react as much as there is an identification process on our part and on the other person in our space.
But what about those that react angrily? If we don’t react this way, we probably know someone who does.
My reaction disposition is certainly anger, so I can easily identify with my short-tempered counterparts. I completely understand the link between a stressful trigger, especially the ones mentioned above, and having the tendency to get defensive, immediately irritable, blame others, or go from zero to sixty in five seconds flat. There’s never much thought that occurs in between the trigger and explosion, so I know that the rational side of my brain is missing from the equation altogether.
There’s plenty of love at the core of the angry reactionary types, so it’s important to give them time and space to get there.
In many cases, people who know me and have grown to love me know that my initial outbursts are not the real indication of what I’m trying to convey. What comes out first doesn’t have my truest intentions behind them; they are missing my wholeheartedness, empathy, and transparency that really matter the most in who I am- the most valuable version. These people are patient and can wait for me to let go of the rage on my own to naturally come around.
But, if not for patience and tolerance, waiting for me to come around on my own terms, are there other ways to deal with someone like me? Surely. People that come to me genuinely talking about how my reaction hurt them, like really hurt their feelings. I can backpedal with that push and get into an empathetic mode. I feel bad for hurting other’s feelings, but I need that gentle reminder.
That reflecting, connecting, and shifting though.
My husband has this amazing skill that allows him to connect with me, genuinely understanding how I’ve made the leap from trigger to rage, and emphasizing that connection before he asks a creative question. For example, “Hey, I totally see how you got there, but I think you might be missing an essential piece. Have you thought about the fact that the person didn’t do that intentionally? That maybe it was an accident?” Or a simple, “do you think you’re taking that too personally then you need to?”-sometimes gently nudging how we think can create some restructuring.
Giving out little nuggets when the reaction feels a little more normal
Just like any other human on the planet, I love positive reinforcement. So instead of engaging with me when I’m raging, what about giving me some props when my reaction is within normal limits? It can be as simple as words of affirmation or as complex as gift-giving, but just a simple indication that my hard work in attempting to change my own reactions isn’t going unnoticed.
We can change our own setting and create an entirely different reaction within ourselves.
If I don’t take space to calm down and get my emotional reaction under control, I will hope that people around me would take the space they need to cope with me. I love to fo few things that make me feel better like – a change of scenery, like going from outside to inside or inside to outside, a hot or cold shower, a good night sleep. Time and space away from the short-tempered is a boundary, albeit indirect, but still a boundary. That gives me an indication that my reaction was too much for others, and I’m more likely to change it.
Cutting ties doesn’t have to be riddled with guilt.
Sometimes there’s a much more forceful boundary that is required because the level of disruption that someone who is short-tempered has caused. Obviously, this is last resort, when all other options have failed, but I’ve certainly had people either have limited contact with me or eliminate contact altogether. If it is too challenging to create behavioral change, I think it’s totally appropriate to move on. Not everyone is going to be a good fit. There’s plenty of poor fits. Our loved ones can certainly fall into this category, often causing the most damage because we think that we are stuck with certain people forever. There’s a lot of freedom in knowing that we have choices, though.
Do we work towards an agreeable option, or do we call it quits?
People will always have stress entering their lives in waves. So, therefore, people will always react according to their own dispositions. We can try different ways of redirecting their reactions by working on the things that we can control our mind, body, relationships, and economics. We just can’t control and/or change other people. So, asking ourselves, is there room for improvement? Or is it a hopeless case, and we need to figure out how to transition away?