Who Controls your Reactions?

Have you ever had to work with somebody you couldn’t stand? Like when you saw them walking down the hallway you could already feel your blood pressure rising, before they’d even opened their mouth?

I have. I used to work with a man who made me so angry I would get a knot in my chest when I had to deal with him, I was in my 30s thinking I was about to have a heart attack. He was so disrespectful of people’s space and time, and it drove me crazy. I could go on and on about him for hours, reviewing every little detail of what he’d said and done, getting worked up over and over again.

One afternoon I was speaking to my coach about him, and she said something to me that stunned me completely.

“Why would you give your power away like that?” my coach asked.  I looked at her in confusion. I truly had no idea what she meant.

You see the problem with power is that it’s difficult to define. At the time, I thought ‘having power’ meant that when things went wrong outside of myself, I could get control of the situation through a quick reaction. And in this instance, that meant completely losing my shit.

However what my coach was pointing out, was that by reacting instead of responding, I was handing my power over to him, and giving him complete control of the situation. It took several years for me to understand this. When you’re so angry you can’t think, releasing that anger seems like the only viable option. But eventually I realized I had other choices as well. If we allow anyone to consistently elicit a particular reaction, they are essentially becoming our puppet master.

In this situation, I was freely handing my strings over to him. He was in charge whether he knew it or not.

And while it’s important to pay attention to our emotions as they arise, they don’t have to control everything we do. Now, when I feel a strong emotion coming on, I take a moment and deal with it, and respond instead of react. Ultimately, what I find out is that sometimes my reaction has nothing to do with the person standing in front of me, they are simply triggering a previous hurt (or even more painful perhaps, acting as a mirror, reflecting something I don’t like about myself). Knowing this gives me the opportunity to clear the old hurt, or work toward clearing the bad habit. Lots of self-care allows me the headspace to know the difference, and the confidence to love myself through it, no matter how long it might take.