Mary sits at her kitchen table, again, holding her head in her hands. “Why can’t I stop getting angry,” she moans. She’s been here many times before. There’s a pit in her stomach as she weakly concludes “there’s something really wrong with me.”
Mary is remembering the argument she had with her husband last night. She’s filled with remorse for losing control and saying things she now wishes she had not.
She is feeling defeated. She felt judged when her husband commented on what a wreck the house was. Like wildfire, she burst into flames of anger blaming her husband for making her feel bad. When the flames dwindle, she’s overcome with feelings of self-hatred. She promises herself to never lose it like that again. Even as she makes the promise, she feels hopeless, knowing she probably will.
What does it mean to be reactive?
Feeling hopeless is a common response to finding ourselves in the same cycle over and over. We desperately want our reactions to be different, but we find ourselves responding the same way. Feeling reactive means feeling like we have no choice in how we respond in a situation. Mary feels out of control when she perceives herself being judged by her husband, and becomes angry and blaming. Later she blames herself, and feels ashamed, about the anger she expressed earlier. And so the cycle continues.
Where do these reactions come from?
The repetitive cycles of reactivity we notice in our lives and relationships are there for a reason. It’s not that there’s something wrong with us, but that the mind learns and remembers. The mind learns by building on past experience through the development of neural pathways.
But I want to do things differently”¦
So the good news is that we don’t have to keep learning the same thing over and over. Our learning, which means our reactions too, is encoded in neural pathways in the brain. The more these reactions are practiced, the stronger these pathways become. It’s like driving to work and taking the same route each day. You know the way there and usually tend to use it, rather than choosing to find a new route. Practicing a new behavior becomes very difficult since there’s no associated neural pathway or route, so we tend to react the same way.
How do you stop reacting?
The first step in changing your reactions is to become AWARE of the dominant pattern of those reactions. You must first SEE how the system of reactivity operates. Your habitual reactions are part of how you’ve learned to survive, to protect yourself and to navigate the world. You found a route to work that makes sense to you. It seems like the best way there, but maybe you want to investigate a new route. Maybe you want to stop running into the same traffic jam every morning. Maybe you want a little more adventure in your day. You need a map!
What is the Enneagram and how can it help?
The Enneagram is a map. It describes our habitual way of seeing the world and the patterns of reaction associated with our view. Understanding our typical response is the first huge step in expanding the range of our potential responses. If you want to take a new route, it’s helpful to have a map, to see the overview of the terrain. Our habitual patterns of response make sense but they limit our choice. There is nothing wrong with you, you need a bigger perspective.
Mary has a phone, rather than her head, in her hands now. Her sister is on the line, someone Mary often calls when she’s feeling overwhelmed and helpless as her mind rolls the story around and around. Her sister is used to this pattern, it happens to her as well. Then a friend told her about the Enneagram. Understanding herself and her reactions through this system was helping her. Maybe it would help Mary as well”¦..
Mary listened as her sister told her about the Enneagram. Inside, she was saying to herself, “this won’t help, I can’t help reacting”¦nothing will help.”
We often find ourselves saying that we just need some perspective. We often go to friends and family for just that, a different way of looking at a difficult situation. We feel heard and understood and, if we’re lucky, we get a different view on the situation. But we often still find ourselves in the same situation down the line. We find ourselves on the same route to work again.
Looking through the lens of the Enneagram is like getting GPS in your car! You can have a guidance system that helps you to navigate with unbelievable intelligence. You can understand why you’ve chosen the route you take and see that there are other routes to explore, and other people take them! There are other possibilities.
Mary decided to give the Enneagram a try, even though she had the same lingering doubts about her ability to stop her reactions. During the introductory class, however, she discovered something about herself and her husband. Clearly her husband saw and experienced things differently than she did. Just because she felt judged, did not mean that her husband was judging her. He wasn’t responding to the same inner map that she was responding to. The lights went on and, she had to admit, she even had fun exploring her own inner map! There was an explanation for her patterns and she started to feel hopeful that she could free herself from the seemingly endless cycle of anxiety and judgment. Actually, just understanding her pattern of reactivity was helping!
”¢ Developing our ability to be conscious of our habitual patterning, that is developing our awareness, is a huge step in changing our reactivity.
”¢ There is nothing wrong with you! We react the same way in situations because we learn and remember.
”¢ Our habitual reactions are there for a reason. It’s how we learned to survive, to protect ourselves and to navigate our worlds.
”¢ The Enneagram helps to describe our habitual reactions and gives us greater choice regarding our responses.
”¢ We can understand how our mind works, develop more compassion towards ourselves, and discover new viewpoints and choices in how to respond.
”¢ What would it be like to be curious rather than judgmental about your reactions?
”¢ Can you imagine that there is sanity, a reason, that you’re responding like you do?
”¢ Can you then imagine there may be a different path to navigating the world and that discovering it may be an adventure?
”¢ Start the adventure, come to a class, stay posted for more articles, call me!