You’re Over-Reacting!

The dictionary defines “over-react” as “react disproportionately, act irrationally, lose one’s sense of proportion, blow something up out of all proportion, make a mountain out of a molehill.” That sounds like a very childish, immature, inappropriate, and all those other good things, to do. Something that will make others look down on you and shame you.

Ah, but if you dig a bit deeper, it isn’t so terrible.

A psychologist once said to me, “If somebody over-reacts, that means they had to under-react in the past.” Made sense to me.

If at some point, you had to stuff your feelings, they didn’t go away. They sat there waiting for a chance to show themselves. When you were in a similar situation, they saw their chance and came rushing out. Basically, we are talking about an emotional flashback, with the present-day situation being the trigger..

(Here’s a previous entry about different kinds of flashbacks, including emotional ones.)

People tend to blame you if you over-react. “Stop being so dramatic.” “Stop being such a sissy.” “Just suck it up.”They don’t know what to do, and they are annoyed. You don’t often hear “You look so upset. Is something the matter? Is there anything I can do?” They don’t want to know what caused those extra emotions in the first place. Chances are, when you figure it out, you won’t want to know, either. But you are stuck with it, because it has happened and now it is yours to live with.

I have a hard time figuring out if I am over-reacting, under-reacting, or getting it just right. Under-reacting is as much an emotional flashback as is over-reacting. In the past, you weren’t allowed to show your feelings, and so you hid them. Now you can safely show your feelings, but the old training kicks in and you hide them. It’s fear from the past that makes you do this.

When I freak out, I try to stop a moment and consider that I may be feeling two sets of feelings, one from the present and one from the past. It helps me sort my feelings into a past pile and a present pile. Then I can react appropriately. Of course, this is easier said then done.

It was all but impossible until I found a one-size-fits-all response to any situation. “Let me think about that.” That bought me some time. Then I thought of a sensible, level-headed person I knew and said to myself, “What would he or she do under these circumstances?” That gave me a good handle on the present and suggested a course of action. The final thing I had to do was set aside a time to deal with the feelings from the past. The technique doesn’t always work perfectly, but over-all it works pretty well.

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