The Sickest Game You Can Play
Here it is in a tiny little nutshell… A person does something to cause pain to someone else. That person they caused pain to reacts to it. And then, the person who was hurt is made the problem specifically for their reactivity. It is easy to understand how terrifyingly ill this behavior is if we play it out on the physical level. Let’s imagine that someone was to walk up to you with a baseball bat and smash it into your leg and by doing so, to break your leg. And then, when you were writhing around on the floor yelling at them and crying, imagine that they came at you with “My god, something is seriously wrong with you. Maybe you need a therapist because you can’t control your own emotions. You need to learn to respond, not to react. I can’t be around this behavior… my boundary is that I only spend time around people who don’t raise their voice to me."
The thing is, we like to make a big divide between physical and emotional or mental pain. Guess what? That divide does not actually exist. Emotional pain registers in the brain and body as physical pain, often even worse. And people do this to each other on an emotional level to a degree that should make you sick to your stomach. People just currently have a harder time seeing this dynamic on an emotional level. We are in the emotional dark age. People don’t perceive emotional harm yet… In the same way that in the 1500s we didn’t see the harm of physical torture chambers. We are ignorant to the emotional harm we cause each other.
So that you can see this pattern better, I’ll give you some examples. Janet is married to Doug. Janet is a single mother. Doug came into the relationship as a super active, protective, responsible man who was competent and super attuned. Over time, this changed. Doug now super irresponsible. He behaves as if he is passive and not particularly competent. He fails to protect Janet on account of the sudden development of conflict aversion. He is also no longer attuned and as a result, he keeps creating conflicts. Janet is grappling with feeling like she has either been duped into the relationship by Doug or that Doug has had some mysterious personality transplant. The disappointment and grief and stress that comes with that have pushed her to the breaking point, especially since Doug can give her no answers as to why he has changed.
Recently, when they were out at dinner with someone who did not know Janet, but whom none the less started accusing Janet of things that were not actually true about her, Doug sat there silently watching it happen, leaving Janet alone to defend her own character. He had already decided that there was no point in fighting with someone who had already made up their mind about Janet. This passiveness and failure to set the person right; and decision to not protect her and instead let her fend for herself, was wildly painful to Janet. As a result, they got in one hell of a fight in the car on the way home. Janet was really angry at him. But, instead of see that she had a very valid reason to be reacting like she was reacting, Doug decided that the problem was her anger. The problem was her aggressive body language and her raised voice and the fact that she was triggered. And when they stopped at a gas station and other people noticed they were in a fight, what they saw is Doug sitting still and silent, getting yelled at. So, the other people agreed… They thought “wow, that’s a bitch… she’s just tearing him apart. Obviously, she is the problem.” Essentially, Janet was expected by other people to be hurt in this way and not to react, most especially not react with anger. She is expected to behave in a loving manner no matter what is done to her or what her partner fails to do.
Another example is Dylan. Dylan is 15 years old. Dylan’s mother is extremely unpredictable in her moods and in the way she sometimes meets and sometimes has no interest in meeting her children’s needs. She has created an insecure attachment in Dylan. She expects Dylan to entertain himself and cater himself to her consistently fluctuating needs. When he has a feeling or an emotional need that does not fit in perfectly with hers, she immediately shames him and treats him like the family problem. Dylan’s mother is not an advocate to Dylan. In fact, she is more of an emotional adversary. Needing to see herself as a good mom to the degree that she is unwilling to examine her own approach to mothering, she often makes his reactions the problem instead of what she is doing to evoke those reactions. Last week, when she decided that she was sick of dealing with dog hair all over the house, she decided to get rid of the family dog by taking it to the pound while her kids were at school. That dog was the only thing Dylan could rely upon for connection. When Dylan came home to find the dog gone, he had a complete emotional melt down and got furious and smashed all of the family pictures on the mantle. As usual, Dylan’s mother made his outburst the problem. And as a result, she decided to ship him off to a behavioral correction center for boys. He walked into that correction center being seen as the problem for his reactivity. And the reality is that this is full blown abuse that everyone is participating in. It is full blown abuse to do things like this to a person, much less a child, and then put their head in a noose whereby if they react to it, they are condemned as the bad guy.
To give you another example, Rose is a spiritual healer who writes a popular blog and who teaches seminars at a local healing center for people looking to make positive changes to their life. Scott is a man who is attending one of these events. He has huge issues with authority and he sees himself as a healer and spiritual advisor. From the minute he enters the room, he is in a competitive power struggle with Rose. On a subconscious level, he is not attending the event to change anything about himself. He is attending to challenge Rose and to get all the other people at the event to see him as the truer spiritual teacher. He derails the seminar to contradict everything that Rose is saying and directs the entire conversation towards questioning her character and insulting her over and over again in front of the rest of the class. During the course of the conversation, Rose becomes flushed red. A look of frustration comes across her face. Though not yelling, she is visibly angry with him and starts arguing against his accusations. The conversation gets heated. Scott of course sees Rose’s reactivity as the problem, not himself and his behavior towards her. And not only that, he and the rest of the entire class make Rose’s reactivity not only the problem in the scenario, but decide that because she reacted at all, she is not truly as spiritually developed as they thought. Their subconscious expectation is that if she is really awakened, she should be able to be emotionally un-affected by and therefore unreactive to anything that anyone does to her. Hmmm… That seems fair.
This form of abuse, where reactivity is made the problem, instead of what caused it, is a huge problem in our anti-reactivity culture. Currently, what is expected is that a person does not get emotionally aroused or dysregulated, is not phased or affected by anything someone else does or does not do, does not blame anyone for what they do or don’t do and does not defend themselves. What is glorified in society is emotional neutrality/numbness… Not having emotions. And as people, we tend to have an issue with anger most of all. No other form of reactivity is disapproved of and is scapegoated more than anger.
You will hear everywhere that circumstances don’t cause our emotional reactions. That they are a choice. But guess what? For people, they aren’t a conscious choice. They are primal. That only changes as a result of a process of learning what to do about the reactions when they occur. And of changing one’s perception. The emotional system is something that can be developed. But it will never develop to be non-reactive. It will just react differently. This is where the door opens for what people call “response” rather than reaction.
A question that I want to ask you is: Where are we going to draw the line? Do you think it is fair to say to someone whose spouse died… “Hey… it isn’t the fact that your spouse died that caused you to get all emotionally aroused (ie reactive). It isn’t the circumstances that cause your emotional reactions. It is a choice you make to feel that way.” Or “Hey war vet… it isn’t the fireworks going off that caused you to react by your heart racing and by having to hide at home. Circumstances don’t cause emotional reactions… they are a choice.” Or “Hey… it isn’t the fact that I just cheated on you that is the cause of your emotional reaction. You can choose to feel however you want to feel, no matter what I do or don’t do to you. That’s called emotional responsibility.” In case you want to learn more about this, watch my video titled: Am I Responsible for How Other People Feel?
This form of abuse, where reactivity is made the problem, instead of what caused it, is an especially rampant problem amongst spiritual people and in spiritual communities because, reactivity has been made the big bad wolf. It is seen as bad and wrong and especially un-evolved.
When we make reactivity the default problem, we are opening the door super wide for abuse. Both perpetrating it ourselves and enabling it in others. To get out of this pattern, we need to start to recognize the pain we cause other people. We can’t stay blind to the harm we cause, especially emotionally to other beings. We also need to keep in mind that we can do serious harm to someone else by what we fail to do, not just by what we do. And we need to ask ourselves and answer honestly: What do we seriously expect? If someone gets hurt emotionally or mentally, is it right to expect them not to react? Is it right to expect them not to defend themselves? If you say you expect them to respond rather than react, what do you think the right response should be when someone is hurt? What should their next response be if they have an open, honest conversation so as to make someone aware that they were hurt and the other person says, “I’m not responsible for how you feel!” What type of emotional relationship do you want to have with other people? What emotional responsibility are you taking for ensuring that you do not harm other people emotionally?
Obviously, there is a place within consciousness and self-development work for caretaking and finding better strategies to work with our own emotional arousal and dysregulation. That is not something that is up for debate here. What is important is to know that it is all too easy to scapegoat someone due to their reactivity. It is all too easy to use someone’s reactivity as the smokescreen for someone else’s incredibly damaging behavior. And it is a sick, sick game to harm someone on any level and then as if that is not bad enough, to make them the problem for reacting negatively to being harmed.