Saturday, May 8, 2010

Adding Points - How Reactive Are You?

Have you ever been in the midst of a conflict and wondered why it got so heated? If you were to stop for a moment and think about it, the issue isn't all that big of a deal, really. So why does it feel so emotionally tense?

It is very likely that you are adding (or subtracting) points. Let me explain.

Let's say that the issue is a rather mild one. You left some clothes on the floor (again). On a scale of one to ten, it's about a two or three. But when you walk in the door that evening your spouse hits you with a scathing appraisal of your character. Wow! Where did that come from? We could say that your spouse was reacting at an eight or nine on the scale. The difference between the three-point issue and the eight-point response is five points. Where did those added points come from?

We call those historical (not hysterical) points. They are points added from our past history. Maybe growing up no one ever listened to us. Maybe the clothes on the floor are just one more request that has been totally ignored. Whatever the reason, the response was not equal to the offence.

Conversely, we can subtract points. A real emergency arises that we might consider an eight on the scale. Someone gets hurt and needs medical attention. Instead of responding quickly and taking action, you take your time and minimize the situation. You express soothing comments, but fail to address the real gravity of the problem. You respond at a three. Those subtracted points are also historical. Perhaps every issue in your family of origin was met by over reactivity. Like those folks around the boy who cried 'wolf' one too many times, you became immune to intense emotional pleas, real or not.

So what do you do?

  • If you are over reacting, you must go into a self-soothing mode and remind yourself that your spouse is not the enemy. You ask yourself 'What do I feel, and what do I need?' When you ask yourself what you feel, you can often connect with the historical hurt and realize that those extra points that you are adding belong to someone else (your mom, dad, abuser, etc.) 

  • Then you can ask for what you need or would like (as opposed to what you don't want or don't like.) That's a lot harder to do in the heat of the moment than it may sound. You might need to detach from the conflict for a while, and pray and seek God's counsel. If the pattern continues and you cannot seem to respond with the correct amount of intensity equal to the offense, you might need more help such as counseling or recovery classes.

  • If you are under reacting, you also need to have a conversation with yourself and make a determined effort to assess the situation accurately. Are you subtracting points because of your family of origin issues? Are you minimizing the situation and needing to respond more aggressively (even if you don't feel the circumstances as deeply as those around you)? The same advice about seeking additional help from God and others applies to you as well.

Don't let the past control your present and your future – let the Holy Spirit be in control of your emotions. 

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