What Causes Reactivity and How to Navigate it Skillfully and Mindfully

July 18, 2019

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Our shadow-bound conditioning shows itself most often through reactivity. When we’re reactive, we’re automatically reverting to and acting out conditioned behavior, usually in ways that are emotionally disproportionate to what’s warranted in a given situation.

Reactivity is the knee-jerk dramatization of activated shadow material. Self-justifying and far from self-reflective, reactivity features a very predictable take on what’s going on, which we proceed with even if we know better.

The signs of reactivity include:

An exaggerated attachment to being right. If someone points out this attachment to us when we’re being reactive, it usually only amplifies our righteousness.

Emotional distortion and/or overload. More often than not, this behavior gets quite melodramatic. We may use emotional intensity to back up what we’re doing.

Using the same words and ideas from previous times we’ve been triggered. It’s as if we’re on stage saying our lines as dictated by the same old script. We’re acting and re-acting, even when we know we’re doing so.

A lack of—or an opposition to—self-reflection. The refusal to step back, even just a bit, from what’s happening fuels the continuation of our reactivity.

A loss of connection with whomever we’re upset with. Our heart closes.

A loss of connection with our core. We’re immersed instead in our reactivity.

Here’s an example of how to skillfully—and nonreactively—handle reactivity. Imagine you’re embroiled in a reactive argument with your partner or a close friend. You’re dangerously close to making a decision about your relationship to them that you vaguely sense you’ll later regret, but damned if you’re going to hold back now! After all, don’t you have a right to be heard?

Things are getting very edgy. Then, rather than continuing your righteous, over-the-top dramatics, you admit to yourself that you’re being reactive. Period. You step back just a bit from all the sound, fury, and pressure to make a decision about your relationship with this person. You’re still churning inside, but the context has shifted. You’re starting to make some space for the reactive you instead of continuing to identify with it. There’s no dissociation here — just a dose of healthy separation, some degree of holding space for yourself, perhaps even some trace of emerging care for the other person.

On the outside, you’re slowing down and ceasing to attack the other, saying nothing more than what you’re feeling, without blaming the other for this. You’re starting to allow yourself to be vulnerable with the other. You’re interrupting your own reactivity.

Your intuition begins to shine through all the fuss. You start to realize that, while you were being reactive, your voice sounded much like it did when you were seven or eight years old. The same desperation, the same drivenness, the same cadence. You were hurting considerably then and trying to keep your hurt out of sight, because earlier times of expressing it had been met with parental rejection and shaming.

You’re still on shaky ground, though, and could still easily slip back into your reactive stance. Just one more shaming or otherwise unskillful comment from the other could do the trick. So you soften your jaw and belly, bend your knees slightly, and take five deep breaths, making sure that you count each breath on the exhale. You know from previous experience that these somatic adjustments will help settle you; they are your go-to calming responses for stressful moments.

As the out-front reality of your reactivity is now in clear sight, you feel shame. Some of this is a beneficial shame, activating your conscience, letting you know that you crossed a line with the other and that a genuine expression of remorse is fitting. You say you’re sorry, with obvious vulnerability. Sadness surfaces in you. You don’t make excuses for your reactivity. Instead, you make your connection with the other more important than being right.

And a very different kind of shame also arises, one that’s far from beneficial. This shame activates not your conscience but your inner critic (heartlessly negative self-appraisal). It’s aimed not at your behavior but at your very being, taking the form of self-flagellation for having slipped—a self-condemnation that, if allowed to run free, mires you in guilt and keeps you from reconnecting with the other. You acknowledge the presence of this toxic shame, saying to yourself that your inner critic is present. It’s not nearly as strong as it usually is, fading quickly as you name it. You choose to address it in depth later on, outside of the argument you were just having, as part of your ongoing shadow work. Reconnecting with the other is a priority now, and it’s happening, bringing relief and gratitude to you both.

Excerpted from Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You by Robert Augustus Masters.

Robert Augustus Masters

Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is an integral psychotherapist, relationship expert, and spiritual teacher whose work blends the psychological and physical with the spiritual, emphasizing embodiment, emotional literacy, and the development of relational maturity. He is the author of thirteen books, including Transformation through Intimacy and Spiritual Bypassing. For more information, visit robertmasters.com.

Buy your copy of Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Robert Augustus Masters

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Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is an integral psychotherapist, relationship expert, and spiritual teacher whose work blends the psychological and physical with the spiritual, emphasizing embodiment, emotional literacy, and the development of relational maturity. He is the author of thirteen books, including Transformation through Intimacy and Spiritual Bypassing. For more information, visit robertmasters.com.

Author photo © Sequoia Miller


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Robert Augustus Masters:
The Depthless Depth of Shadow Work »
True Masculine Power »
Emotional Intimacy, Part 1 »
Emotional Intimacy, Part 2 »

Also By Author

How to Bring Your Fear Out of Your Shadow

How To Bring Fear Out Of Your Shadow Header ImageIf you’re looking for genuine transformation, you need look no further than your fear. For in it there exists not only an abundance of trapped energy, but also the very testing and challenge that we need in order to live a deeper, more authentic life.

The dragon’s cave awaits. However shadowed it may be, you know where it is, and you can see it more clearly as you move toward it, step by conscious step, bringing the fearful you into your heart, with your adrenaline not so much fueling your fear as your courage and investigative excitement.

The following guide can help you confront the dragons of fear as you navigate through your own unique shadow.

Get to know your fear. Study it, approach it, become more curious about it, turn on the lights. Get to know it even better. Go for an inside look at it, paying close attention to all of its qualities, static and otherwise. The more familiar you are with your fear, the less the chances are of you letting it control you.

Get to know its roots. The expression of your fear might be outside your shadow, but its origins, its foundational roots, may be in your shadow. You may, for example, begin with an obvious case of worrying and then drop below that to an anxiety that has been with you since you were young. Underlying that may be a survival-based panic that’s anchored in an even earlier time. Spelunk your depths.

Stop shaming yourself for being afraid. Everyone has fear, whether they admit it or not. The Dalai Lama has said he sometimes feels anxious. The more we shame ourselves—and are shamed—for being afraid, the more our fear will be driven into our shadow. Fear is natural, but what we do with it may not be so natural, such as when we pathologize it.

Open your heart to the frightened child in you. Develop as much compassion as possible for the fearful you. (This compassion comes from the you who is not caught in fear.) Don’t tell that child not to be afraid or that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, be caring and protective enough to hold such fearfulness the same way you would a trembling infant. Remember that as a child you needed not just love but also protection. Being a good parent to your inner child will decentralize your fear so that instead of it holding you, you are holding it.

Instead of giving your fear higher walls, give it bigger pastures. Doing so expands you. This makes more room for your fear to shed some of its constrictedness and transition into excitement, allowing you more access to contexts other than that of fearfulness. Fear contracts our breathing, squeezing and gripping us, as if we’re stuck in a too-small enclosure, unpleasantly walled in. Giving our fear more room, more space, doesn’t make it worse but rather spreads out its energies, diluting its intensity and reducing the pressure.

Think of your fear as excitement in disguise. Where there’s fear, there’s excitement close by. Make a hard fist, tightly balled up, and imagine this is your fear. Then relax your hand, letting your fingers spread wide; this is your excitement, open and available. It’s the same energy, the same adrenaline, but the context has shifted dramatically. You weren’t trying to get excited; simply relaxing your fist freed up your energy. The fear initially is tightly held in the shadows; making conscious contact with it allows it to begin uncurling, to let some light in.

Keep your anger on tap. Take advantage of the fact that fear and anger are very closely related, being basically the same biochemically. Where fear contracts us, anger expands us, for better or worse. In fear we either tend to flee or freeze; we often feel paralyzed. But in anger we thrust forward, leaning into what angers us; our energies mobilize for taking strong stands. Some anger is a mask for fear, but plenty of anger is fearless fire, flaming through relational deadwood and obstacles to well-being, providing a torch that can illuminate even the darkest corners of our shadow.

Separate the content of your fear from its energy. When fear gets into our mind, we spin out storylines that can keep us in dark places internally, thought-cages packed with fearful ideas and expectations. When this happens, don’t think about your fear. Instead, bring your awareness as fully as possible to your body. Sense where in your body the energy of fear is strongest, taking note of the sensations there and their detailing. Stay with this body awareness, sensing instead of thinking, until you feel more stability. Soften your belly and chest, feeling how your breathing moves your entire torso, keeping some awareness on the arrival and departure of each breath.

Practice courage. Courage doesn’t mean we’re fearless but that we’re going ahead regardless of whatever fear we’re feeling. Start with small acts of courage, doing things that are a bit scary, a bit daunting. This could mean having a cold shower when you’re feeling overly sluggish, or saying no to a lunch date with a friend who you know you’ll find draining to be around today. Honor your everyday courage; sometimes getting out of bed asks more from us than does parachuting from a plane.

As you practice courage, more and more of your fearfulness will shift into resolve and action. Some of it may remain, keeping you on your toes. And some of it may morph into the kind of anger that helps fuel needed stands. Remember that practicing courage helps immensely in facing and entering your shadow.

Excerpted from Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You by Robert Augustus Masters.

Robert Augustus MastersRobert Augustus Masters, PhD, is an integral psychotherapist, relationship expert, and spiritual teacher whose work blends the psychological and physical with the spiritual, emphasizing embodiment, emotional literacy, and the development of relational maturity. He is the author of thirteen books, including Transformation through Intimacy and Spiritual Bypassing. For more information, visit robertmasters.com.

Buy your copy of Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Bring Fear Out Of Your Shadow Pinterest

What Causes Reactivity and How to Navigate it Skillful...

What Causes Reactivity Header Image

Our shadow-bound conditioning shows itself most often through reactivity. When we’re reactive, we’re automatically reverting to and acting out conditioned behavior, usually in ways that are emotionally disproportionate to what’s warranted in a given situation.

Reactivity is the knee-jerk dramatization of activated shadow material. Self-justifying and far from self-reflective, reactivity features a very predictable take on what’s going on, which we proceed with even if we know better.

The signs of reactivity include:

An exaggerated attachment to being right. If someone points out this attachment to us when we’re being reactive, it usually only amplifies our righteousness.

Emotional distortion and/or overload. More often than not, this behavior gets quite melodramatic. We may use emotional intensity to back up what we’re doing.

Using the same words and ideas from previous times we’ve been triggered. It’s as if we’re on stage saying our lines as dictated by the same old script. We’re acting and re-acting, even when we know we’re doing so.

A lack of—or an opposition to—self-reflection. The refusal to step back, even just a bit, from what’s happening fuels the continuation of our reactivity.

A loss of connection with whomever we’re upset with. Our heart closes.

A loss of connection with our core. We’re immersed instead in our reactivity.

Here’s an example of how to skillfully—and nonreactively—handle reactivity. Imagine you’re embroiled in a reactive argument with your partner or a close friend. You’re dangerously close to making a decision about your relationship to them that you vaguely sense you’ll later regret, but damned if you’re going to hold back now! After all, don’t you have a right to be heard?

Things are getting very edgy. Then, rather than continuing your righteous, over-the-top dramatics, you admit to yourself that you’re being reactive. Period. You step back just a bit from all the sound, fury, and pressure to make a decision about your relationship with this person. You’re still churning inside, but the context has shifted. You’re starting to make some space for the reactive you instead of continuing to identify with it. There’s no dissociation here — just a dose of healthy separation, some degree of holding space for yourself, perhaps even some trace of emerging care for the other person.

On the outside, you’re slowing down and ceasing to attack the other, saying nothing more than what you’re feeling, without blaming the other for this. You’re starting to allow yourself to be vulnerable with the other. You’re interrupting your own reactivity.

Your intuition begins to shine through all the fuss. You start to realize that, while you were being reactive, your voice sounded much like it did when you were seven or eight years old. The same desperation, the same drivenness, the same cadence. You were hurting considerably then and trying to keep your hurt out of sight, because earlier times of expressing it had been met with parental rejection and shaming.

You’re still on shaky ground, though, and could still easily slip back into your reactive stance. Just one more shaming or otherwise unskillful comment from the other could do the trick. So you soften your jaw and belly, bend your knees slightly, and take five deep breaths, making sure that you count each breath on the exhale. You know from previous experience that these somatic adjustments will help settle you; they are your go-to calming responses for stressful moments.

As the out-front reality of your reactivity is now in clear sight, you feel shame. Some of this is a beneficial shame, activating your conscience, letting you know that you crossed a line with the other and that a genuine expression of remorse is fitting. You say you’re sorry, with obvious vulnerability. Sadness surfaces in you. You don’t make excuses for your reactivity. Instead, you make your connection with the other more important than being right.

And a very different kind of shame also arises, one that’s far from beneficial. This shame activates not your conscience but your inner critic (heartlessly negative self-appraisal). It’s aimed not at your behavior but at your very being, taking the form of self-flagellation for having slipped—a self-condemnation that, if allowed to run free, mires you in guilt and keeps you from reconnecting with the other. You acknowledge the presence of this toxic shame, saying to yourself that your inner critic is present. It’s not nearly as strong as it usually is, fading quickly as you name it. You choose to address it in depth later on, outside of the argument you were just having, as part of your ongoing shadow work. Reconnecting with the other is a priority now, and it’s happening, bringing relief and gratitude to you both.

Excerpted from Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You by Robert Augustus Masters.

Robert Augustus Masters

Robert Augustus Masters, PhD, is an integral psychotherapist, relationship expert, and spiritual teacher whose work blends the psychological and physical with the spiritual, emphasizing embodiment, emotional literacy, and the development of relational maturity. He is the author of thirteen books, including Transformation through Intimacy and Spiritual Bypassing. For more information, visit robertmasters.com.

Buy your copy of Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Causes Reactivity Pinterest

Robert Augustus Masters: The Depthless Depth of Shadow...

Robert Augustus Masters is an integral psychotherapist and author whose works include To Be a Man, Emotional Intimacy, and Spiritual Bypassing. Most recently, he teamed with Sounds True to publish Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark: Breaking Free from the Hidden Forces That Drive You. In this illuminating episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Robert about the influence of the shadow side of the psyche—especially Robert’s own encounters with it. Robert describes his experiences as the leader of a psychospiritual community that gradually transformed into a cult, including the near-death experience that forced him to confront the reality of his actions and change his life. Tami and Robert also talk about the powerful influence of shame, as well as the important differences between anger and aggression. Finally, they discuss the desire to place spiritual guides on pedestals and what we can do to address the difficult aspects of student-teacher relationships. (63 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway: One of the ways that Robert Augustus Masters describes our personal shadow is that it contains experiences of wounding and early conditioning that we have yet to face. How do we know what we haven’t yet faced? Robert teaches that one of the best ways we can start to identify our shadow is to pay careful attention to moments of reactivity (we all know what those feel like) and then ask, “How old do I feel in this moment?” By entering the pain of these early disowned experiences, we start the hard task that Robert calls “illuminating the shadow,” a great life work that is endlessly deep and endlessly liberating.

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Express Your Creativity to Jump-Start Vitality

Have you ever felt like you lost a part of yourself? 

Sometimes it happens. Life changes, and we change with it. It could be a move, job change, marriage, kids, taking care of elders, or any sort of transition. Sometimes it’s not even a difficult transition that makes us lose a part of ourselves but a decision we make to keep on with some things and release the rest. And yet, we might regret leaving that part of us behind. Often, the part of ourselves we leave behind is a creative part of ourselves that we might think, in today’s world, is less important or less valued. 

This certainly happened to me—for about fifteen years. Basically, I lost my voice. As much as I loved singing, for reasons I could not fully understand, I knew part of my path was to continue in my study of healing. Unfortunately, when I chose graduate school, I also decided there was no point in singing anymore if I was not “serious.” Not only did I relinquish my opportunity to prepare for a professional career in classical western opera singing—I simply stopped singing altogether. And by making that black-and-white decision, based more in perfectionism than in feeding my heart and soul, I lost a huge part of myself for more than fifteen years. Singing was a gift I was given to bring me back to my own creative bliss—but I had been blind to its purpose for most of my life. And a part of me literally felt like I had died.

I’ll bet many of you can relate. External circumstances seem to shift the tides of our lives so that sometimes we lose parts of ourselves society doesn’t necessarily directly reward. If we enjoyed art, dance, music, or other areas of creative expression when we were young, unless we pursued these passions as professional artists, we might have lost sight of them over the years. We often think we have to leave creative pursuits behind in our process of “adulting”—making money, providing for a family, and pursuing a career. However, losing that creative juice comes with real costs—we can end up losing our ability to innovate, our fluidity, and a great deal of our joy.

Thankfully, our creativity is never really lost. In my case, I found the joy of singing again spontaneously while singing to my kids when they were young. When they got a bit older, I decided to reclaim the fun of singing for myself. Out of the blue, I created a Guns N’ Roses cover band called Nuns N Moses. I searched for musicians and convinced them (all straight males) to dress as nuns while I dressed as Moses for part of the show, changing lyrics and singing songs from Moses’s perspective. It was hilarious fun while paying homage to one of my favorite childhood rock ‘n’ roll bands with excellent musicians. Soon after, I was asked to front an Iron Maiden tribute band called Up the Irons. The music was amazing, and the band was a hit, with thousands of fans and a busy gig schedule at the best venues in Southern California. I found myself blissfully singing my heart out—and I had more energy than I ever had in my life.

I share this personal story with you for two reasons. One is to remind you that the parts of you that you think are forgotten actually live on inside of you—particularly the creative parts of you. These are the parts that long for authentic expression, in whatever ways they are able to manifest. They do not die, and when we give them voice, we actually provide healing for ourselves—an ability to bring us to a greater sense of self-awareness, self expression, connection, and ultimately transcendence. The second reason is to challenge you to consider ways you can step out into a more authentic expression of yourself—even if it feels risky to you. The best thing you can do is to break the false idol of yourself. Creative expression gives you the tools to connect with yourself beyond your cultural and social conditioning and to connect with others in true heart and soul expression. Nothing can be more freeing and more healing.

PUTTING CREATIVITY INTO PRACTICE

Fostering Our Flow

How do we begin to jump-start our experience of creativity and its links to flow, improved mood, and vitality to augment our own deeper, more authentic expression of ourselves and our healing? Following is an easy guide:

First, recognize that you are a creative being. The more you identify yourself as a creator, the easier it will be for you to create in different settings, even at work. Even the scientific data suggest this. 

Start simple. Remember that no one defines what is creative except you. Is there a particular creative activity that draws you to it? It does not matter whether you have prior experience with 

  1. It does not need to be a specific art form, either (putting creative outfits together or improvising a meal without a recipe are examples). Pick something easy for you to engage in at least once a week for six weeks, and do something that you can easily fit into your day or week. (Singing in the car or dancing around the house for fifteen minutes a day counts!)

Go beyond judgment. Suspend your and others’ judgment, and move beyond your discomfort. Believe me, I know what it’s like when the kids beg you to stop singing in the car! You will encounter a whole slew of judgmental statements, most of them likely from yourself. As Nike loves to say, “Just Do It.” (In my case, when encountering my children’s complaints, I keep singing, but I do it more softly so as not to irritate their eardrums beyond belief.) When feeling uncomfortable, do it anyway and tap into the bodily, energetic feeling that you have when you are being creative. That will help you break through those negative self-judgments and clear those vrittis, or mind disturbances!

Observe, persist, and enjoy. Notice how you feel after engaging in your creative act. Be your own scientist. Explore how you feel after the first time, and then the second time, and so on. How did the rest of your day go after you allowed yourself some time for creativity? Keep at it, and even try your hand at something new. You might feel more comfortable working with an art form you have learned in the past. However, remember that your goal is not perfection—it is connecting with the energy of creativity. There is something to be said for examining an art form with “beginner’s mind.” Keep honing your creativity by focusing on both things you know and things you don’t know, and see what insights come to you as a result.

author photo

Shamini Jain, PhD, is the founder and CEO of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), a nonprofit collaborative that leads humanity to heal ourselves. Dr. Jain is an Ivy League-trained clinical psychologist and an award-winning research scientist in psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and integrative medicine. She is a sought-after speaker and teacher in mind-body-spirit healing. Dr. Jain is also adjunct faculty at UC San Diego. For more, visit shaminijain.com.

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Dr. Shamini Jain is a clinical psychologist, researcher, public speaker, and the founder of the nonprofit Consciousness and Healing Initiative. With Sounds True, she’s released the new book Healing Ourselves: Biofield Science and the Future of Health. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon has a conversation with Shamini about the interconnections between human consciousness, the biological world, and our ability to heal. Shamini explains “the biofield” and how it relates to both our physical and spiritual selves. She and Tami discuss already existing healing modalities that work with the biofield (such as Reiki and qigong), as well as recent scientific discoveries that support and expand those fields. Finally, Tami and Shamini talk about the essential step of surrendering to the healing process, the mystery and potential of the placebo effect, and our fundamental connection to all of life.  

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