I do not like the word overreact.
What does it mean, really?
So, your reaction did not fit the level of the situation. Okay, fine. We’ve all been there. And, it’s likely we will be there again. But, it has such a bad connotation, and it’s a connotation that I usually hear in regard to women. It sounds like, “She’s so emotional.” Eye-roll.
When did having emotions become such a bad thing? I hear a lot of women apologize for having expressed some emotion and I say, “Great, you’re alive!” But, maybe you need more reassurances than that?
Okay, let’s break it down then.
The word reaction, as defined by Dictionary.com is:
Action in response to some influence, event.
Action in response to a stimulus, as of the system or of a nerve, muscle, etc.
The action caused by the resistance to another action.
A return to the opposite physical condition, as after shock, exhaustion, or chill.
The word respond, as defined by Dictionary.com is:
To reply or answer in words: to respond briefly to a question.
To make a return by some action as if in answer: to respond generously to a charity drive.
To react favorably.
To exhibit some action or effect as if in answer.
As I understand it, the difference between the two definitions is the addition of emotional influence in react. Reaction is biological and response is thought out. Of course, we would all love to respond to situations instead of react to them, but that is not always realistic.
Emotional reactions are part of being human. They are closely connected to our survival skills. When danger or a threatening presence is near we usually react in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. So, if someone presents us with something that our psyche perceives as a threat, we react. Just because someone doesn’t have the same perception of what a threat is doesn’t mean the threat is not totally real for the person who perceived it.
The word overreact, as defined by Dictionary.com is, to react or respond more strongly than is necessary or appropriate.
Who determines what is necessary or appropriate? I have seen people lose their shit. I have lost my shit.
It can be shocking to an outsider who witnesses an exchange and then sees someone overreact. And, honestly, there is a part of me that is embarrassed when I witness someone overreact, because I don’t like it when I lose my shit and seeing them lose theirs just reminds me of my own shit-losing. That’s my shit.
But, there has not been one time that I have lost my shit that I haven’t been able to find some deeper reason, some long-time trigger or some opportunity to get to know myself better.
My mother died when I was eight. My father left us shortly after. It’s an understatement to say that I have some abandonment issues. Today, 31 years later, if someone I care for gives me some indication they are going to bail, I lose my shit. My shit looks like a defensive-overly-angry-f***-you-kind-of-shit-losing, so to an outsider who knows nothing about me, it could easily be perceived as an overreaction.
I never knew I had abandonment issues. I went through my life thinking I was fairly unscathed by the tragedies of my youth. Ha! I sure fooled me!! It wasn’t until I completely overreacted to a situation, and then again and again to similar situations, that it was brought to my attention.
It forced me to pay attention. Now, when I overreact to something, I can stop and ask myself these questions because I know that there deeper going on. Why am I reacting so aggressively in these situations? What is the pattern?
As artist and author, Julia Cameron says, “Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us when it is time to act in our own best interest. Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.”
It’s an indicator that there is something I am holding in or some reassurances that need to be made. It was from my overreactions that I was able to address the root of the issue with the people who matter most to me creating a newer, deeper level of intimacy and trust with them.
And, even more amazingly, when I see someone else overreact to a situation, instead of judging them, I am able to meet them with some compassion. I know they have just been triggered in some deeply painful way that has yet to be discovered. This understanding supports me in being able to speak the fear that’s behind the reaction instead of the displaced emotion in front of it. As you can imagine, having that approach to someone in the midst of an emotional outburst is powerful and often times defusing.
Think of a recent time that you felt like you overreacted to something. Are you able to find the very specific moment, word or action that triggered you? Can you find a pattern of reacting to that trigger (or similar one)? Can you think of what might be underneath it?
Catherine la O’ is a certified Integral Life Coach, blogger, yogini and music lover. As a blogger, Catherine offers self-exposing personal insights gathered from her own journey of self-discovery. She hopes her writing will inspire and support other women on a similar path. As a coach, she believes the center point of positive personal growth comes from understanding one’s own inner shadow and works with her clients using tools from that philosophy. If you are interested in connecting with Catherine you may find her through her website or through her Facebook page.
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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas/Ed: Bryonie Wise