Last night, I heard the words “Well, he can go fuck himself” fly out of my mouth. I was on a phone call with one of my best friends, who was trying to understand a conflict I had had in my past. For the sake of the anonymity of my friends, I will not divulge any details of that conflict here. However, what happened to me next, right after my emotive explosion, sparked my curiosity about the spiritual practice of “non-reactivity.”
The moment I realized what I said- that beloved “go fuck yourself” phrase, which spilled out of me like a cathartic avalanche of daggers aimed at my perceived assaulter- I started to downward spiral with emotions of shame and self-doubt. In fact, on that call, I resigned to shamefully telling my friend “you know, I’m just tired. Maybe we should talk about this when I get some sleep.” Although it was true, I definitely was exhausted from the very early and very long day I’d had, I more so wanted to soothe myself with an excuse for my “harsh” reaction. I had been priding myself on being a spiritual guy who was on a focused and unwavering path to enlightenment. I wanted to be that guy who was in control of his emotions every minute of everyday. But lets face it, who the f*ck is?
I hear spiritual folks share about non-reactivity all the time. In paraphrase, their claims go something like this: “We should be ‘one’ with everyone and everything around us” and “If you’re reacting then there is something wrong with you.” They share about how “egoic” it is to be reactive to our external stimuli, that there is internal “work” to be done if you’re in a mental space where something bothers you and causes you to react instead of respond.
Yikes! Does something stick out here? Does the idea of having your reactions turned against you seem backward? Has this dynamic played out in any of your relationships before and can you see a potential for non-reactivity being abusive? I can think of many times in which someone has focused on my reaction instead of the content of my argument. This dynamic immediately reminded me of Teal Swan’s YouTube video on the subject called “Non Reactivity (A Doorway for Spiritual Abuse).” She focuses on how Non-reactivity can be abusive among members of the spiritual community and within all relationships at large.
Here, however, the point I will highlight lies on the opposite side of this “non-reactivity” coin- instead of non-reactivity being just a mode of “spiritual bypassing” or a “gas-lighting” experience, as Teal alludes, both being forms of interpersonal abuse, consider how about the act of non-reactivity feels like self-inflicted abuse as we say that “our own reactions are not okay to have”
Notice what I did during that phone call yesterday- the moment I had a REACTION to the information I was getting from my friend was the very same moment I started the shame and doubt myself because of that reaction. I even went as far to make an excuse for my reaction with the whole “I’m-just-tired-and-cranky” bit. The truth of what happened was that I was emotionally triggered, despite me not wanting to be. I chose to instead feel bad about having an emotional reaction and, thus, made “feeling triggered” not okay.
That is exactly what we are doing when we shame ourselves for feeling a negative emotion. We make an enemy of the aspect of ourselves that has come out as a triggered form seeking attention.
In my situation, instead of owning it, whereby I just said, “look I am triggered about this situation because I still hurt about what happened,” I decided to shame myself for not being “strong enough” to avoid feeling my negative emotions in the first place.
Realize this, we are overtly turning our backs on ourselves when we don’t acknowledge and validate our reactions and the emotions attached to them. Our reacting aspect- this suppressed being within us- is still a part of us. There is nothing wrong with HAVING a negative emotion because negative emotion serves as information about a suppressed or repressed version of us, and can actually be used to gain further integration between our conscious and subconscious mind. Turning on ourselves during and after reactivity is ultimately an act of self-hate.
So, is it really self-loving to practice non-reactivity in the way most spiritualist propose? It is truly your decision to make!