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Why Are You Overreacting?

Am I overreacting? Probably, and here’s why.

I got in a snit yesterday. You could call it a hissy fit. Getting my nose out of joint.Whatever you call it, it wasn’t pretty. I had to ask myself, “Am I overreacting?”

My extreme reaction like this doesn’t happen much, but it certainly wasn’t the first time. Nor will it be the last. I knew what I was saying and doing didn’t make a bit of sense, but I was sticking to my guns. I got mad, and stayed mad for completely irrational reasons. I watched as I fueled the fire of illogical thoughts with heavy sighs and a dramatic stomping off – the latter

 

simply for good measure. I wanted to make sure my husband knew how pissed off I was.

As if that was unclear.

I could hear my mother saying, “You’re old enough to know better.”

I always hated it when she said that.

Am I overreacting? Probably, but the most important thing is to figure out why. Advice from a therapist.

 

I wonder how old you have to be to actually “know better.” Surely we all reach an understanding at some age that snits and dramatic stomping off may make us human, but does nothing for healthy communication.

Luckily my spouse knew that it would take me a few minutes, but that I’d come around, and apologize.

So what is happening when we completely over-react (or under-react) to something? What happens when our rational, healthy self – the part that “knows better” – completely shuts off, and anger, irritation, fear, defensiveness, blaming, and blowing things out of proportion takes over?

Something is unconsciously triggered that has nothing to do with the actual present moment.

I’ll give you a more precise example, which once again, revolves around getting angry with my spouse.

Poor guy.

Years ago, our toddler son, Rob, was sleeping one early Saturday morning. My husband, a golfer, hadn’t been playing the game at all since Rob was born. It was a gorgeous day, and I heard him say, “I’m thinking about going out and playing a round, if that’s okay with you.”

I got furious. Just like yesterday’s bout, I could see that I wasn’t being rational. But I yelled at him — something about being selfish.

He was as surprised as I was at my venom, and there was an awkward silence between us.

Then all of a sudden I had a memory. When I was a young girl, my dad would leave for the golf course on Saturday mornings, and be gone most of the day. My mother was far from happy about it, and would confide in me — way too much.

I felt emotionally trapped. And it happened a lot.

That’s the exact feeling that came up for me that beautiful morning. I once again felt trapped. But it didn’t fit. It wasn’t rational. It was an old rage that I’d never realized was as fierce as it was. It was my unconscious reacting — not my conscious mind.

I, again, apologized. I also recognized that I needed to work on those feelings — to try to understand other places or times in my life where that anger might emerge — and not fit the reality of the situation. With time, I realized how any feeling of being trapped could lead me down a devastating rabbit hole. I began watching for it, and realizing when it occurred, it wasn’t where I wanted to emotionally travel.

I haven’t, as of yet, had an “aha” moment about yesterday’s fiasco. Sometimes, a snit is just a snit, and there are no unconscious connections.

But if you have a major over-reaction or under-reaction to an event, you can stop and wonder what thoughts or emotions may be getting triggered.

Call it becoming emotionally grown up, or maturing, or having insight.

Making those connections can help you stay in the present, rather than being governed by your past.

You can recognize more wholly and completely who you are, and why you react the way you do.

You can have compassion for yourself.

You can finally know better.

You can now listen to Dr. Margaret as she talks about midlife and many other topics on her new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.

Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist, who has practiced for over twenty years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Since 2012, her writing has been found on her own website, as she writes about mental health, with a special focus on Perfectly Hidden Depression, midlife and relationship issues. She's the current mental health columnist for Midlife Boulevard, writes an advice column on Vibrant Nation, is a weekly columnist for The Good Men Project, and hosts a regular FB Live video session on depression for The Mighty. Her work and expertise can also be found on The Huffington Post, Sixty and Me, Better After 50, Reader's Digest, Prevention, Psychology Today, and The Cheat Sheet. Dr. Margaret recently has launched a new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford, where you can listen to her direct and down-to-earth advice.

Janice | MostlyBlogging

Friday 24th of February 2017

Hi Margaret, I knew someone that used to get mad all the time. Maybe he felt trapped-- good explanation. Congrats on Huff Post. Janice

Haralee

Friday 24th of February 2017

And some time some people just tip your mindfulness maturity over to snit land! Great tips.

Helene Cohen Bludman

Friday 24th of February 2017

Thank you for this insight, Dr. Margaret. Sometimes there are clues to our behavior, and other times the meanings seem elusive. Always enjoy reading your posts.

Shari Broder

Friday 24th of February 2017

Ah, emotional reactivity! Triggers! As a very emotional person, I can really relate to this. I'm happy to say that my meditation practice and life coach skills have really made a difference for me. Now, I am able to pause early into my reactivity and observe what's going on so I see when I am irrational. It feels so much better. My husband and kids are thrilled that Mom doesn't fly off the handle any more. Or at least a lot less often!

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