What is Emotional Reactivity?

Emotional Reactivity is how we show up in moments of conflict. Think back to a moment where some conflict took place, how did you respond?

Emotional Reactivity is how we show up in moments of conflict.

Think back to a moment where some conflict took place, how did you respond?

Perhaps you felt the need to defend yourself?

You felt anxious or panic.

Maybe you felt injustice?

Or you went back and forth trying to convince them of your point of view, escalating in frustration.

life coach conversation

I can remember my dad saying when I was young, “Tone it down, Sharon.” I felt such resentment when I was told this because I felt I was just being myself. I know for years after, when I was told this by someone, I would feel uptight, resentful, and rejected.

If you find yourself always going back to events from your past and feeling negative emotions when you do, this is also emotional reactivity. The goal is to be able to visit any experience from your past and be neutral about it, or better yet, not feel the need to visit it except to use it to draw on what you’ve learned so that you may improve the experience of this moment.

If you feel emotional reactivity around too many things, or too often, or if you think you’re super-sensitive to what you perceive as criticism, even when someone simply doesn’t agree with you, then your ability to move forward, build rewarding relationships, feel joy, and express spontaneity is going to be hijacked.

How to control Emotional Reactivity?

The next time you feel emotionally reactive:

1.     What “triggers” the Emotional Reactivity?

When you begin to feel your self becoming emotional, anxious, angry, name the emotion; take a moment to identify what was the thing that triggered you. What was the exact thing that caused you to react? Once you identify this, you can start unpacking why this triggers you and begin the work reduce the effect it has on you.

Name it, feel it, heal it

2.    How Do You React to Your Own Emotional Reactivity?

Just observe you doing what you do. And then ask yourself, “Is this reaction moving me closer to My Awesome Life?” The next time you feel emotional reactivity, pause, and instead of your usual reaction, be at a complete loss as to how to react. This is how it will feel when your usual reaction is not an option. It will feel weird and stressful and like something is incomplete.

Awareness is 95% of the journey

3.     Manage Your Emotional Reactivity.

Don’t strike out at the person if you believe it’s something they said. Instead, pause, or take a breath, or remind yourself that you’re on a quest to your awesome life, so it’s time to do some things a little differently. Or stay still and hold the space, or feel the anxiety within you and just acknowledge it without distracting yourself with an outburst. Or say, “I feel a little stressed by this; I’m going to need a moment, thank you very much.”

Mentally step back from the scene as it unfolds and observe how anxiety – which becomes emotional reactivity as each person attempts to relieve their anxiety – triggers each person who’s there. I call this “tension tagging“. One person’s anxiety builds up. Without conscious awareness, they seek to relieve their tension. They become emotionally reactive, and “tag” someone with their own tension. This person is now “tagged” with tension. Their anxiety will build. They will tension tag someone else. You can watch this spread throughout the group.

Don’t tension tag. Sit with how you feel. Your anxiety will pass. You will be okay. Trying to relieve your own anxiety through tension tagging will only perpetuate the Tribal Cycle.

It's ok. You will be ok.

It’s a challenge, sure. Some of this stuff feels so ingrained within us it’s like digging out a fossil from clay. Bits flying everywhere. Nothing clearly visible. Clay clinging to your body. The desire to get rid of it.

Just remember, you have a goal, and you can attain it. The goal is to reduce the emotional reactivity within you.

It’s not to have “reasons” for it – people, events, life don’t have to change so that you don’t experience emotional reactivity.

You have to change for you.

Practice, practice, practice, small steps, each day, learning to respond – rather than react – with reflective thought, calm, and grace.

Being in Control of Your Emotions

If you’re still feeling emotionally “charged” when people in your life do “that thing they do” – which “triggers” you every time it happens – then you’re still caught up in feeling, thinking, and perceiving according to the dictates of your tribe, rather than according to you.

Wow, this takes persistence. To get to a place where you can just observe, and be curious, and be open, and be uncritical when someone in your life does their crazy-stuff-that-really-pushes-your-buttons is tremendously freeing, and oh how I wish it were easier.


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Your journey to restore your boundaries is for you. It’s not to change them. It’s not to “fix” anyone. It’s not to make a point. It’s not to win an argument. It’s not to dominate or manipulate. You don’t hand out lectures about how they “should” be. You don’t announce how things are going to be different from now on. You don’t “fix” anyone because you think it will help you feel less anxiety.

It’s done so that you can restore your centered self.

It’s done so that you can claim your awesome life.

It’s done so that you can reclaim you, which means letting go of your own emotional reactivity. This is the journey of a lifetime, and I know you’re up for the job because, as you’ll see and experience for yourself, the rewards are just too great to miss!

You're worth it

You’re Ready

You’re ready. You’re ready to engage in the practices that give you your sense of yourself. The practices that guide you to self-love and self-acceptance. To a place where you know yourself, trust yourself, and value yourself enough to give yourself self-care, including letting people be close to you.

Now, we’re going to move more deeply into your Truest Self, and acknowledge and embrace what is vital to you…

Wherever your starting point… sadness… disappointment… annoyance… frustration… the goal here is to notice if it’s been triggered by your own emotional reactivity and then recognize the cause of the emotion is not someone else or a situation, but your own automatic reactions.

Sit with how you feel. Acknowledge your emotional reactivity. You’re human. These habits are ingrained over years of practice.

Make sure to let us know how you resonate with this in the comments below!


She is the Founder of The Coaching Institute and through our world-class coaching training programs, best-selling books, the #Perspectives podcast, and the Ultimate You Quest movement, she helps people like you live your dream, become your most authentic self, and make a difference through meaningful action.

SHARON PEARSONThe Coaching Institute