Leadership Lessons & Core Values:

by | Jul 21, 2022

Regulating Reactivity

from Rob Gibson, Executive Director

I am reactive. I know it. I own it, and it is often not pretty. And it is valuable when understood.

I react to criticism, judgments, fair and unfair evaluations, and not getting my way. I’m reactive to a friend’s decline of an invite, or my wife’s challenge of my perspective. I’m reactive to the rain that washed away my plans for the day. I am reactive to pain and discomfort.
I don’t like hangnails, let alone the reduced capacity I’ve experienced this week with a bout of Covid. I avoided it for two and a half years and it finally got me. I was due a turn, I suppose, and yet I still reacted. I was ready to blame whoever gave this to me. I felt pity, why me God, you know I’m busy. I reacted with guilt, as I’ve got a job to do, and rest to recover keeps me from proving my value. Lot’s of false selves can emerge from reactivity. By understanding reactivity, I have the opportunity for growth, transformation, and the pursuit of a mature way of responding.
One of our Core Principles is: We are human. We are wounded and broken. We come in weakness.
My reactivity is part of my humanity. It is going to happen because I am human.
I can judge it, reject it, try to hide, deny it, or repress it, but it is still going to happen. And when it happens, and I’m rejecting or denying it, I tend to double down and do damage. It’s unhealthy energy resisting reality, and it is relationally damaging.
I’m aware that on a deep level, reactivity points to my broken humanity, and my push against the brokenness, sickness, pain, and troubles of the world around me. I want perfection, completeness, and wholeness. I want the mess made new (Rev. 21:5). I want health now. So I react to my sickness, to my circumstances, to you, to your brokenness, and at times to your goodness to me. Can you relate? You may even react with dismissal or deflection to someone seeing the glory of God in you? I am a reactive creature, it’s a part of humanity.
Regulating Reactivity (a/k/a Responding vs. Reacting)
How can I regulate, or take my reactivity captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)? The question is how to respond to my own reactivity. How much space do I give the negative emotions, judgments, and defensiveness that come with it? 
If I choose to acknowledge and accept Covid, I may then embrace rest as the loving thing I need in the moment. I then embrace the process of healing, growth, and transformation. With awareness, I can make a choice to respond rather than react to my emotions and circumstances. I can apply my energy in a useful, loving direction.
The idea behind regulating is this: to know that reactivity is regular (normal), covered by God’s grace, and that I have the power (2 Tim 1:7) to adjust (regulate) and respond in love. This is a choice to move toward love, and apply energy to healing, growth, and transformation, rather than defending myself and resisting reality.
Whether this is Covid, the judgment of a stranger, a different thought on parenting from a spouse, or a different perspective (on politics, business, religion, skills, circumstances, etc…) offered by a friend or co-worker, the reality is I have a choice to react or respond in love.
A regulated reaction, or more appropriately a loving response from a mature, centered place, acknowledges this:
  • I am human, of course I am reacting, and there is grace for me in this moment.
Then, with curiosity:
  • I become aware of the emotion of my reaction: I am feeling X (sadness, anger, fear, disappointment, shame, etc…) in this moment. I allow myself to feel my reality and honestly express it.
Then, with compassion, I ask:
  • What is behind that emotion? What do I really want? What do I fear is at stake? (safety/security/belonging, love/affirmation/relationship, or purpose/control/value). This is about understanding and owning my wants and needs.
Then, anchored in the love of God, because I am His beloved, I can courageously look at my need and ask:
  • What has God got for me in this present reality. I choose to be open to what I can learn here and now. This is about accepting my reality, learning from it, and trusting the presence of God’s transforming love. It takes courage to stand in this space.
Then, pressing into God’s loving presence, I choose a loving response and action:
  • I ask a sovereign question – what needs to happen right now for me and those in my realm to thrive? What is my good and holy desire, and what is the healing and transforming movement of love in this moment (1 Cor. 13:4-13).
Our human reality means we will react to our world and our circumstances. My humanity is often messy, and I am at times slow to regulate. Yet, by the presence of God in us, leaders take captive reactivity, and move in love toward transformation and growth. Leaders seek to build up not tear down, seek the greater good of their realm, and chose to respond in love.