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How To Stop Having A 'Knee-Jerk Reaction' To Everything

Inspiration

Do you ever think back to a television show or movie that you used to really enjoy and, while you still have a powerful amount of nostalgic feelings for it, years later, you can't help but give it major side-eye?


That's how I feel about the original Beverly Hills, 90210. Although the reruns immediately take me back to when I was in high school and even college, Lord, did they have some pretty racially-ridiculous episodes (like the one that had Vivica A. Foxx in it or the one when West Beverly High was scared to have a dance with a Black high school). And where were the Black people?! OK. But I digress.

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The reason why I'm bringing it up at all is because there was an episode when fine-as-he-wanna-be Brandon was dating this chick named Emily. One night, she got him on ecstasy without telling him. When he found out and broke up with her, she made up a lame reason to spend the night at his house in order to seduce him. They made out for a bit and then he stopped and told her he was done. The next day, when Emily told Brandon that she didn't believe him because of how into her he was while he was on drugs, he said something that has always stayed with me:

(Paraphrased) "Emily, that was nothing more than a physical reaction…like when your doctor hits you on the knee or something. It didn't mean anything."

Hmph. Don't get me started on how a lot of us could stand to ponder that when it comes to casual sex in general. But when it comes to the focus of this particular piece, as a pseudo-pop-off-in-recovery, there are also some of us who could live a much simpler and peace-filled life if when something or someone triggers us, we wait for the immediate impulse to pass before saying or doing anything too.

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Because, like Brandon, oftentimes once the initial feeling subsides, we calm down and our common sense takes over, we tend to see the situation—or at least how to approach it—very differently. Sometimes, whatever "it" was didn't mean as much to us as our feelings first told us that it did.

If you know you are prone to have knee-jerk reactions to everything, here's what I've learned to do in order to reroute taking that kind of approach:

Relax. Relate. Release. Literally.

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True A Different World fans know where the phrase "relax, relate, release" comes from—Whitley's therapist (played by Debbie Allen). In one episode, as she was expressing to Whitley that Whitley couldn't control Dwayne's feelings, only her own, the therapist introduced what we all should keep in the back of our minds whenever we're offended, anxious, or straight-up pissed: "You need to relax, relate, and release into reality."

The reality is, oftentimes us going off only makes matters worse. So, no matter what has transpired, take a moment to breathe deeply (relax), think about what's got you so heated (relate), and release as much pop-off energy as possible before saying or doing anything else.

Respond vs. React

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Have mercy, the amount of drama I could've spared in my life if I had mastered this, years and years ago. Although responding and reacting might seem like the same thing on the surface, they aren't. When you're responding to something, you're reacting in a way that is favorable (a way that is positive or at least advantageous). When you're reacting, you're either reciprocating what was done to you or you're acting in opposition to something or someone. See how responding is a lot more beneficial than reacting?

Now, I'm not saying that by choosing to respond, you have to be a doormat or punk yourself out. I'm just saying that…if your co-worker says something crazy, if your boyfriend does something inconsiderate, if you and Comcast are having it out for the third time this month (SMH), take a moment to think about what you can say or do that will work in your favor rather than against it. Thinking before doing is the cornerstone wisdom of responding vs. reacting.

Remember That Nothing Is EVER Truly Deleted Online

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Two reads that are worth checking are the think piece "Social Media Has Created a Generation of Self-Obsessed Narcissists" and a science-based article "Narcissism and Social Networking." They both provide some interesting food for thought that back up another reason why a lot of us are probably having more knee-jerk reactions than ever—we are constantly taking in info and commenting online. As a direct result, we've become soooooooo opinionated that we sometimes forget that other people have the right to their opinions too; that they shouldn't be cyberbullied into thinking like we do. (Narcissism is a beast, y'all.)

Back when I used to have a Facebook page, I must admit, things were pretty lively on it. It was more of a "Hey, check out this article and let's all discuss" kind of forum and one of my rules was no comment (even when folks came for me) got removed. Boy oh boy, did that lead to some pretty interesting conversations/debates/flat-out arguments.

On one hand, it was cool to see and take in so many different perspectives. At the same time, it can get really easy to be so comfortable sitting in our homes while hamming away at our keyboards that we forget we're not just talking to a handful of individuals. Unless we're inboxing or DM'ing (and even then, things are usually not as "private" as we'd like to think), there is an entire audience of other individuals who are watching (which sometimes means trolling) too. Strangers. Acquaintances. Enemies. Haters. Even bosses or prospective employers.

A wise man once said, "The internet is not written in pencil but ink." When it comes to your online activity, if you find yourself getting offended or even just feeling some type of way, walk away from your computer or put your phone down for 10 minutes or so. Listen to a favorite song or hit up a friend and vent your frustrations before you decide to type anything.

If you don't do that, while you can delete whatever your emotional reaction was, if it was inflammatory enough, there's a chance someone caught it (and saved it) before you could remove it. And shoot, even if you do remove it, when it comes to what's expressed in cyberspace, it's still around…somewhere (check out "Experts: Deleted Online Information Never Actually Goes Away").

Embrace the Sensei Power of Silence

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Sometimes, when my pop-off spirit wants to rise up and take over, I'll think back to Mr. Miyagi from the original The Karate Kid. Remember how calm he was when he was teaching Daniel-san how to fight? (#waxonwaxoff) Mr. Miyagi was always so calm and soft-spoken, no matter how mad Daniel got. Why? Because he knew his own power. He didn't have to prove it.

Trust you me, lately, I have been floored by some of the nasty capabilities of human nature. But now, more than ever, I have learned that silence is not only golden, it's oftentimes the most effective approach to matters. Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence." Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Speak only if it improves upon the silence." Euripides once said, "Silence is true wisdom's best reply."

When you know your own strength and power, you also know how important it is to conserve it. Silence is not a weakness. It is a tried and true superpower.

Ask Yourself If You Can Stand by Your Actions a Month from Now

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Because I've learned all of what I just shared, I'm going to leave the details out. But something happened to me recently that, let me just say would've had Shellie from two years ago using some of the dirty cuss words. Shellie circa 2019 is like, "I don't even feel like dealing with the fallout later." Avoiding the drama that could ensue from me "getting things off of my chest" makes it worth it to just…leave things where they are.

Back to the whole doctor hitting you on the knee thing, when something or someone gets underneath your skin, it's a natural reaction to what to do something. Don't feel bad about that part. All I'm saying is they already used up some of your precious energy and time, even if it's just internally. Before giving them even more of it, decide if you want to possibly deal with the consequence of your knee-jerk reaction a month or even a year from now. If the answer is "no," then do what you need to resolve the matter without making it bigger than it already is.

Knee-jerk reactions are understandable. More times than not, they are also totally unnecessary.

As someone who used to be the queen of doing what was unnecessary, please choose wisely, y'all.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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