Mining the Depths of Aversion for Self-Development Gold

“The more factual data I get on my own functioning, the more it confirms that my subjective perception is not very reliable.  For instance, I frequently use a device called Muse, which measures brain waves during meditation.  There are plenty of times when I would subjectively report that I am calm and focused but the data from my brain does not support that.  There are other times when I “feel” restless, but the factual data lines up with a clear, focused brain.” – Stan Proffitt

This gap between facts and perception got me thinking about other ways I miss the mark on how I’m really doing.  My investigation into discrepancies in my self-awareness has brought me to a deeper understanding of the many ways aversion influences my functioning.    By aversion, I simply mean a reactive dislike or distaste for what is.  Here are some of the forms of aversion I have identified in myself:

Forms of Aversion

  • Anger
  • Arrogance
  • Insensitivity
  • Impatience
  • Irritability

These root emotional states lead to behaviors in me to which, ironically, I have a lot of aversion.  However, the behaviors are useful insofar as I can observe them and develop greater self-awareness.  So, what do I “watch” for in tracking my own aversion?

Observable Behaviors

  1. Acts of aggression – disrespectful, insensitive behavior, a readiness to attack another (not necessarily physically)
  2. Acts of invalidation – belittling the concerns, perspective and/or behavior of others
  3. Acts of avoidance – Moving away, distancing from the object of aversion

I have developed a simple process for working on understanding and regulating my own aversions.

Discernment

When I notice an intense reaction in myself (aggression, invalidation, avoidance), I try to determine if there is any actual risk to my well-being or life functioning.  The first question to address is whether the situation is a potential growth-producing situation, a reality risk to be mitigated or just an unproductive use of time and energy.  Not every object of aversion should be approached.  For example, if one has an aversive reaction to cigarette smoke, I’m not implying that one should start smoking so as to become less reactive.

Gaining Clarity

Assuming I decide the situation could be potentially growth producing and not pose an unwise risk for harm, I try to name the form of aversion (anger, arrogance, etc.) and the ensuing automatic behaviors that it prompts in me.  For aversions that are focused on other people, my main antidote is to move toward them with the intent to better understand what makes them tick, so to speak.  I find it very hard to maintain anger and impatience when I come to a better understanding of what others are dealing with in life and in themselves.

Interrupting Reactivity

When the aversion I am experiencing does not involve other people, but just day to day life experiences, such as a day of hard rain when I planned an outdoor activity, my primary antidote is meditation.  Through the calmness I obtain through meditation, I can typically transcend the narrow thinking that is producing the resistance to what is.

Focusing on all the ways I judge and resist what life presents me with has proven to be an endless source of self-development opportunities.  In my experience, the lighter way I move through life when staying aware and on top of this aspect of my functioning is well worth the temporary discomfort associated with facing it.  What is the alternative?  One can keep pushing things and people away, but they are still there.  Eventually, the pile of triggers one is avoiding is too big to “fit under the rug.”

The following reflective questions are offered as a set of thought stimulators.  I invite you to reflect on your own aversions and experiences.

Reflective questions:

  1. In what situations, relationships or circumstances do you notice yourself becoming most angry, frustrated or judgmental?
  2. What patterns or commonalities can you identify in those situations, relationships or circumstances?
  3. In what relationships could getting to a deeper understanding of the other person serve to tone down the intensity of your reactivity to that individual?
  4. What do you want to know about the individuals identified in questions 3? Produce three genuinely curious questions that you could ask for each.
  5. In what situations or circumstances not involving relationships do you also notice intense reactions in yourself?
  6. What do you think the reactions reveal about you?

Please share your reflections and thoughts on the ideas presented here in the comments sections below.

Stan Proffitt

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