44 Self Care | Frankie Says: Reflex!

64 Arts

Or, hey, better yet, reflects…

Reflexology falls under the heading of alternative medicine and focuses on pressure points (usually on the hands and feet but ears are used, too) to affect other, believed-to-be-connected systems. And while there are plenty of charts available that show the points in question and while I’m not convinced it works I’m also not convinced it doesn’t, I wouldn’t want to speak on something so involved with only a few Internet searches to back me up.

Instead, lets reflect on our reflexes in general for a minute.

When we go to the doctor for a physical, the doctor tests our reflexes by tapping a trigger point and looking for an expected response. A tap at the base of our knee is supposed to make our foot kick out (if everything is working properly), the same for our elbow and forearm. If you’ve ever seen any sort of counselor or therapist, your emotional reflexes have been evaluated in similar ways. We are told about or shown a picture of something sad, we are expected to respond in kind, happy for happy, good for pride, evil for anger.

But what happens when our reflexes are triggered by unexpected stimuli? What if something that is otherwise benign to others affects us in a way that is atypical. This happens everyday with little, private in-jokes that make us laugh when everyone else remains unamused or we attach ourselves to sentimental objects that make us happy or even a little sad if the object reminds us of a missing loved one. These are generally accepted, if atypical, responses or reflexes.

Just as we can associate laughter and joy with random people, places, or things, others can trigger negative responses. What might be mildly irritating to one person, if they even notice it, could send you into a rage. Or what is generally considered unfortunate by one person might send me into a pit of despair. We often don’t ask for these reflexive reactions, but they are ours just the same.

What can we do about them?

If a doctor notices a child has delayed reflexes, physical therapies may be available to get him where he needs to be eventually. If a counselor notices a lack of standard emotional responses in someone else, behavioral therapies can be applied. But maybe your reflexes aren’t to that level. Maybe you just want a better handle on them for your own reasons, but they don’t necessarily require the help of a doctor or therapist.

Here’s an example:

When I was a little girl I went through some bad stuff at home. Not being grounded unfairly level of bad stuff, we’re talking authorities getting involved: case workers, counselors, lawyers and courts kind of bad stuff. And it took me many years to fully grasp the enormity of it all and then many, many more to be able to process it and get past it to the point where it no longer has a permanent spot in the corner of my mind.

But I have some triggers that bring me back to that time, that pull the memories and feelings out of the filing cabinet of my younger years and shove them into the present. One is a particular song that was released around the time the shit hit the fan and happens to be kind of creepy in its own right to begin with. When I hear this song my muscles clench, my mood is altered, and I just want to get away from it as fast as possible.

The normal reaction to a song we don’t care for is to change the radio station with a shrug or maybe an eye-roll. Me? I’m all-but paralyzed by it. When I woke up one morning to that song playing on the clock radio by my bed? Yeah, that wasn’t a fun day at all. The song is the little rubber mallet, my emotions are the knee-jerk reaction.

What can I do about it?

I’m a big proponent of the Power of Why. When we know why something triggers a reaction in us, we can work with it and within ourselves to temper and adjust that reaction. It’s been nearly 30 years and that song still bugs me (understatement of the year) but it’s not merely that I don’t like the song, it’s what the song represents to me, a period of time that altered my life considerably. So I have to deal with the ideas behind the trigger and in large part I have, but there are some things that you just don’t forget. And if you can’t forget them, they can still affect you.

The thing to see here, though, is that I know that song is a trigger for me. Not everyone can really pinpoint their triggers and the connections behind them. Someone might just know they dislike a certain habit or place, but until they really sit down and unpack the why behind it–sometimes help is needed for this step–they’ll never stand a chance of improving their reflexes to it.

So this isn’t the same type of prompt I’ve offered for the last couple of arts, but I think it still falls under the heading of self-care that this current art is focusing on. What I would urge you to do is take one of those reflexes you have that maybe you’ve never looked closely at, and examine it. Really peer into the corners and pull up the rug and try to figure out the why behind it. Journal about it, talk to someone if you think it might help, talk out loud to yourself even because hearing these sorts of things out loud can have a profound effect and help us make connections in ways that internalizing the conversation cannot. Hold on to the good ones and see if there’s a way you can distance yourself from the not-so-good.

Going around being ruled by our emotional reflexes takes time and energy away from what little we have allotted. While I don’t think we need to be 100% in control and predictable all the time–where’s the adventure in that?–I do think it’s important not to fight for those truly scarce personal resources so that we can use them the way we want to, not the way our reflexes command us to.

I hope you got something out of that.