Gut Reaction or Overreaction?

Have you ever had a visceral reaction to someone — particularly someone who was acting friendly toward someone you cared about?

Ever jumped in between the two and made a scene?

And then, when you told someone about it — maybe a well-meaning relative or a friend — you were told you probably over-reacted? Hugely. In ways that made said relative or friend wonder if you’d been traumatized in the past by a seemingly innocent stranger who turned out to be a predatory psychopath.

And while part of you wanted to say, “You weren’t there. You didn’t pick up on this guy’s body language or the nuances in what he was saying — or the way he was saying it. You don’t know what I know. You can’t possibly know why I reacted the way I did.

“So, you can’t say with any authority that I overreacted.”

But part of you thinks, “Maybe she’s right. Maybe I saw something that triggered a memory — or part of one — and I reacted to that. And maybe the guy was just innocently trying to be friendly to my young and impressionable son.”

Or, you think, “Maybe I’m just freakishly defensive of my personal space and that of those whom I care about. And maybe the guy just had a different sense of personal space. Maybe he wasn’t being aggressive. Just . . . effusively friendly. Over-the-top, let’s-get-to-know-each-other-really-well-in-the-next-five-minutes friendly. ”

But you think back, and you remember how angry you felt when you watched this guy get right up into the face of the little one you were protecting.

And you saw a bully. You saw someone who was used to having his way with other people — particularly the most vulnerable. You saw a predator.

And you became instantly, overwhelmingly angry.

So, you planted yourself squarely between the man and your little charge, and you looked the man in the eye, saying, “You can leave. Now,” or something like that. Maybe something less polite. Probably not more so.

And he sort of backed away, looking surprised, hurt, and offended. Then he walked away, stopping to look back once and seeing that you’re still watching him with a look of warning on your face.

And you were still seething. Still on edge. And that feeling stayed with you for hours, though to a lesser degree once the danger had passed.

But when you tell someone about it — someone who maybe already sees you as overprotective of the vulnerable little people in your charge — that someone is quick to dismiss whatever made you see the man as a danger.

That someone, knowing what she knows or thinks she knows about you, does not hesitate to tell you that you were the problem — not the friendly stranger (“that poor old man!”), who was probably crushed and scarred by your hostile reaction to his friendly overtures.

And after this conversation, which you wish you’d never had, you might’ve begun to doubt yourself. You might’ve entertained the possibility that you saw something in the man that wasn’t really there. Most people would probably agree with the well-meaning relative’s assessment of the situation.

So, why don’t you?



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