Samineh I. Shaheem
Sneezing, coughing, rashes, and asthma are a few of the common allergic reactions, due to environmental substances, that most of us have heard about or are unfortunate enough to be a casualty of this hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system.
We also know what the common elements causing physical allergies are, which bring rise to uncomfortable symptoms. These include, but surely not limited to, certain foods, dust, pollen, non-food proteins, and pet fur.
But what about emotional allergies? This has been a concept/research idea that I have been working on for years and it began with the acknowledgment that if our physical resistance can be hyper sensitive to particular elements, then its likely that our emotional immunity can also suffer as a result of certain interpersonal confrontations, causing painful psychological symptoms. So the same way someone might have an allergic reaction to eating strawberries, that person might also have an emotional allergy to a behavior, such as yelling, for example.
Now, no one takes pleasure out of yelling or being yelled at (well, most people) but if you begin to imagine the varying reactions we have after/during being yelled at, you will realize that people differ greatly on the continuum of that emotional experience. Some people might laugh, some stay silent, others yell back and still some will get so incredibly angry that their reaction to being yelled at can be as powerful or dangerous as an asthma attack.
Therefore the definition of an ‘emotional allergy’ would be ‘a damaging emotional response or mental state that arises from a negative or unpleasant encounter which is often accompanied by physiological and psychological changes’ (S. Shaheem 2010).
Once we’ve recognized that emotional allergies do exist, to varying degrees, it is important to identify what yours are so that you can be more conscious of triggers, manage reactions better and most importantly, to explain to those whom you regularly interact with that you may have an ‘incredible hulk’ button which shouldn’t be pressed.
Participants being interviewed on this topic described what they perceived to be their most common emotional allergies:
• Sarcasm – ‘So are you ever going to get out of bed or what?’
• Screaming or speaking in a loud voice
• Unnecessary and excessive profanities/swear words in sentences
• Unjust criticism
• Sweeping generalizations – ‘You NEVER do anything right!’ The use of the word ‘never’ or ‘always’ can be incredibly frustrating to many
• Being repeatedly asked to do something – ‘Honey can you pick up some eggs on your way home?’
• Texting/talking at the same time
• Crowded places
• Speaking in a babyish/childlike tone
• Exaggeration or lying
• Channel flipping
• Indirect answers
• Being asked too many questions
• Certain colors
• People who interrupt mid sentence
• Playing with feet
• Being late
• Making clattering sounds, while eating, with utensils hitting plates
• Grammatical errors or accents
• Annoying spelling mistakes
• Certain facial expression (constantly displeasing or overly happy)
While going through the list, please notice that there is a difference between just plane bad manners, irritating habits and what is described as emotional allergies. To begin with, these allergies may not affect everyone where as with irritating habits, most will agree that they are frustrating or rude. Moreover, the reactions we have in response to irritating behavior are less severe than the hypersensitivity or even disgust we feel towards allergenic behavior.
Typical emotional allergenic reactions include:
• Heart palpitation
A psychological response to an emotional allergy increases in intensity over time so your negative reaction intensifies each time you are exposed to that behavior/situation.
The first step is discussing these issues with loved ones and people with whom we interact on a regular basis. We certainly shouldn’t assume the role of a behavior police for others since what bothers us, may not even grab the attention of another. But it is important to express our own hypersensitivity.
The more we are exposed to the allergy provoking behavior, the worse the symptoms get and the lower our emotional immunity goes. Do not feel like you are being unreasonable. If you sense the discomfort of both physical and psychological reactions, they are signals, which shouldn’t be ignored, and need to be discussed. Otherwise the relationship can suffer and eventually cease to exist.
Of course we shouldn’t use these allergies as excuses to get our way, be inflexible, not compromise or to conceal a deeper dissatisfaction. Emotional allergies should be better understood so that we can express displeasure right from the initial encounters instead of waiting years before bringing it up. That’s because the last thing you want to hear from the other person is, ‘it never used to bother you, why does it bother you now?’
So just as you would warn your waiter to exclude nuts from your meal due to an allergy, try and exclude (or at least limit) behaviors from your life that can drive you ‘nuts.’
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