Suppression grants us the ability to operate over top of something. As an attorney, I suppressed much of what I felt, allowing me to operate purely from a cold, rational, logical headspace (the shadow of Brilliance provides a great description of the way I showed up at this point in my life).
Suppression is effective, because it creates the experience of being above something. The thinking is often something along the lines of “Anger is an unproductive emotion, so just don’t have any.” Simple, right?
If suppression allows us to avoid something altogether, then wallowing and reacting is about diving-in head first and drowning in whatever it is that we cannot be with.
When we wallow or react to whatever it is we cannot be with, the experience tends to be dramatic and overblown. There is a lot of outrage, anxiety, catastrophizing, indignance and, again, righteousness.
Wallowing in whatever is showing up is the act of making something meaningful and real. It’s not simply that someone in a country on the other side of the world is doing something cruel — it’s that we must mount a campaign to do something about it. We must stay up late at night worrying about it. We must shift every conversation towards this important topic, and rally everyone else to our same cause. (Until we’ve got a new cause.)
From the incredible meaning that is attached to that which someone cannot be with, their reaction is a given — it is automatic. When we have no capacity to simply be with something, but rather, make it meaningful and get swept up into it, we lose access to ourselves. Instead of remaining sovereign and in integrity to ourselves, our values and our leadership, we become automatons, reacting to the stimulus of the moment.
When our tendency is to wallow in whatever we cannot be with, reaction becomes inevitable. If we have no capacity to be with what we perceive as selfishness, we won’t simply shrug our shoulders when someone occurs selfish. We will attempt to address. Maybe we give them a piece of our mind. Maybe we double-down on our own efforts to be generous and kind. Maybe we write angry letters to the local newspaper calling out that person that did that thing that one time.
All of these leave you reacting to what you cannot be with, rather than simply being with it, and continuing on with whatever you are committed to as a leader.
(Excerpt from Who Do You Think You Are: What the Mirror Doesn’t Show You About Leadership)