You’ve probably discovered that there is a difference between “reacting” and “responding.” I’m raising two teenagers right now, and when they say or do something I don’t like, I am keenly aware of the difference between my “reaction” versus my “response.”
A reaction, for me, is a quick retort, a sarcastic remark, a childish eye-roll, or a critical statement. Responding, however, is different. Responding is thoughtful, appropriate, peace-making, and effective.
If you’ve been to a session with me, you’ll know that I often talk about the fight/flight/freeze mechanisms in the limbic system. If the limbic system in the brain, senses a stimulus as provocative, potentially dangerous or threatening, it will send out signals to fight, flight, or freeze. If a person is triggered by a stimuls, word, or action in anyway, that fight/flight/freeze reflex can be very intense.
The stress response activated by the limbic system is a great way to survive a real life attack, but not so good of a way to maintain healthy relationships.
Sometimes an over-active stress response can start arguments, shut down meaningful conversation or escalate fights- the very things that derail relationships. Would you like to Respond with Wisdom instead of Over-react from fear or anger? Me too. Let’s explore what happens when we react instead of respond.
When people react to a stimulus, they are often in a state of fear, anger or pain. Maybe the stimuls was hurtful or scary or mean, and the natutal reaction was one of survival only. Maybe your reaction was equally hurtuful or scary or mean. The thing about Survival Reactions is that they…
- come quickly and automatically
- not well thought out
- meant for survival, not relating
- can be interpreted by others as an attack (fight) or uncaring (flight, freeze)
If you experience fear, anger or pain, it’s likely that you will react (and sometimes over-react) with fight/flight/freeze behaviors. But what if your reactions are causing more problems? What if your reaction to stimulus (someone’s words or behaviors) is actually adding to the problem, instead of helping it?
Responses are different than reactions. When people respond to a situation, instead of react, they are more likely to have their emotions under control. People who respond wisely to a situation take the time to…
- consider all the options
- consider other points of view
- be thoughtful and deliberate
Sounds great, right? But how? One of my counseling professors used to say, “It’s not what you do that matters. It’s what you do AFTER, that matters.” I think he is right. Although you are unable to go back in time for a redo, you are able to analyze what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. For right now, maybe you’re only job is to notice how your Survival Reactions are making things worse instead of better.
Things to work on this week:
- Determine to observe and learn from the unhealthy dynamics in your communication.
- Apologize for your part by saying, “I’m sorry that I sometimes I say things without thinking. I am sorry I hurt you. I am working on that, and want to do better.”
- Harness the power of a well thought out response by taking your time, talking to a friend first, praying, writing it down.
Next week, I will provide some exercises that will help you discover ways to take back your control over your reactions, and help you respond with wisdom.