Respond or React?
You are walking down the street, when you hear a car beeping its horn loudly, nearby. You react--your body startles, your muscles tighten, you instinctively back out of the street. In this moment, your intuitive, survival-based reaction may have saved your life!
But there are other times when you'll be walking down the same street, and there are going to be cars beeping loudly, when you're not actually in danger. There is no threat at all of being hit by a car. So in these instances, it's not productive--and I'd imagine extremely uncomfortable--to be reacting over and over again. Besides, if one did react over and over again, your body would likely become desensitized, and stop reacting when it really needs to! Neither of these outcomes is ideal.
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." --Viktor Frankl
I love this quote. I like it so much, in fact, I have it printed on my business cards. I guess it speaks to me so intently because it feels like the spirit and meaning of the quote personifies therapy (something else I happen to like a whole lot!). Therapy literally is a space where you can take a pause from everyday living and reflect on what you're doing and why. Also literally, therapy can actually help "rewire" your brain, creating more space between neurons, allowing for greater self-reflection and flexibility. Metaphorically, I think working in therapy can help you to simply feel more space between yourself and your problems, with a result that you feel more comfortable in your body.
But at its most concrete level, the quote is about responding, rather than reacting. We can all practice taking a pause, and instead of talking or acting in some way, we can think about what has happened, how we feel, what we are thinking, and what would be the most helpful way to proceed. It sounds easy, but when emotions are involved, this gets tough. Imagine your boss criticizing your work. You might want to walk out! And maybe you should, but wouldn't it be better to think about it clearly first, so that you're not acting out of anger? And hurting yourself in the long run?
Kids can learn to respond instead of reacting too!
Kids tend to learn best when words and ideas are accompanied by symbols, and are scaffolded into ideas that they're already familiar with. That's why the traffic light can be so effective.
Hanging up a poster like this in a high-traffic, visible area of your home can help kids remember what they're working on.
If you or your child are getting pulled into reacting rather than responding when no survival system is necessary, therapy can help! At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, I can help you or your child build practical mindfulness and emotion regulation skills that can help you to interact with yourself and others in a way that feels best for you and them, in the long run. Call today to schedule an appointment! 856-281-1664