Do you lose your cool easily or snap at others before you even realise you're doing it?
When faced with a challenging situation or person, we can either react or respond. Which one you do will depend on how you’re looking at the situation.
A reaction comes from the part of us that wants to avoid or control something. It comes from a negative mindset. If you’re seeing yourself as powerless, vulnerable and needing to avoid something, you will react. A reaction might be quitting when something goes wrong, speaking to others in a defensive “You’re wrong” kind of way, or becoming emotional and feeling victimised. A reaction happens automatically, it is an impulse to protect ourselves and be right. It's an argument with reality.
A response is very different. A response is a deep, grounded expression of what is true for you in that moment. A person who responds might have the same reaction as anyone else, but they wait. They observe the impulse to react and wait. Then they ponder “What is in my best interests? What is really true for me in this situation? What would I love to create?”
If our partner speaks rudely to us, we might feel as though they are attacking us and making us feel “wrong”. The harmony of the relationship seems to have been threatened and our initial impulse will be to defend ourselves by speaking rudely back and showing them that we are not wrong, in fact, THEY are. If we speak rudely back to them, although we are acting in defence of ourselves and how we want things to be, we are actually guaranteeing that our peace will be disrupted.
So, we can either follow this impulse, or we can stick with what we really want – love and harmony.
A similar thing can happen with parenting. When a child behaves in a way that disrupts our plan of how things should be and annoys us, we can either react by angrily chastising the child, or we can pause for a moment and take a breath. In this moment we can get in touch with the feelings that have come up and decide whether to react angrily, or respond in line with how we really want to be. In this moment there’s an opportunity for love and compassion for ourselves and the child to emerge.
This is not a matter of repressing our negative feelings and impulses, not at all. We observe the negative reaction within us, accept it as a valid option, and simply choose what we REALLY want. It’s possible to actually express the reaction without reacting. We could say “Oh, I feel a bit annoyed/defensive right now, but what I really want is to be close to you.” You might be surprised at the effect this has on the other person, too – especially children.
This, of course, takes practice. Therapy gives us the opportunity to practice this in a safe environment. In time you’ll no longer be at the mercy of other people and situations. It’s about increasing the small window of time between the stimulus and our reaction/response. In this window, there is the opportunity to choose what you’d really love to create in your life.