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Reacting vs. Responding


In my training, there was talk of the difference between reacting to something out of heightened emotion vs. taking a pause to calm down. After the cool-down, then the idea is to re-engage with the other person from our "Adult" selves.


We all have an "Outer Child" or reactionary (teenage) self that comes out at times when parts of our story haven't been processed or given space. An example is a child who is told they are "messy," (shame message) so they grow up learning to be overly-perfectionistic in an attempt to gain that parent's approval. It creates a mantra/vow way of thinking even if the parent isn't in the picture anymore. The problem is that this can have power over us, and it also keeps us from being authentic. The "Inner Child" (genuine feelings, experience, who we are at the core) is neglected and the original unmet needs end up being ignored or glossed over. Society is bent on looking at the results of things instead of how we as humans engage in the process, regardless if we "win or lose."


The Gottmans have a helpful guide with transforming an over-reaction to a more grounded response. These are helpful things to check-in with ourselves before re-engaging existing conflict:


1) Am I ready to have this conversation yet?

2) Am I calm enough?

3) Am I willing to seek to understand?

4) Can I speak from MY experience without trying to persuade?

5) Am I willing to attune to the feelings of others (without colluding/enmeshing with them)?

6) Can I be fully present without distractions?


My own additions to this:

7) What's the part of this that I can own?

8) How can I get curious, empathetic, open toward the other person?

9) What parts of my own perception (or filling in the blanks with shaming/negative thoughts) can be challenged here?

9) Naming the part I can agree with them about, then adding "AND" giving voice to the part of my experience that also needs to be discussed.


Yung Pueblo (in an interview) talks about 3 qualities of a good friend:

1) You don't have to perform for them

2) They hold space for you in struggles

3) They are happy for your success


I think these are 3 things we also need to give to ourselves. Oftentimes, we are more lenient with friends than we are with ourselves. We can learn to be kinder to ourselves and give ourselves more patience when needed, and also engage others with the same approach. It is really good work on ourselves to acknowledge when we are being over-reactionary and not tending to our needs, and then re-engaging the person from our "Adult" selves. The Gottmans also point out that when both people are able to vocalize what is going on for themselves in their inner worlds, that is as good as it gets. It's not about finding resolution at all costs.

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