One of the most difficult behavior patterns I’ve had to learn has been reacting to something when responding would have been wiser. So many times this is a result of being abused as a child. We carry the hyper-vigilance with us for the rest of our lives. It tends to get us in trouble. We are watchful of people hurting us. We’ve had too much hurt already. We have our antenna out in case we miss something we need for survival, albeit survival in our world doesn’t mean what it once did. As a child growing up in a dysfunctional family survival might have meant avoidance of a physical battering by a parent, watchful of any hurtful remarks or actions by a sibling or even worse, fearful of another family member assaulting us sexually. Once our brain has gotten used to heightened terror it is difficult to turn it off.
Both responding and reacting indicate exerting a reciprocal force. The biggest difference is that responding requires us to utilize wisdom, a thought process prior to the reaction. Reacting is an almost involuntary behavior. Reacting is what children do when they go to battle with other children. “He took my toy, so I hit him.” You can’t expect a child to say, “Please give me the toy back. I have another you can use.” Or maybe as a teenager fighting off a date whose hormones are racing as opposed to being able to tell ahead of time that this is the kind of person we’d be wiser to avoid.
So here we are adults. We think we’ve either done a good job on recovery or are now capable of making wiser decisions especially in the area of choice such as choosing a career, choosing a mate, choosing a life style and choosing friends. But have we? If we find out we just lost our job, our original response might be to react by cursing out our boss, sobbing fitfully onto the shoulder of a friend, getting angry and dealing with the anger by heading for a bar. How difficult it would be to sit down and decide whether losing this job may be the best thing that’s happened to us. We didn’t like it anyway and it was time to find another that we did like. We were so underpaid for our skills that it was almost degrading. We’ve wanted to go back to college anyway and maybe this will motivate us to find a way to make this happen.
How much healthier life is when we utilize wisdom before our response. Making good judgments at a time when life swerves into a right hand turn and we were planning a left hand turn is a difficult behavior to add to our repertoire of skills. But it is not impossible. Counting to 100 calms you down and helps you to be objective about your difficulty. Decisions that pop up almost without any volition that make you want to react in a way that is going to bring you more trouble isn’t good. Tell yourself, you will wait till the next day and then look at the problem and see if the response is different. Remember that reacting (or over-reacting) tends to look immature to others including the recipient. Responding, after thinking it over, is, on the hand, mature behavior and in the long run will serve you better.
Remember that a lot of scenarios that encourage anger has its roots in fear. Much of it creates insecurity and we can fix that problem with positive affirmations. Good luck!