reaction and response: the child and adult

I shall, for purposes of this argument, say there is something that is an instinctual thing that happens when another thing happens (“reaction”) and something that is a measured and calculated thing to that thing that happened (“response”).  (In fairness, I feel I heard this somewhere, but I cannot remember exactly where.  It isn’t something I made up, though).

I’d say that most would agree that “reactions” are uncontrolled and internal; while “responses” can be controlled (whether they are or not is a different story) and external.  Some of us do not bother to control either, but we are generally called “childish” if we do not at least make an attempt to influence our responses.

But theres’s a visual and analogy that helps me understand both my reaction and my response.  And handle the latter in a way that makes me feel most in control of my life.

This is the “child and adult mechanism.”

Every time something happens, especially one that is more emotionally charged, the “child” immediately runs to the forefront of the brain.  This is our reaction.  Desire to scream, yell, say something without thinking, etc.  The “adult” also runs to the front of the brain, but maybe more of a walk? A fast walk? Nonetheless, the adult moves at least somewhat slower than the child.  The goal here is to keep the child contained until the adult can reach them and provide a rational solution– at least moreso than throwing a tantrum.

After the adult gets to where they need to be, the response can occur in a more thoughtful manner than if the response comes from the child.

The important part of this is the part where you take a deep breath, take a moment, and wait for your “adult” to catch up. 

For example,

One of the children upsets me. I want to immediately snap at them, but I manage to take a breath and NOT immediately react. I then decide I just need to move away from that person. Later, I collect my thoughts and tell them how I’m feeling.

The reaction comes first:

I want to immediately snap at them, but

My response is measured and controlled:

I manage to take a breath and instead say, “Do you think it’s okay to be mean to me right now?”

And generally, when gently called out, the child sheepishly apologies.  If I reacted in anger and took the bait, they would respond in kind, and the whole thing would blow out of control.  I think we’d generally benefit from working on this. No, we cannot control 100% of our reactions, but maybe, just maybe we can put most of the them on hold for a second or two.  Give ourselves some time to think.

Just long enough to express our reaction in a way that benefits us all.

(And worry about response when we have time!)

I am grateful you took the time to read this.  Thanks and love!

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