React or Respond? A Question for Grown-ups.

Some people seem to have more emotions than others, I think. We all HAVE emotions. But in by far the majority of situations, I have seen that it is actually the emotion that “has” the person! I’ve seen it in the office, and I’ve seen it at home.

It’s about which one is in control at the time… the person, or the emotion?

My experience of emotions is that they are fairly all-consuming. Especially in times of high tension, or stress, we seem to end up in situations where our emotions run amuck, and the outcome we actually do want, gets compromised or lost as a result of the fall-out from the emotional overload…

We’ve all been in the situation with our partners (OK, so only me? The rest of you can skip this paragraph) where we KNEW what outcome would be best, and that was genuinely our intention when we engaged the problem, but somehow… between our words, and the other’s response, and the tone of voice, and the blaming, it all went south and now its even MORE of a mess.

There are situations where emotions are easier to control than in others. In those situations, we are usually responding to a challenge. And then there are the situations literally, where we are consumed by the emotion and the outcome is then out of our hands. This is where we are more than likely reacting to a situation.

Some people try to avoid having emotions because they can’t control them – I was like this. I used to burn so white-hot with anger that I was afraid of myself, and my response to this was to basically stop having emotions. The fact is, there was a reason for my anger, and it was THAT that I had to deal with, rather than stopping the flow. (That’s a subject for another blog, maybe)

It’s important to realise that emotions are not right or wrong, they just are. Emotions are an external reflection of a valid internal state – either we are in credit, and are basking in an overflow of good stuff, or we are in debt and we are struggling in turbulence. There is a reasonable, understandable explanation for every emotion we have. It may be a composite of many factors, some good and some bad, but it can always be quantified with enough thought.

The problem is the destructiveness of those debit situations, especially where the turbulence drags us under and we lose control. Our families suffer. Our partners lose trust in us when we raise issues that were forgiven, but now are resurrected because the moment has consumed us and we just can’t stop ourselves from finding ways to hurt them again. Our children lose trust when we become two people – the one who cuddles, and the one who rants and raves. Our children also learn from us – right or wrong – how to relate to their future partner and how to resolve conflict.

Only a very marginal personality type would enjoy these moments. So assuming that most people who read blogs are not “marginal types” what can we do?

Can we get to a place where we have our emotions, and they no longer “have” us? I believe we can.

I believe we can do a simple exercise that changes the power balance forever between us and our emotions. I learnt this in a discussion about self control with a good friend many years ago. He mentioned that the significant factor in self control is creating a gap – a time lapse – between a stimulus and a response.

The idea is that we ALWAYS decide our emotions. We don’t always realise this, because when we form habits, we are allowing the stimulus and the response to be so close together that they are indistinguishable from each other. It becomes a reaction. We choose our response so fast, that it appears instantaneous. But it is not. And the challenge for us is to re-separate the two, so that we can achieve a degree of objectivity, and the time to assess the impact of our choice, and then choose a better one if needs be. Changing it back into a response.

Try it, you will see that it works. But don’t try it on the big stuff first, that will just make you more angry! Have a look at some small stuff that has minimal impact and begin to develop the habit of taking stock of a situation before jumping in. Try it with your alarm clock – if you always hit snooze, try to wake yourself up enough to think about why, and consciously make a different choice. Try it with your keys – consciously choose a different place to hang them. Just get into the habit of stopping yourself long enough to let your mind engage a different gear.

There are a million opportunities in our lives to re-programme and learn a new habit. I suggest to you that a hugely beneficial one, with immediate positive impact on parenting and “spousing” – have I just made up a new word? – is to break the habit of an emotional reaction, and turn it into an emotional response. A considered one.


Then, on the way to finding a solution, we can give up the need to win, and especially the need to win dirty. We can choose well so that even in confrontation, good seeds are sown.


About Vaughan Granier

Just Thinking...
This entry was posted in Family, Marriage, Personal Growth and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to React or Respond? A Question for Grown-ups.

  1. ggarima says:

    Getting rid of the impulsiveness has been one of my resolutions last year. Din’t realize when I achieved it. Reading this blog was like re-visiting the time. 🙂

  2. Pingback: React or Respond? A Question for Grown-ups -

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