We are biologically hardwired to react to life. It’s part of our survival mechanism. For example, if you came round a corner and a lion was facing you, your instinctive ‘fight-flight-freeze’ survival mechanism would be activated, right?
What if you discovered your girlfriend/boyfriend was seeing someone else? I’m pretty sure the emotions would range from outrage to sadness. Studies show that a feeling of rejection, hurt, betrayal and so on, activate the same areas of the brain that have been triggered by a pain response: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/body-sense/201204/emotional-and-physical-pain-activate-similar-brain-regions. What underlies these negative emotional reactions may be linked to an evolutionary memory which warns that tribal rejection is a terrifying prospect tantamount to a death sentence.
While confronting a ferocious lion is not as physically threatening as confronting your beloved whom you believe is having an affair, it tends to activate the same reactive behaviour. A reaction to an event usually disempowers both you and the other. It tends to be wrapped in an increasingly toxic spiral of negative self-talk: how dare he? After all I’ve done for him! I can’t believe how stupid I am! Why didn’t I see this coming? I hate him!
Where reacting is an instinctual, mostly unconscious, and disempowering behavioural response to an event, responding is more conscious, considered and empowering.
The essence of responding is ‘awareness’. It is a conscious decision to spend a short while evaluating the meaning and content of an event. Creating the space for conscious and rational thought, allows the triggered physical and emotional senses to calm down, so you can formulate a more appropriate response.
Creating a space for a measured response takes a bit of practice, but with your intention of a constructive outcome, various techniques are available. One of the best and most sustainable methods for living a more conscious life is a daily routine of mindfulness (prayer, contemplation, or meditation). There are numerous mental, physical and emotional benefits including an improved ability to respond rather than react to triggering events.
Deep Breathing or Counting to 10
If meditation is not your ‘thing’, consider taking a few deep, controlled breaths when faced with a negative event. Deep breathing helps calm the nervous system and gives you a few moments to de-focus off the emotional event, and then approach the matter more rationally. Try counting to 10, slowly. This helps distract your brain for a moment or two, allowing the all-important space for a more rational perspective on the problem.
Name your feelings
If you find yourself in a reactive loop (But why me? Why didn’t I see this coming? Is it true? I feel so stupid!) name your feelings (I feel so hurt, angry, betrayed). This can be tricky, but it requires that you slow down and think about why you’re reacting.
What do you really believe about the situation?
Ask yourself: What do I really believe about this situation? You may realize that deep down, you feel scared…scared of being alone. Or you may believe you’re not good or worthy enough. Check these beliefs – how valid are they?
Ask yourself if you’re reacting or responding
Ask yourself if you’re reacting or responding to the situation. This too, gives you the space to make a choice. Remember, even if you are triggered and feel briefly out of control, you can still make a choice.
Choose to respond rather than react
Finally, responding allows you to have a larger perspective on the matter. It affords you the dignity of a mature or constructive outcome, where you feel empowered and in control. It simply feels better.