Interrupting the pattern between event and reaction is one of the most challenging things we’ll learn… and the one that will have the biggest impact on our lives.
Let me paint a picture for you.
You’re working from home. It’s been a challenging day where a team member missed a deadline and you needed to pick up the slack. Then, an upset client calls. They’re disappointed by the service your company has been giving. And it’s clear another person on the team is taking their personal challenges out everyone else. A conversation is needed, but you’re worried how it might impact their already fragile state.
Your spouse comes home. Finally. You need to vent. And then you hear them take off their shoes, louder than normal. They let out a sigh (or was it a grunt?), and trip over a dog toy. They lose it.
What do you think happens next?
One of three things likely happen.
1. They come upstairs and proceed to blame the dog toy at the front door on you. Therefore the foul mood they’re in is your fault (Cue rebuttal. Things go downhill from here).
2. You go downstairs to make sure they’re okay, and receive above blame. Cue rebuttal.
3. You go downstairs to remind them (yet again) that you work from home, and they clearly don’t respect that fact, or they would have been more quiet and careful coming home.
It pains me to admit that I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of both scenarios. We transfer our “integrated emotions” on to the “cause” of the current upset.
Our ability to respond (i.e., respond-ability) rather than react has everything to do with our emotions and emotional state.
By this time most of us have probably heard that, whenever possible, we want to respond rather than react, as reacting tends to perpetuate the cycle and keep us stuck where we are. The undercurrent of reaction is blame, judgement, and justification.
When we’re in any of these three, we are in reaction mode. Our reptilian brain has been triggered, and the “fight” of “flight, flight, or freeze” has been activated.
But in the moment? None of this understanding is available to us… we’re IN it.
It’s the exact reason that we cannot coach ourselves. We’re too close to the challenge, the trigger. We’re emotionaly invested and “hooked” into the unfolding drama.
So how do we get out? Back to a place of respond-ability rather than reaction?
That’s right. As simple and as complicated as that.
As human beings, we are hopelessly illiterate when it comes to our emotions. When people ask us how we feel, we launch into a story about what caused our upset, who that person is, and how we feel justified in our feelings. By explaining about the feeling, we pull ourselves out of the feeling.
We connect into our hearts, our bodies, and feel.
We can ask ourselves, “What am I feeling in this moment?” and feel into the messages the body responds with.
Notice the emotion. Notice where its presence is in your body, and breathe. The way out is through.
So often we’re afraid of feeling things, we’re afraid of our emotions and “going there”, so we have these emotional currents driving us in the background until we’re ready to feel the emotions we’ve been supressing.
We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.
And it’s these emotional currents that are colouring the lens of our experience.
We think someone is purposefully trying to hurt us, or doesn’t respect us (like the example in the beginning), and because this emotional charge hasn’t been integrated (meaning felt through), it “looks” for situations in our lives where we’re justified in our response. That response is really just a reaction in disguise.
The next time you’re angry, or feeling betrayed, annoyed, or frustrated, try this:
- Create some space where you can be alone, and close your eyes.
- Be with the anger/betrayal/annoyance or frustration. Breathe.
- Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” (Need help? Here’s an incredible list of emotions to dig into all the options from the Centre for Non-Violent Communication). Wait for the answer from within.
- Ask yourself, “Where am I feeling it?” Breathe and connect into that space. Be with whatever shows up. Stay.
When we presence the emotion and feel into it, something magic happens. It starts to integrate. The charge it holds starts to dissipate. Healing happens.
And when the charge has dissipated, we can respond in a way that’s aligned with presence. Connecting with the human being in front of us with heart, not their behaviour.
And that, is the essence of response-ability.
Yes, this is hard work. It’s also heart work. And the impact of it on us, and those that mean the most, is nothing short of life-changing.