November 16, 2017

Emotions: Stop Reacting. Start Responding!

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

Emotions! They are the best and worst. Without knowing it though, they can be driving our behavior and choices. Today we break down how to splice out the initial reaction of an emotion, from the response of choice.

Let me start with a story.

There was a little girl who had a pet cat. She was holding her cat in her hands, petting, kissing, and embracing him. Something must have set the cat off, because on this particular occasion it bit her lightly on her hand.

Now, the little girl’s facial expression quickly changed from expressing joyful, happy emotions to expressing emotions of fear and anger. Quickly dropping the cat she attempted to kick the cat. Thankfully her mother was right next to her and stopped her from succeeding in kicking her once beloved cat.

Emotions Cause Us To React

Now let’s break down the story in a way that highlights the difference between our reactions and our responses. Reactions are often emotional, responses behavioral. The little girl had two sets of reactions and responses.

Her initial set was fueled by emotions such as joy, happiness, and excitement over her beloved cat. She saw her cat and reacted with intense pleasant feelings. Her response then was to pick up her pet and love on him with petting, kissing, and embracing.

Then there was a new factor added to the equation: a cat bite. Once the cat bit the girl her reaction was fear and to drop the cat. Her response to that reaction was to try to kick the cat. Did you notice that her response to kick was able to be controlled thanks to the help of her mother?

Emotions Aren’t Bad, But Letting Them Control Us Isn’t Ideal

Sometimes we feel emotion without rhyme or reason! Every human’s emotional reaction is valid and we can’t choose to not feel them. In fact it can be unhealthy to stuff feelings that are difficult. But, we are all responsible for how we respond to our emotional reaction or reflex. To phrase this in a different way, we are all responsible for the actions we choose to do after feeling an emotion.

Emotions and behaviors happen so quickly that it can be difficult to differentiate. More often than you realize, you may be in reaction mode. Slowing down those moments when you are feeling grounded is the first key step. You can then understand what you were feeling so when the emotion comes up again, you are able to better recognize what is going on internally and choose your response.

A key way to do this is through practicing mindfulness. Another is to process big emotions that seem to be controlling your life with a therapist. They can help you break down what seems to be one and the same thing.

I’ve seen people own their feelings and live less reactionary lives. I know you can as well.

Written by therapist Keri Sawyer

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