We all have learned behaviours that we tend to fall back to when we find ourselves in situations that are emotionally difficult, stressful or overwhelming.
This is why we find ourselves (despite all your efforts not to) having the same disagreements, arguments, misunderstandings, fights and same relationships over and over.
These learned responses are called reactions because they are more often responses to triggers from our past rather than responses to what is happening.
- If we grew up with parents who did everything within their power to avoid conflict, when dealing with conflict we will tend to keep things in, tolerate more than is healthy, emotionally disengage, use the silent treatment and/or run away from conflict, emotionally uncertainty or stressful situations .
- If we grew up surrounded by destructive patterns of dealing with conflict, uncertainty or emotional stress, we will respond with yelling, slumming doors, verbal attacks (including insults and biting sarcasm), and/or physical violence.
- If we grew up feeling insecure, inadequate, neglected or abandoned, we will react to conflict, emotionally uncertainty or stressful situations with fear, neediness and/or clinging.
We respond in the same ways as our parents or significant caregivers, or in ways we learned from peers or from our social/cultural environment (everybody does it so it must be right!).
If we are not aware of our unhelpful, ineffective and sometimes destructive automatic responses or are aware but do nothing to reprogram our learned responses, we hold on to them for life.
There is no simple fix to learned responses. For some, becoming more conscious of your thought processes and stopping yourself from reacting automatically works. For others planning a better responses and/or meditation can help. But for others, working with a professional to unlearn and reprogram one’s responses is what’s needed.
However you choose to reprogram your learned responses, learning to consciously respond instead of re-acting is a gift to yourself.
The difference between the two sometimes isn’t so clear, but the result or outcomes are significantly different. Also reacting is so much easier than responding because responding requires conscious thought, whereas with re-acting, you draw from past conditioning.
When you respond, you are choosing the responsible-action in a present situation/moment.
Using the example of patterns of dealing with conflict, a responsible-action would answer the questions: What am I doing? What do I want? Is what I am doing getting me what I want?
If what you are doing is moving you closer to what you want or getting it, you are responding. If what you are doing conflicts with what you want, then you are reacting to feelings from the past that a present situation/moment brings up.
Reactions make you come across as emotionally weak, manipulative, insecure, unreliable/irresponsible, trustworthy and even emotionally unstable because reactions fluctuate with whatever feelings from the past that a present situation/moment brings up.