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The Positive Approach - Lesson 16

Reactive or Response-able

By Peter Shepherd

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The opposite of being reactive is being response-able, i.e. responsible. When you are being responsible, you're thinking as well as feeling: you're experiencing your feelings but also conscious of what is rational and therefore not driven by emotion to act impulsively. This is an integration of left and right brain functions. As you become free from reactive (stimulus-response) behavior then to that degree you know that you are also free to be spontaneous, because you know that will incorporate responsibility.

Responsibility also allows you to maintain your self-worth, despite anything another person might say about you. The thoughts and feelings of others no longer drag you into a pit of self-doubt. You will see all sorts of new options and choices in your dealings with other people because your perspective and your sense of reason are not being buried by emotions. Taking responsibility for your mind, puts back into your hands a good deal of control over your life.

When another or others continue to attempt to manipulate and dominate, you can then stay calm and refuse to be stampeded: then you retain the power. For example by responding non-defensively, this breaks the cycle of attack-retreat-defense-escalation. The moment you argue, apologize, explain, or try to get them to change their minds, you give them the power to withhold the understanding that you are asking them for. One can instead say, "That's an interesting point of view," or "I shall consider that as one option." It is also necessary to assert one's position in a matter-of-fact manner, without worrying about upsetting them, but without any hostility or embarrassment: "I'm happy to let you stay for a specified, limited time."

One's response to this approach may be to say, "I just don't think I can stand up to (him or her)." But instead of saying "I can't," reframe your statement in the form: "I haven't yet stood up to my parents." "Haven't yet" implies choice, whereas "don't" and "can't" imply the opposite: finality. Similarly, "I mustn't" or "I shouldn't" can be reframed as: "I could choose not to." "I should" or "I must" can be reframed: "I could choose to." There is a big difference between choosing to capitulate to another because you've considered the alternatives and decided that you're not prepared to make a change at this moment, and automatically capitulating because you feel helpless. Making a choice means taking a step toward control; knee-jerk reacting means backsliding into being controlled.

We cannot accept responsibility for everything that occurs and sometimes our choices have no bearing on a particular outcome. There is always an interaction between what some may call their fate (or their genes, environment, etc.) and their decisions. Many people are affected by the behavior of others; complete self-control is a rarity. Certainly, events sometimes overwhelm us. If my girlfriend has an affair with another man, and I feel quite miserable at this loss, it would be difficult, at least initially, to me to choose to feel differently. It does me little good to tell myself that I have made a choice to be miserable and could just as easily be happy. To be upset is a normal and rational reaction to my girlfriend's behavior.

What I am responsible for, however, is if I choose to dwell on her behavior, to berate myself, maybe condemn her for her choice of partner, or to plague myself with thoughts of her actions for months to come - then I will have chosen to continue in a destructive pattern of behavior, to adopt the stance of victim, which will result in my continuing misery.

On the other hand, I may choose to see things differently, to apply a different meaning to what has happened, to value the experience for the positive lessons it brings me. I may not be able to change the past but I can certainly alter what it means to me. My interpretation of events is my choice and responsibility.

By understanding how easily reactive responses can take over one's behavior you will find yourself not taking personal offense when others behave in their own way; you can see that they are just dramatizing the problems and conflicts in their own heads. Enlightenment always leads to understanding, empathy and improved communication, in short, love.

Next Lesson: 17. The Why & the Lie