Tag Archives: reflexive

Between stimulus and response there is a space…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Remember that quote from Viktor Frankl?  ““Between stimulus and responsethere is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  I’ve been working on acting on this insight.  I’ve recognized that sometimes my response is more “reactive”, more of a knee jerk, reflexive reaction, such as the unkind words that tumble out of my mouth in a moment of minor road rage.  Or the quick judgmental opinion that comes to mind when I hear someone speak from values that I don’t share.  These unchosen reactions are a detriment to my mental health and happiness, not to mention the negative impact on others.

What I want for myself is to pause in that space that Frankl describes and choose my response based on a perceptive interpretation of what I want.    Do I want to dump a load of reflexive anger, or do I want to respect myself and the other enough to make a better choice?

stimulus

This is easier for me to think about and talk about than to actually do it.  What helps me is the growing understanding we have of how our brain has developed reactions to experiences that might be seen as threatening.  One of the most basic of these reactions is the “stranger danger” reaction.  When we encounter someone or something that is unfamiliar and unknown our first response is often self-protective.  This is not a bad thing.  This is part of our inherited survival instincts.  This first response is a “fight/flight/freeze” response which bypasses the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain where we make choices, and sets us up for a defensive or offensive reaction.  I think some of what we have labeled “prejudice” is this sort of autonomic reaction to an unfamiliar situation.  With this understanding, I believe we need to cut ourselves and others a bit of slack when encountering the unfamiliar.

I can learn to recognize a reflexive reaction and I’m finding that if I can find that “pause” place until my pre-frontal cortex comes on line, I can make a kindlier considered response which is more reflective of my chosen values to be respectful and to “live and let live.”

In our growing understanding of the development of our brain we can find a new freedom to choose a better way to relate to ourselves and others.  Rather than condemning what we now know as survival adaptations, like the reactive response to a perceived threat, we can learn to become more aware of what is reflexive and what is chosen behavior.  With that awareness we can focus our conscious attention on choosing behaviors that move us toward what we want.  The more we can fulfill those inner Quality World pictures that are our sense of what we want that will meet our needs, the more we will enjoy a higher quality of mental health and happiness.

“Telling it like it is…???”

by Dr. Ken Larsen

I was talking with a friend recently.  He was telling me about his holiday experience with his ex-wife.  He was describing how difficult it was for him to get along with her.  He finally “unloaded” on her, telling her that as long as he was with her, he could not be civil.

That word “unloaded” struck me.  I’ve thought about it over the past few days.  What is being “unloaded”?  I can only speculate that it was his emotional load of anger and anxiety that was being dumped on his ex.

honesty-compassion

In a way I believe this is a “normal” reflexive reaction.  When we are hurt, our first reaction is often retaliation.  We express that reactive retaliation by what we consider “honesty”.  In our culture there is a certain value placed on “telling it like it is”.  But aren’t we all tired of the bad feelings and turmoil and conflict that results from reactively retaliating to a real or perceived hurt?

The tragedy is compounded when we realize the instinctive retaliatory reflex exercised by nation states as a primary weapon in our foreign policy arsenal.   Most of our international conflicts are the result of a commitment to “if you hurt me, I’m going to hurt you right back.  Only more.  And harder.”

If this is an instinctive reaction, what can we do about it?  One thing that we can do is to use our “metacognition.”  To think about how we are thinking.  To ask ourselves “is retaliation the best way to respond?”  There is an old cliché’, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  We may not be able to change the direction of conflicting foreign policy, but we can change the way that we respond and relate to one another.

One of the foundational bits of wisdom Dr. Glasser gave us is the question:  “Is what I am doing (or going to do) bringing us closer together or driving us further apart.”  He challenged us to realize that we have a choice.  Do we want to fight or do we want to seek understanding?  Perhaps in this coming election we can look for those candidates who are willing to explore alternatives to retaliation as policy.

Mental health and happiness cannot co-exist with hostility.  We need to be thoughtful in how we relate to one another, especially when confronted with conflicting emotions.  Are we just reflexive reactors or do we have the power within ourselves to choose a better response to one another?  Not easy, to be sure, but is it doable?  I think it is, especially if we accept that we can make progress even though perfection is a bit elusive.