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Reacting or Responding?

So often in today’s fast paced world, we make quick decisions. And generally, that serves us well – ruminating over choices can cause many problems and having the ability to succinctly sort through information and choose can be invaluable. However, there are times – such as in relationships – where reacting on a more instinctual level rather than stepping back and responding does more harm than good. Here at The Mynd Clinic, we are in the practice of helping individuals and systems discover more effective ways to work through issues that might arise; this guide on the differences between reacting and responding can be a great start.

What is Reacting?

When we react, we choose our course of action quickly and generally without forethought of the consequences. Reacting involves immediately or instinctually behaving in response to a trigger, which might look different based on the specific person. Some common ways that people react to triggers in relationships include: getting defensive, attacking, blaming, criticizing, shutting down, retreating, or reverting to unhelpful behaviors which have not worked in the past. This leads to a cycle of continuing reaction instead of addressing whatever caused discomfort or pain – and generally, some sort of unwanted outcome.

What is Responding?

When we respond, on the other hand, we give ourselves more time and space to think through our choices. Responding involves identification of feelings and urges and determining what behavior would be most productive. Again, this looks different for everyone, but responding can include: using emotional regulation tools (breathing exercises, et cetera), identifying the urge to react and naming it, identifying and naming feelings, determining the growth we have seen when we chose to respond in the past and how we can continue to grow in this instance. This choice leads to desired outcomes and more productive ways of handling situations.

Why the Approach Matters in Relationships

There are multiple reasons the concept of reacting versus responding is important when it comes to the various relationships we partake in; one of them is that responding takes genuine effort – sometimes we slip up! Acknowledging when this happens and identifying ways to do better in the future is one of the most impactful choices we can make when it comes to having productive relationships. It is also important to make mention of the fact that responding is easier for some people than others – this is often connected to our attachment style, or the way that we form relationships. Those with a secure attachment style generally find responding easier, but those with any attachment style can manage it with practice.

Identifying when you respond and react can make a genuine difference in your life and the relationships that you engage in. There are many other factors that play into relationships, but the way we behave is one that we have significant control over!

Need a little more support to maintain effective relationships? Check out The Mynd Clinic’s Services for mental health therapy.

Written by our staff marriage and family therapist: Lauren Buroker, LMFT


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