A couple months ago, I wrote a blog post about the 4 things you control™ starting with the breath (see my article here https://www.moonwisewisdom.com/post/what-can-you-do-when-you-feel-out-of-control-part-1-of-4). Now with Venus and Mercury retrogrades either happening or in their shadow period (see my post https://www.moonwisewisdom.com/post/celestial-weather-report-retrogrades, it feels like a good time to talk about another thing we can control, our response.
It’s important to differentiate between our responses versus our reactions. Reactions are automatic behaviors that happen without our conscious awareness, and often are the product of our learning history (the significant experiences early in our lives ranging from how our parents raise us, the friend groups we fall into, the dominant culture and subcultures we are part of, and even traumas that shape us).
Responses on the other hand, are the behaviors we choose with mindful awareness. It’s helpful to validate and understand automatic reactions and, once we have become aware of our reactions, taking the time to reflect and choose a new, supportive, and more helpful, functional response.
Responses are multilayered. We can respond differently and effectively to a situation directly, or to our own behavior towards others and ourselves, and even to our thoughts. As one example, maybe we get into a fight with someone for the many-eth time. Let’s say we usually go at it with this particular person, but we really value compassion for all. We can, at any time, notice our reaction and choose an alternative response that is more consistent with our values.
But let’s say you become aware of your own thoughts and self-talk, and recognize that they are self-critical, angry, and full of doubt. We now have the opportunity to switch up our thought pattern by appreciating how we feel as completely understandable, and choose to respond to the self-critical, angry, and doubt-filled thoughts with compassion and kindness.
I really like the technique of responding to painful thoughts of any kind like you are talking to a loved one, a child, or even your younger self. What would you say to a loved one or a child who was hurting or who had made a mistake? And when we change our response to situations, behavior, and our thoughts, we change how we feel. We use what we can control (the “outside” stuff—anything outside of our emotions) to change how we feel on the inside (outside-in approach). See this article on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the “CBT triangle” of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings here: https://www.thecounselingpalette.com/post/7-magical-steps-in-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-or-cbt-change-your-thoughts-change-your-feelings
Even if the painful thoughts continue, the experience feels somewhat softer when we respond with kindness. And over time, we change how we feel and become more empowered and trusting of our own inner wisdom. So this is my invitation to you: even if everything feels out of your control, take a deep breath, observe your response to your experience, behavior, and thoughts, and choose to respond with kindness and compassion.