Learning to Respond vs. React

Back to Time Outs: Learning to Respond vs. React


Along with “The purpose of my life is to become fully integrated!” comes the idea of becoming “present.” See Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order; Biography of Joseph Campbell.

When we are present we are fully aware of what is going on and of where we are. Much too often as Westerners we are “In our heads!” We are thinking more than we are realizing. We are not engaging in conversation with others but arguing and reasoning independently by spending more time with internal dialogue than with external dialogue. This usually happens with some kind of perceived threat. Most often to our egos and not to our bodies.

Frequently those moments lead to distancing between people. Especially in families. That leads to hurt and feelings of abandonment and disrespect. In my work with couples one of most critical tasks is to help them learn to be active and reflective listeners. With couples just entering into the process of learning to take time outs and be reflective it is often the case that as one person talks the other’s eyes are roving around or they are looking down. These mannerisms are reflections of their internal arguing, excusing, or accusing. Blanking out is usually indicated by a blank staring quality.

At this point I begin to direct the interactions so that both parties can know when they are engaging in conversation and not deflecting into fighting, escaping or freezing.

Frequently for them to get back to being with each other one person or both must engage in the process of taking some time to themselves.

Here is what I teach; and, use almost daily in my own life:

Find a quiet place or, if not possible just go to a quiet place inside yourself.  Take several deep breaths, and come into paying attention to your senses.

  • What do you feel in your body? Take some time to do an inventory of major physiological experiences.
  • What do you hear? Near and far away. What qualities of sound? (Usually by this time I am very much into awareness and not thinking.
  • What do you see? Near and far away. What qualities of sight?
  • When you are very much aware turn your thoughts to the dialogue that brought about the reaction and ponder: At what point did you “split off” from presence to reaction and thinking? Was it critical to your health and welfare? If so than find a new way to interact (more on this later). What kinds of feelings were you experiencing; particularly in your core? Regardless, what are your memories and reflections on when else you had similar feelings and experiences? What did that dynamic of interaction remind you of in your personal history? (This process leads to feelings as portals through which personal integration is facilitated!)
  • Notice that when you revisit some memories the feelings get stronger! Again, take some time out such that you can come back into the moment. Stay with that until you are feeling calm and secure.

Often the past is very much alive in our present.

When that happens it is indicative of where some personal work needs to happen; either by yourself with calm personal reassurances to yourself or with others, professional or good friends. Both are capable of enabling you to return to fixating on the rightness or wrongness of what has happened; and, not healing. This process teaches watching your own internal dialogue when your working out past problematic areas.

Know that the Time Out Process is critical to our advancement emotionally, spiritually and as a species. Coming back to center is healing and allows for clarification and expansion of our awareness of our connectiveness to all of creation. It is in this space that we are able to flow with those grander energies and not fight the currents or truths that want and need to be honored.


E-mail Scott Sherman

Visit Humboldt Psychotherapy .

Emerald contributor since March 2012


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