Yes, they are two very different things.
When you respond, you take time. You think through what just happened and how you want to approach it, whatever it may be. A response is thoughtful, grounded, and rooted in a sense of compassion for other while expressing one’s own perspective.
Most of us never learned to respond. Instead, we react. When someone says or does something that feels triggering, we fire back reflexively. Even if we aren’t triggered, we tend to answer pretty much everything automatically, without much consideration behind it.
I never really thought about the difference until I began studying non-violent communication. In NVC, we strive to respond rather than react, in order to create better relationships and transform hurtful and traumatic patterns with those close to us. Now I understand, but that doesn’t mean I always do it. I’ve definitely caught myself in situations where I’m reading my NVC books and thinking, well, I’m sure I could try and put this into practice with the person I’m with right now. Too bad I just want to punch them instead. But, that’s why it’s a practice, right? It’s hard to implement. It’s not what we are used to doing.
The more intimate and longstanding the relationship, the more difficult it can be to keep yourself out of reactivity. If you can get to the point where you master letting go of reactivity with your family, I bow down to you! It’s so difficult, especially when dealing with people who are not doing the same work and who are very defensive with you. I’m not going to pretend this is easy. It might be one of the toughest shifts I’ve ever tried to make.
There’s a reason that non-violent communication books are long, detailed, and full of exercises to use in daily life to help you on this journey. It’s complicated! I consider it a win just to know the difference and be able to feel it in my body when I want to be reactive. Then I take a pause, breathe and try to think of how I’d rather respond. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still messy as fuck. The best interactions I’ve had are with those people who also practice non-violent communication. Otherwise, I usually still get somewhat triggered. I count myself successful if I don’t let my own mental state change depending on whatever the other person decides to say or do.
So, in conclusion, I am simply posing the question: what if you respond instead of react? I wanted to raise the idea to you, because perhaps you’ve never thought of it. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of non-violent communication, or didn’t understand what it meant. Now that you know, start to observe your own reactivity. That’s how you begin, by watching your own reactions, feelings and behaviors.
It’s a tough one, but I believe that you can start to make this shift! You got this. Sending you love.