Response > Reaction
Existentialism is the belief that all individuals are inherently free. That is to say, existentialism promotes the belief that all people make choices with every decision in their lives.
Uh oh, what’s that I hear you saying – you have to go to work? But, that’s actually not true. It would be more accurate to say, “you feel like you have to go to work, and, if you want to bring home a paycheck, you will choose to go.”
I’m not trying to trick you with technicalities here. Let’s try a smaller example: When my significant other sends me a text message, I have to write back immediately. OK, some of you probably recognized that this does not describe you at all – as you’re willing to respond late or not at all to a text message – and for some of you, responding to a significant other’s text message is as firm of a rule (and obligation) as having to go to work.
So, what’s the point? Here, I’ll cut to the case:
Everything in life can be viewed as cause and effect. We are hungry, and so we eat. It is Monday, and so we leave for work. Our cell phones beep, and we respond to emails and text messages. I would argue that all these scenarios describe reactions. And, we have many reactions programmed into us by our families and friends who raised us. Sometimes these are good and healthy reactions, but sometimes they could be healthier. For example, think of a time when you were yelled at by a family member or close friend. How did you react? Did you yell back? Did you not raise your voice but throw insults? Most importantly, how did you learn to react that way?
So, what if we could pause life for a moment to shine a flashlight on our often mysterious reactions? We could see just what it is we are doing and why we are doing it. Well, we might find that we no longer react to what life throws at us, but instead we have an opportunity to respond. That way, when a friend or family member hurts us through a judgment, an insult, or by arguing with us, we can recognize that when we choose to react by also yelling or insulting, we feel bad and we lose some (temporary or permanent) closeness from that relationship. Instead, perhaps we could choose a new response to that friend or family member that might help us to maintain that relationship and resolve the issue in a more productive way.
The best example I can think of to really demonstrate the power of our choices and our reactions comes from Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In this book, Frankl writes about his choice to follow his family into a concentration camp during World War II. His experiences tested (and affirmed) his belief that, regardless of what was happening to him in his life, his reactions were his own choice.
If you would like to talk to someone to explore your reactions and to learn strategies to empower your responses to life’s circumstances, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.