Between Stimulus and Response

One of my favorite quotes is by Viktor E. Frankl. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Every day in our relationships, we are presented with countless stimuli. Your partner may say something offhand that could be taken the wrong way, they forget something important, or they are having a bad day and aren’t as affectionate and attentive as usual. That’s the stimulus. The space that follows is your moment to choose a response that builds rather than breaks, that heals rather than wounds.

In choosing your response, you are choosing the type of relationship you want to have. Do you want one that is reactive and volatile or calm and nurturing?

It’s in the space following the stimulus that we can pause, reflect, and decide on a response that aligns with our values and best serves our relationship. Instead of reacting impulsively, we can choose to respond in a way that is respectful, understanding, and loving.

To me, the above photo perfectly illustrates the point between stimulus and response. On the left is the action or words that, when reacting reflexively, may make you want to lash out or do middah kineged middah. You may think, I will treat them the way they treat me. However, if we pause and take a moment before responding, we realize that this is a surefire way to ensure a never-ending cycle of hurt and frustration. Instead, respond like the right side of the photo, in a neutral and calm way.

As Avraham Peretz Friedman wrote, Reverse the old saying: “Don’t just do something – stand there.”

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