Responding Instead of Reacting


One of my many resolutions in 2015 is to start responding instead of reacting.

Reacting vs. Responding

What’s the difference between responding and reacting?  Here are a few words I would use to describe the two options we have when conflict arises.


  • Immediate
  • Fight/flight
  • Feeling like a victim
  • Emotional
  • Impulsive
  • Not gathering all of the information
  • Passive aggressive
  • Short-sighted
  • Overreacting
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Avoiding
  • Unproductive


  • Open
  • Listening (though not always agreeing)
  • Respecting (though not always agreeing)
  • Loving (though not always agreeing)
  • Deliberate
  • Thoughtful
  • Rational
  • Taking responsibility
  • Productive
  • Solution-based
  • Cooperative
  • Collaborative

It is so, so, so easy for me to jump into a habit of reacting when I’m in survival mode.  The stressor could be the holidays, illness, having a newborn, a teething toddler, a preschooler waging an epic battle of wills, a stressed out husband, or the day-to-day demands of running a home with a growing family.  It’s easy for me to pick any of those opportunities to start (over)reacting all over the place.

Why did you draw on the table?!

How could you have forgotten to run that errand?!

What did you mean by that?!

I read Holly Pierlot’s A Mother’s Rule of Life back in Lent 2013.   When I find myself reacting over and over and over again instead of thoughtfully responding to my loved ones, I hunt down my copy of A Mother’s Rule of Life.  Holly lays out 4 questions that have helped me get to the bottom of why I am reacting.  The 4 questions are:

  1. Why do I feel this way?
  2. Why is this bothering me?
  3. Where have I encountered this before in my life?
  4. What does this make me think of?

More often than not, my reacting to a problem has little to nothing to do with the problem at hand.  My triggers are: fatigue, hunger (anyone else get hangry?), hormones, illness, being overdue for confession, dirty house/clutter, or a past hurt that needs healing.  Knowing my triggers has helped me to seek out solutions to fight them.

  • Fatigue: create a new bedtime with my husband, and get more sleep.
  • Hunger: keep healthy snacks in stock in the pantry and refrigerator.
  • Hormones/illness: keep track of my cycles, and bring concerns to my doctor as they come up.  (PMS is the real deal.)  Exercise, eat nutritiously, take breaks.
  • Being overdue for confession: Put it on the calendar for the whole family.
  • Dirty house/clutter: Create a realistic cleaning schedule that enlists everyone’s help and is reasonable to maintain.
  • Past hurt that needs healing: Ask for/offer forgiveness, seek therapy when necessary.

That last trigger, past hurts that need healing, is a biggie.  When I think I have taken care of all of my other triggers like fatigue or hormones and I’m still blowing up left and right, it’s probably time for me to examine when I was hurt.  When I answer those questions, I begin to realize that I’m almost always reacting because of a past hurt.  Uncovering the past hurts, finding healing, and learning healthy ways to move past them is so liberating.

I’m realizing that I have stunted growth when it comes to how I work through problems.  I react the same way I did as a kindergartener.  (In fact, I gained the nickname “Kindergarten Catherine” my kindergarten year because of my raging temper from having to go to school all day without a nap.  Fatigue has always been a big trigger for this girl!)  While it’s great that I see my stunted growth in that area, it’s my responsibility to move past it.

Fortunately, for those of us who struggle with knee-jerk reactions, we have the ultimate model of a mother who responded in Mary.  As I strive to thoughtfully respond to the stressors in my days, I meditate upon this verse:

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Oh, to have that interior life of the Blessed Mother!  Imagine the restraint, the obedience, the thoughtfulness, the peace, the gentleness, the receptivity, the love.  I pray that she will strengthen that embolden me in this mission territory of Christian motherhood everyday.  I pray that she will strengthen you in your mission, too!

Do you struggle with reacting?  What helps you to respond?

Copyright 2015, Catherine Boucher

Graphic by Catherine Boucher. All rights reserved.


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    • You and me both, Barb! While it’s comforting to hear that I’m not the only one, I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with it, too. These 4 questions have been a game changer for me, and I hope they somehow are a help for you. You’re in my prayers, and I hope I’ll be in yours!

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