When I was 8 years old, my brother and I were wrestling around and my sister tried to get in the mix. She was only about a year old at the time so we kept putting her to the side so she wouldn’t get hurt. During one of her attempts to join in, she became frustrated that we wouldn’t let her play with us so I tickled her to let her know it’s all good. It changed her state and she laughed which led to a squeal.
The next thing I know, dad blows into the room, drunk, and starts punching me.
He was in the other room and heard a squeal and his normal grumpy persona, mixed with his daily alcohol intake, led him to react — thinking that someone hurt the baby.
He didn’t take the time to respond and come in and ask what happened. He didn’t take a moment to think about how I was always my sister’s protector. He just flew off the deep end and I became a target.
That night was the first time I recall having the desire to not be alive anymore.
I prayed to God that night that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning, or ever again.
That night shaped my life. It impacted my thoughts, feelings, and self-image.
His reaction set off a chain reaction that lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, mental and emotional instability, and a long list of toxic relationships.
I don’t believe any of those were at all his intention, but they were the outcome.
I believe his intention was simply to protect his youngest child from being hurt and to teach us not to hurt each other. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of hurting a child to teach him not to do the same, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Reacting rarely leads to empowerment or victory in the long run.
There’s a reason why it’s called a ‘nuclear reactor’ and not a ‘nuclear responder.’ There’s pressure, steam, and tons of energy that could get dangerous real quick. A nuclear reactor is used to initiate a nuclear chain reaction which lead to fission. Fission is the splitting of something into two or more parts.
When we react, we are causing division and splitting, internally and externally.
Have you ever reacted out of emotion and it lead somewhere good? I’m willing bet the answer is no. Sure, once in a while we can get lucky but way more often we’ll find ourselves looking like an ass and owing someone, or many someones, an apology for our actions and behavior.
Responding to a situation or event is about ecology and unity. (When we speak of ecology we mean: Is it good for me? Is it good for my family/community? Is it good for the world?)
My dad’s reaction that night caused my first of many suicidal thoughts. It created the chain reaction of self-destruction and self-hatred that took me decades to break out of and heal.
Think of how many times you’ve had to go back and ask for forgiveness from someone you loved because of something you did out of reaction instead of response. I can’t count the times I’ve had to go back and apologize and ask forgiveness. And while the act of forgiving is amazingly useful and healing for us, we don’t need to go around acting in such a way that gives others a need to practice forgiveness with us on a regular basis.
If someone hadn’t come along in my journey and had a very intentional conversation with me that interrupted that chain — a pattern interrupt, given I had already been on my path of self-destruction for a decade and was coming up to the finish line, I would not be here today.
“An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
Luckily, I was met head on with an unbalanced force that interrupted the pattern that had been set in motion at the hands of my dad that night when I was 8.
An unbalanced force is a force that changes the direction, position, or speed of an object. For me, it was a coach, a mentor who came along and interrupted my pattern and changed my direction forever. His response to the outcomes he saw me getting, his response to the behavior I was exerting, allowed a space for me to course-correct and change my behavior from that moment forward in a whole new ‘chain reaction.’
Much like my dad, Coach Calderone had no idea the impact his response would have, he didn’t know how I would react but he took his shot and I’m beyond grateful he did. He set forth a pattern that has taken me all over the world and allowed me to help so many others. My kids are only alive because I was alive to have them, and that’s all because of one man and his decision to choose response over reaction.
Don’t beat yourself up over the past experiences of reacting out of emotion, we are emotional creatures and it is in our nature, and often necessary for our learning and growth, it’s one of the things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Use the past patterns and events to help create an awareness for moving forward from a state of responsibility — having the ability to respond.
Once you do, there’s no telling how your life will be impacted or how you’ll have an impact on those along the way.
Watch the full episode on The Difference Between Reacting and Responding from our Root Cause for Success Podcast below:
The Root Cause of Success Podcast – Episode 3: The Difference Between Reacting and Responding
Learn the massive impact the difference between reacting and responding to people and situations makes on your success.