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Woman on the Verge

March 20, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

We may not be able to control our instinctive response but we can prevent it from coming to fruition.

I got frustrated with one of my children the other day. “I can’t do this anymore!” I wailed to my husband. (I will leave what “this” is out of the conversation but everyone has a “this” of their own!) “I’m done. I’m finished.”

But, even as I was saying it, I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it was an immature reaction, an expression of frustration and that not only could I continue to do “this” but I definitely would!

I’m a little ashamed of my outburst (aren’t I past that by now?) but I take comfort in the fact that at least I recognize the irrational nature of my words and have no plans to act on them. It is very difficult to actually internalize the appropriate reaction to situations. That is the goal of a lifetime. We devote endless hours to working on ourselves and to trying to calibrate our actions with our thoughts. We try to literally change our instinctive nature so that when called upon to react in a moment, we behave in ways of which we are proud, ways we have chosen to learn and make part of ourselves.

But, like I said, that’s a lifetime’s work and very few of us achieve it. It remains our lofty goal, our “reaching for the stars”. We keep reaching and we keep falling back to earth. In the meantime, I provide myself with solace by trying to at least achieve an intermediate goal – to wait and determine thoughtfully and carefully exactly how I want to respond.

How does this work? In the annoying situation above, instead of immediately lashing out at my husband (clearly not the full credit response), although not evolved enough not to feel frustration, I nevertheless recognize that a) my frustration is not productive, b) my husband is not the appropriate target, c) expressing frustration will not reflect well on my character and d) this is not Godly behavior.

I haven’t been able to stop myself from feeling frustrated but by taking a deep breath and organizing my thoughts, I can stop myself from reacting in that way. This may not be the end goal but neither should we think of it as a trivial step. It will make all the difference in our relationships.

And although easier than deeper character change, it’s nevertheless difficult to implement. I don’t want to stop and think. I don’t want to wait and determine the appropriate reaction. I want to scream. I want to yell. I want to attack or defend. I’m frustrated and I want to express it!!! (Should I write that in all capitals?) But I’m also an adult with a certain sense of self-respect that I’d like to maintain and a number of important relationships that I’d rather not damage.

So I behave with self-awareness and I exercise a modicum of self-control. It’s not a response that initially feels good but it’s the response that ultimately does. We may not be able to control our instinctive response but we can prevent it from coming to fruition. And that’s a big accomplishment indeed. I just hope that child doesn’t push me over the edge again tomorrow…

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