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Learn How to Respond, Not React When You Get Mad

You have had all you can take.  Someone is yelling at you, your temper flares.  You are MAD, so you react.  It feels almost instinctive as you verbally let them have it!  Does this sound familiar?  I have been in this very place more times than I care to admit.  Since I always regret reacting like this, I am trying to learn to respond, not react.  Why don’t you come along on this journey with me? Let’s learn to respond, not react together. I’ll let you know what I have been doing that seems to be helping at the end, but first, let’s examine the issue more closely.  

What is the difference in reacting and responding to a situation?

According to Psychology Today, reacting is something that your unconscious mind governs.  It’s your gut reaction, based on your instinctive to keep yourself alive.    However, in modern society where we are not in the habit of running from tigers or combatting them, it’s not always the best reaction.  In fact, I usually regret reacting.

Responding is more thought out.  It connects your conscious and unconscious mind.  In some cases, the reaction might look like the response, but the motivations are different.  When you learn to respond and not react, you are learning to press a “pause” button. This allows you a few seconds to react more logically in a way that will benefit the other person and the situation as a whole.  

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What Does An Example of Learning to Respond and Not React Look Like?  

When my youngest son was smaller, he had difficulty communicating with us. We later learned he had a severe speech delay.  He did not understand what was going on around him. Grocery store trips were horrible. (Whoever invented the grocery store pick up was a genius!)


I would push my toddler along in the buggy, and some well-meaning older person would come along and talk to him.  He had no idea who this person was, or what they were saying, so he would start to fuss. Then, the older person would reach out and try to pat him to comfort him.  


Now, from his viewpoint, this strange person was talking to him, and touching him! What was next? Would they try to take him?!  Then he would react by freaking out. This was a reaction based on his instinct to stay safe. An ear piercing scream would be heard at the far end of the store.  I would reach between the well-meaning elderly person and my son, pushing the cart away in the process.  I usually tried to politely thank them for their admiration of my toddler and excuse us.  Many times they gave me a parting dirty look as I pushed my screaming child in full blow “tantrum” mode away.  

My Reactions vs Responses

I could have reacted by scolding him, (Which, admittedly, I did sometimes because it was embarrassing.) or I could respond by patting and comforting him, trying to understand his feelings.  (which I also did sometimes.) I always felt bad after I scolded him, especially after learning of his speech delay and the explanation for his seemingly extreme reaction to strangers.

How do you learn to respond and not react?

Since reactions are very spur-of-the-moment, it can be hard to learn to respond and not react. However, there are some steps that you can take.

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Printable checklists pin to help you learn to respond and not react

Learn to Respond and Not React Step 1- Self Awareness

 The first step is self-awareness.  How aware are you of your reactions?  How well are you able to use mindfulness to separate yourself from your emotions?  You can’t fix a problem or improve in an area if you do not realize that it needs fixing or improving.

Learn to Respond and Not React Step 2- Develop a Pause Button

The second step is to develop a “pause button.”  Just like you can hit “pause” when you are watching a movie, no matter how dramatic the scene, you can develop the skill of hitting your “pause button” to let an instant reaction pass.  Just take a second or two to think about it. You can take a deep breath, you can count to 3 (or 10), or you can politely excuse yourself from the situation if you need more time.

Learn to Respond and Not React Step 3 – Identify Your Triggers

When you are not in the moment, the 3rd step is to identify your triggers.  This makes it easier to hit that ‘pause button’ when you have mentally rehearsed how you will handle the situation.  When you know what’s going to set you off, you become better at responding instead of reacting.

Learn to Respond and Not React Step 4: Visualize The Desired Scenario

Visualize how you would want the scenario to go.  Our minds are incredibly visual. For the most part, we think in pictures.  When you have mentally rehearsed and prepared for a scenario, it helps your mind to recognize it and say “Oh, I remember what I was going to do when this scenario happened!  I need to do … (desired reaction). 

Learn to Respond and Not React Step 5: Practice

That leads me to the 5th and final step – practice.  There is nothing like practice to hone a skill. That’s what learning to respond and not react is, by the way – it’s a skill.  The more you practice it, the easier it becomes.  You can practice with your mental visualizations, or by intentionally exposing yourself to situations where you know that your patience will be tested.  


How to Master Patience

Why Patience is a Virtue

10 Powerful Benefits of Being Patient

How do I stop reacting and start responding?

By following the steps outlined above you can stop reacting to situations and start responding.  It will take practice and you won’t always get it right. Our goal is not perfection, our goal is to improve.  Yes, you will mess up. No one is perfect. When you learn to respond and not react it will improve not only your life but the life of all those around you.  Self-awareness (sometimes also called mindfulness) is the key to being successful when you learn to respond and not react. Practice that step first, if you are having trouble.    

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How do you stay calm when provoked?

I have certain pet peeves and nerves that can be provoked very quickly.  I am willing to bet that you do too. Your family and those close to you probably know what provokes you the quickest.  It is hard to stay calm when provoked, but it’s a huge part in learning to respond, not react.  To stay calm when provoked, try:

  • Taking a deep breath
  • Counting to 10
  • Politely excuse yourself from the situation for a bit
  • Pausing to take a “mindful minute” to assess the situation logically.  
  • Focus on the stress and strain in the other person’s face
  • Listen to the emotion they are expressing ( They are really angry about…X… I wonder why that is?)
  • Realize that the person is yelling not because of you, but because of how they are feeling.

How do you not let things bother you?

In my own journey to learn to respond and not react, I have pondered this question a lot.  I may do a separate blog post on it eventually. This is one of my struggles that seems to have a complex answer.

1. Set Personal boundaries

Part of it is setting personal boundaries.  You are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – not those of other people.  

2. Don’t Overthink It

Another part is not overthinking things.  Don’t worry about what might be true or what someone might feel or think.  That is fiction. If you are going to show concern about something, base your concern on fact.  

3. Cope With Worry

        If you find yourself caught in a “worry rut” where you can’t seem to quit thinking about something over and over, you might practice “changing the channel.”  I have had to do this personally. You know how when you are listening to the radio and a song comes on that you hate, you change the station? Likewise, if you are watching TV and a show comes on that you don’t care for.  You simply change the channel and then you don’t think about it anymore, right?

You can learn to do the same thing with your thoughts.  Your “remote” may be a bit stubborn at first and you may find your thoughts drifting back to what was worrying you.  Keep changing the channel back to more pleasant things. You could also designate a “worry time” where you worry during that time only to get it out of your system and then move on.  

4. Silence Your Inner Critic

Often when I let things bother me, my inner critic plays a huge role.  It’s not just what happened, but what my inner critic tells me about what happened.  Some psychologists call them “ANTs” or Automatic Negative Thoughts. Most of them are rooted in insecurity.  Silence your inner critic and start squashing those ANTs like the bugs they are named after!

Related: How to Stop Taking Things Personally

How do I stop reacting to triggers?

There are things that you can do when someone pulls your trigger.  (Other than explode.)  It starts with self-awareness and realizing that you have a choice.

 Pause to think for a minute, and then put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  What caused them to say or act as they did? Observe your own feelings. Something about being able to name your feelings and put a label on them puts your conscious brain back into gear and helps it to regain control.  

People say and do things for a variety of reasons, but it’s all based on their view of the world, and their feelings as well.  If someone is being a jerk and is always a jerk, they most likely feel very bad about themselves. In other words – it’s not you; it’s them.

 Even when someone is not acting very nice, you have a choice as to how to respond. I was told long ago that “If you have to err, err on the side of mercy.”  Sometimes when you show kindness to those that do not deserve it, it makes much more of a difference than any defensive reaction.

“If you have to err, err on the side of mercy.'Click To Tweet

An Example Situation of When Someone Has Learned To Respond, Not React to Triggers

An acquaintance of mine was in a fast food drive-thru some time ago.  She had her 4 children with her, and their order took some time to get sorted out.  The man in the car behind her was very rude. Honking and yelling at her to hurry up and hurling all sorts of insults.  

She could have reacted and yelled back, but instead, she chose to respond.   She decided to take the opportunity to do something that I’m sure left an impact on all 4 of her children as well as the man behind her.  When she approached the window to pay, she paid for his order along with hers, collected her food, and drove off.

That is showing kindness to those that don’t deserve it.  Had she yelled back, it would have escalated the situation.  I don’t know how the man reacted upon learning that the lady with all the kids in the car he had been yelling at paid for his food.  She did not know either, but in my mind’s eye, I imagine it had a very humbling impact on him.

Related: Why Should I Choose Kindness?

How do you stay calm when someone is yelling at you?

People yell for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they have not been taught better coping mechanisms, sometimes they have just been pushed too far and feel like they have lost control.  They may also feel like they need to yell to be heard or they feel threatened. Regardless of why people yell, being on the receiving end is never fun.

The worst thing that you can do when someone is yelling at you is to yell back.  That only escalates the situation. Realize that the yelling will not last forever, and listen to the person’s feelings that they are expressing.  It is best to remain silent while someone is yelling at you. When they finish try either calmly restating their feelings back to them, or ask for a break so you can go think about what they have said.  Then, when things calm down, go back and try to talk it out reasonably using active listening techniques.

Try to understand their feelings first, and make them feel understood. Then, ask if you can explain your viewpoint.  You do not have to agree with them, but you should be polite.

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How do you calm down after being triggered?

So what do you do if you are the one that was triggered and you WERE the yeller?  How do you calm down after being triggered? I separate myself from the situation.  Sometimes Momma needs a time out too. I usually go to my room if I can. I try to assess the situation and identify what the trigger was.  I give myself grace, and a bit of time to calm down. I breathe. Sometimes I pray and ask forgiveness because that’s not the example that I want to set.

Then, I got back to the person that triggered me and I apologize for yelling.  I state my feelings. “I was angry, but yelling is not a good way to react. I’m sorry that I yelled at you.”  And then we talk it out calmly.

How Learning to Respond and Not React is Helping In My Life

One day last week, our routine was completely off.  That is a trigger for my youngest son. He likes his routine and he does not like it messed with! He was generally cranky with me and his older brother. He was yelling and griping for what seemed like every little thing. For example,  he wanted to play with a tablet that his brother has use of and was very angry with me for denying him the privilege.

        I tried to stay calm, but after a certain point, even the coolest of tempers can flare.  I was very irritated at him and I wanted to yell “Stop yelling at everyone!” (Not the example I wanted to set.)   Instead of yelling, I told him to stop through gritted teeth.  Then sent him off to his room while I went to mine for a bit.

I tried to visualize how I should handle it.  I calmed myself down, and found him in the living room, still steaming.

What my Response Looked Like:

I took him by the hand, and said, “let’s take a walk.”  We walked in the yard to a calming spot beside a very little creek that only holds water when it rains.  I sat down on the ground and took him in my lap and said, “You are very angry at me for not letting you play with the tablet, aren’t you?”  

I listened to his feelings and told him I understood why he felt that way and that if I were in his place, I might be angry too.  Then I told him my feelings and laid out my reasons with love about why he was not allowed to play on it. I told him he had not earned that privilege yet, but perhaps when he was older.  Then I offered him several alternatives and asked what he thought.

At the end of it, he declared “I feel better now.”  And we went inside and he did his reading homework.  

I don’t always nail it, but I feel like I did that time.  I had been thinking about how I would respond next time he got cranky, and it helped me to calm down and respond instead of reacting.  I was very pleased with how well it worked. I hope that you have similar results.

The Last Thing You Need to Know To Learn to Respond and Not React.  

You will not nail this perfectly all the time.  However, when you learn to respond and not react and are successful most of the time, it will make a tremendous impact on your life as well as those around you.  You will start building up relationships instead of tearing them down when there is a conflict.

You will also feel better about yourself when you thoughtfully respond instead of going with your gut reaction.  Some of the most precious treasures that we have are our relationships with other people. Learning to respond, not react helps to nurture those relationships.

Do you have any tips or thoughts on this? Leave me a comment below!   I’d also love to hear your results if you have tried any of the techniques outlined here.

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