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Emotional Physics

Reactions vs. Responses


--Adam Maisen, LPC-S/TA

· Parenting

You may remember studying Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion:

  1.  An object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion unless a force acts on it. This is inertia.
  2. When a constant force acts on a massive body, it causes it to accelerate.

The same principals apply to emotions as well. You see what I did there?

Emotional Inertia:

Have you ever noticed how long it takes for you to calm down when you lose your temper? At the same time, when you are calm, challenging situations are easier to navigate.

Emotional Acceleration:

Let’s face it. We all get upset, especially when our partner or kids do irritating things, or if a situation doesn’t turn out as expected. This can be the constant force that accelerates emotions. Without some sort of regulation, they can quickly run out of control.

There is another way:

Let’s say that the object in motion is our feelings (sadness, embarrassment, frustrated, hurt, disappointment.) What if we call the outside force our choice? The way we choose to act in stressful situations drives our outcome.

We have 2 options on how we choose to behave.

Reactions: Impulsive, quickly accelerated response to unwanted behavior. Usually aggressive and forceful in nature. Emotionally driven. Take no planning whatsoever. Results: hurt feelings/disconnect. Further escalation of the situation. Overreacting/blowing up. Parental regret.

Responses: Thought-out, purposeful intervention intended to de-escalate stressful situations. Requires staying/getting calm. Results: improved resolution time, increased opportunity for collaboration, improved outcomes.

Case Study:

Meet Rosie: Our Labrador Retriever

Rosie is a sweet dog, most of the time. However, she sometimes does things that are very annoying, like digging in the trash.

I have a choice

Reaction: Spank her, rub her nose in it, and throw her outside, scolding her sternly all the way.

Results: Rosie does not connect the punishment with the offense. She just knows that I am acting aggressively. She views me as a threat. She continues doing the same behavior.

Response: Gently lead her outside so I can clean up the mess. Take a few breaths and recognize that I chose not to take out the trash when my wife asked. Calmly clean up the mess. Take the trash out. Make a conscious choice to take out the trash when it is full.

Results: No more cleaning up garbage. Less temptation for my dog. She feels emotionally safe. Less stress for me.

4 Pro Tips for Emotional Regulation:

1. Recognize the unwanted behaviors that regularly occur. You can decide how you want to approach the inevitable before it happens.

2. Get in the habit of taking a minute or few to think about your options before hulking out. This might mean locking yourself in your bedroom/bathroom for a bit and taking several slow, deep breaths. (Seriously, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The slower the better. Give it a try and notice the difference.)

3. Make sure you are in control of yourself emotionally.


4. Respond to the situation. For tips on how, check out my last article:


Thanks for reading!

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below. Let’s get the discussion going. I respond to every comment, and I look forward to connecting with you.

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