top of page

Healthy relationships: Responsible responses

The dictionary meaning for responsible is given as "being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it." The origin of the word comes from the root respondere, which is to "respond". Maybe, simply put whether one is responsible or not depends on how one responds to the various queries and demands that are made of them.

Any response or even reaction is observed as a person's behaviour. Neurology (how their brain is) has everything to do with how a person behaves. An experience is a neuronal activity that constantly modifies the synaptic circuitry of the brain. Neuronal activity from interactions is a mechanism by which the environment can influence brain structure and function. Therefore, it is useful to understand what goes on within oneself, and also within others, in any interaction. This forms the basis of all human behavioural understanding! And this could also be called the "neuroscience of experience." And this can help one understand the underlying reasons a person behaves in a certain manner, when another behaves differently.

Primal feelings and emotions lead to instinctive reactions rather than responses. So what are the primal emotions and feelings that every being is born with? Very few, and all associated with survival of the species - Fear, anger, desire, sadness, happiness, disgust, etc. The biggest neurological difference between animals and humans is the presence of the "prefrontal cortex - PFC." The PFC is the part of the brain that allows a person to project into the future and evaluate the potential results of a certain action.

At this stage, it might be pertinent and relevant to share two very popular statements from Viktor Frankl here: 1. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

2. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

There is a biblical verse (paraphrased) which states, "A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted." The responsibility in a response is based on the appropriateness of the response. In life, just slowing down and thinking before reacting constitutes a response.

What is an example of a responsible response? If a dog comes charging and attacks, then one takes evasive action or attacks the dog back - this is an instinctive reaction from a primal emotion of self-preservation. And exercising the same self-preservation, and the PFC, one then becomes careful in future by either taking necessary precautions while on the road, and having protection available. Certainly, an appropriate response it not to bite the dog back when one sees it again, in the future!

However, many a time in relationships, this is exactly what happens! Regardless of the present actions, sometimes people are reacting to an earlier episode, from past memory, with that other person. The truth is that memories are not really dependable. Research has shown that every time we access a memory, we change it. Moran Cerf says that the memories that we do not access are the ones we will recollect as close to the original as is possible! And when we react based on past data, we are likely to have a less than useful communication exchange, leading to a less than ideal relationship.

This brings me back to my favourite concept - of slowing down and "choosing" to act in a certain way. Understanding oneself, what one is feeling, what they want, and whether their actions will get them what they want. Sometimes, the best response is not to respond at all and using cricketing parlance, that would be "well left!"

bottom of page