Cycles of Response - Improving Communication

Ever heard the saying “humans are creatures of habit?” Well our thoughts, feelings, and responses can also become habitual. Habitual thought patterns and behaviors can become problematic as the response often does not match the circumstance or the desired outcomes. The diagram demonstrates an unhelpful cycle of response and healthy way to approach internal processes and communication.  

Let’s explore together:
Situation: Son lives far away and doesn’t pick up the phone when you call.
Desired outcome: To connect with your son and to speak on the phone more frequently.

Unhelpful cycle of response illustrates the habitual and often unhelpful response pattern.
Thought: “My son doesn’t pick up his phone when I call, he doesn’t care or respect me.”
Feeling: “Anger”.
Immediate reaction: “To call his cellphone 10 times and leave angry voicemails of how disappointed you are in him and his behaviors.”
Further thoughts: “This happens all the time, he is so ungrateful”.
Feelings: “More anger, frustration, feeling out of control.”  
And the unhelpful cycle continues while propelling negative thoughts, feelings, and outcomes.
This pattern of response is automatic. Your body is on autopilot and you are choosing to be in the backseat.
Habitual and automatic responses will not help you achieve your goals. This type of response does not communicate your desired outcome of connecting with your son and causes ruptures in the relationship.

Helpful cycle of response:
Thought: “My son doesn’t pick up his phone when I call, he doesn’t care or respect me.” PAUSE. Is this thought true or false? Sure, your son may not pick up the phone at times when you call. Can there be other reasons for not answering his phone, besides “he doesn’t care or respect me?” YES, he is busy at work, school, doesn’t see his phone ring or maybe just needs time to himself.  2. Is this thought helpful or unhelpful? In this situation the thought is unhelpful, so feeding it attention will create more unhelpful outcomes.
Emotion:” Angry.” PAUSE. “Sad, lonely, scared” (identify true vulnerable emotions that your anger is masking).
Now you can choose a helpful behavior: “Call once and leave a voicemail indicating that you are thinking of him and that you are feeling worried because you haven’t heard from him in a few days. Ask him to call you back when he gets the chance.”
When you receive a return call, choose the behavior congruent with the desired outcome. If you want your son to call you more often, express exactly what behaviors you would like to see in the future.
Focus on vulnerable feelings and expressing your want to connect. Stay positive.

The helpful cycle encourages healthy expression of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It also promotes desired outcomes. It will take time, effort, and practice. You must think and change to grow.
Sandra Knapp, LPC
Mind Matters Therapy Services, LLC