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.
- Viktor Frankl
You may want to tell me that when anxiety or panic overwhelm you that you have no choice but to obey its demands. When panic tells you to call for help, you must call for help. When anxiety tells you to run from the supermarket and go home to be safe, you must do what it says. You know these actions are not helping you, but you will assert that you have no choice and that you are compelled to follow the orders that your anxious brain barks at you.
This is not true. Between the initial flash of fear, and your response, there is a space. It is admittedly a tiny space, stretching maybe only a few seconds at the most. But the space does exist. Recognizing that space is a huge part of moving in a new more productive recovery direction.
Every day in my community I hear people tell me that they have no choice when afraid, that logic “goes out the window”.
They will say that they simply must do what panic and anxiety tell them to do, even though they know this is keeping them stuck. They are adamant about this, and often get offended and angry when I suggest otherwise.
Curiously, every day I also hear people come back, after the benefit of a few weeks or months of recovery work, to acknowledge that the space between fear and responses does in fact exist. These people were also initially adamant about not being able to resist the commands of anxiety and fear, but they learn over time that they actually could.
What changed for these folks?
Accepting that the tiny space between stimulus and response does exist was the first change. Accepting that in this space is choice, and therefore power, was the second change.
The third change was in the hard work needed to learn how to exercise that choice and find that power. That’s the real heavy lifting that we talk about all the time, but you can’t start that part until you are willing to accept that in those few seconds between panic and retreat there is a choice to be made and that you are responsible for making it and powerful enough to make it.
Recovery does not happen in big chunks. It happens in tiny bites. And really, it happens bite by bite each time we move into that tiny space between fear and response and make new choices. These are difficult choices that require understanding, commitment, and courage, but they are the choices that set us free in the long term.
Recovery happens a few seconds at a time in that tiny space where we find our power and our strength. Take a few minutes today and think about that.
You may find that tiny space terrifying, and therefore want to insist that it is operationally non-existent for you, but consider that being afraid of a thing does not make that thing irrelevant or useless.
On the contrary. In recovery, the things we fear lead us to huge reserves of power and confidence. Oddly, those huge reserves are held in the tiniest of spaces. Strange how that works, isn’t it?
Tomorrow I’ll talk about how my anxiety felt like failure.
My friend and regular collaborator Dr. Bridget Cooper writes and speaks wonderfully on this topic. I want to give her credit for sparking this entry, and I encourage you to visit her and her work at drbridgetcooper.com.