Dr Perpetua Neo

React vs Respond. And a system of kindness.

We think. We do. We experience things in our bodies. We feel. Often, without awareness. After all, our senses are overloaded. Why should I pay attention to chewing my pasta when I’ve writing or on call, you ask. But some of these thoughts, feelings, sensations, actions feed our strong muscles of habit.

  • Like a thought popping in about your presentation. “Oh God, I performed like shit”, you think. “I should have said X/ done Y”. You criticise yourself, you’re lost in your mindscape, your muscles are sore. You can’t enjoy that gorgeous dinner with your friends.
  • Like that prickly sensation in the back of your neck. Your body’s so used to interpreting this as emergency. Before you realise, your mind’s racing. It leaps into the worst conclusion possible. “I’ll have a full-blown panic attack and embarrass myself”.
  • Like that drink, because ‘I’m stressed, work’s ended’. 1 becomes 10. You awake feeling like the Living Dead. You drag yourself to work, popping pills, thinking “I can never get it right.” Oh well, it’s 5 o’clock again. Might as well drown the pain.

Triggers are triggers. They feed your Habit muscle because your brain’s so used to it.


So you grasp. You cling onto that trigger. Fondle it. Try to tattoo impermanence. You entertain that thought. Breathe life into that action. Berate yourself for your feelings. One leads to another. The vicious circle begins. Another slide down that well-oiled spiral.

Or you suppress. Pretend your feeling doesn’t exist. “You’re not afraid”, you tell yourself, when you are. You escape your thoughts and yourself with phantasy, self-medication, punishment. But it’s the Whac-a-Mole arcade puppet. You hit it, it springs back with a vengeance. It’s the Jack-in-the-Box that scares you with its ghoulish face.

You’ve reacted. Gut instinct based on fear. Because no one’s taught you otherwise.


Responding is pausing, to let the reaction pass. Sometimes we think we’re responding by being all rational. But really, we’re smothering our feelings with logic.

Let’s visualise a scenario

Your son/daughter/niece/nephew’s 5. She’s fallen down. She’s bleeding, and she’s terrified.

Do you:-

  • Tell her “Oh you stupid careless girl. Look what you’ve done. You’ll bleed and you’ll have scars and look ugly. Now shut up and stop crying!”
  • Tell her “Come here. I know you’re scared because you’ve fallen down. You’ll be alright. Let me clean this for you. You’ll be better”

All my clients have told me #2. I’m not surprised. Flip this over to you. Why do you treat yourself with #1. But I’m not a 5 year old, you protest. Of course you’re not. But there are parts of you that play. That are sensitive. That are child-like. And there’s part of you that should never grow up and lose that spark. You’re human. You are worthy of #2.

Let’s break #2 down:-

  • “I know you’re scared because you’ve fallen down”- The child understand his emotions.
  • “You’ll be alright”, “You’ll be better”- You give the child hope, you’re warm and kind.
  • Let me clean this for you”- You’re showing the child how to solve.

You’re teaching the child awareness of the situation- paying attention to attention. How to contain her emotions. You’re modelling kindness. There’s no better gift. These create resilient, kind, strong adults. If it’s too difficult to imagine ‘treating yourself like a child’, then how would treat your friend who was going through the same?

“But I’m different”- Identifying your limiting beliefs

I’m special. I should have done Y”, you protest. We think we need to beat ourselves up if we make mistakes, so we won’t do it again. But you know what? Research shows that those who are self-compassionate have just as high standards as those who criticise themselves. But they’re not as upset when they don’t meet their goals. They cope better, they’re likelier to pick themselves up, and continue to thrive in life.

How can you be kind then?

When things get tough and the triggers pay a visit, be your own best friend.

Tell yourself
“(Name), you’re feeling this way because (this) has happened. It’s something that keeps happening, and you’re working on it.”

Ask yourself
“What can I do to take good care of myself right now.” Do something for yourself. That makes you happy, gives you a sense of mastery, makes your life feel orderly. Or breathe.

You’re not alone. You’re never alone. You’re worthy.

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