Although the two words sound similar their implications are very different.
Think of an allergic reaction. It’s not something we have a choice in. Our immune system is triggered by an outside influence and it goes into an automated process to protect us from the threat. In the same way when we react to something that happens in life it’s usually not a choice but an automated process. Our past experiences that have shaped our personality, especially the negative and traumatic ones, lead us to see the perceived threat through the eyes of our past experiences and we react, automatically, as if we were back in the past. This often leads us to behave in ways that are inappropriately suited to the situation at hand or cause us to overreact to something that may not have been a threat at all.
By contrast a response is more conscious. An accurate perception of the current events allows us to behave in a way appropriate to the situation and get the best possible outcome, since we are seeing clearly in the present moment and not reacting from past experiences. This is not to say that the past does not matter, ideally we learn from the past and use it to educate ourselves in how better to deal with the present. The difference here is that when we respond we see what is actually happening, rather than what we think might be happening.
The way to make the transition from reaction to response as our default mode is to resolve our past trauma. We can do this through many methods, at the Art of Undoing we recommend Craniosacral Therapy and regular mediation practice, but they all come down to the same thing, relieving the friction between aspects of ourselves stuck in the traumatic past and the reality of our present awareness. It takes a lot of energy to keep the painful past alive, even when buried in the subconscious, and even more energy to resist it coming to the surface of our awareness. This friction between the two realities causes pain and suffering, often leading to symptoms that can affect our life negatively, which further depletes us and can make life unbearable for some. When we identify, accept and assimilate the aspects of our psyche that are stuck in the past we bring more of our awareness and energy to the present moment and are more able to respond rather than react to our environment.
A good example of this is the dog that has rescued from the pound. When it first arrives in it’s new home it may be aggressive and untrusting often snapping at people for no reason, but with time and patience it will usually learn that not all humans are a threat and will eventually become a loyal companion. We too can do the same, if we are willing to face the darkness that lays inside of us and bring it into the light.