Posted by: coachingparents | May 8, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

According to biologists, all living cells have the characteristic of
“irritability”.  This means each cell in our bodies responds to
stimulation in some fashion.  Infants are born with the ability to
respond to both internal and external stimulation.  These responses
develop from simple reflexes into complex patterns of speech,
thinking, movement, and social habits.  Without stimulation of all the
five sense and the consequent response patterns, children do not
survive.  Being stimulated and practicing responses are absolutely
necessary for life.  Thus, how we respond to others (thereby
stimulating them to respond to us), will define our role in
determining the nature and quality of our living.  Our
response-ability to others is what we use to control the quality of
our relating.  We have the response-ability to “make or break” the
nature of our relationships

Shortly after World War II, in an orphanage in Europe, all the
children in an “infants ward” were failing to thrive… except one. 
No staff person could figure out why only one child out of some 35
infants, was fat and happy, while all others were thin and
languishing.  They decided to watch this special child “around the
clock”.  They discovered the only factor that could account for the
child’s healthy development was the third-shift housekeeper.  That’s
right.  The woman had “taken a liking” to this child and nightly,
while cleaning, had wrapped him in a blanket and carried him around
with him strapped to her hip.  She would talk to him, show him
objects, sing to him, and caress his face and body. She was
stimulating the child by her loving responsiveness.  The child was
thriving.  The others, despite the same diet and routine care, were
dying of a syndrome later to be called “marasmus” or “hospitalism
syndrome”.  The difference between life and death was the amount of
responsive stimulation the child received. 

The nature and quality of our responsiveness to others is of vital
importance.  We can survive on negative, even painful responses from
others (e.g. criticism, yelling, punishment).  Naturally, we grow more
healthily on receipt of regular, positive caring (nurturing). 
However, we cannot last long with no responses at all.

People learn to provoke negative responses when they believe
positive ones are unavailable.  Negative responses are more
emotionally satisfying than no responses at all.  Children learn this
hierarchy of responsiveness very early.  Little Johnny draws a picture
with crayons on a piece of paper and shows it to his mother, who is
talking on the phone.  She does not respond to him or his picture. No
responsiveness from Mom there.  So, Johnny knows just what to do to
get his need met for Mom’s responsiveness.  He doesn’t think about his
need, he merely reproduces the picture on the wall of the living room!
 That gets Mom to respond…negatively of course.  But that feels
better to Johnny than no response at all.

Couples argue with one another merely to exchange negative
responses, when they believe the other is unavailable for positive
responses.  If you are “fighting” with your partner and don’t remember
what you are conflicting about, it is fairly certain you are fighting
merely to exchange negative responses.

Here are a few short questions, the answers to which are vital to
living in a happy and fulfilled manner.  How you answer them may will
also affect the amount of joy or misery in your life.  These questions

1.  How often do I invite negative responses from others out of a
held belief that positive ones are unavailable?

2.  How often do I invite positive responses from others when I need
them out of a belief that I deserve them?

3.  How often do I offer positive responses to others?  They’ll
thrive on them.

4.  How often do I respond negatively out of my own lack of being
responded to …my own emptiness?

5.  How often do I ask clearly and directly for the responses I’d
like or need?

6.  How often do I withhold responding to others out of my own fear,
guilt or emptiness?

Responsiveness is necessary for us to stay alive.  Every cell in our
bodies is responsive.  How we choose to respond, either positively or
negatively or not at all, is up to us.  Become responsive to yourself,
others, and your environment.  It can transform your life!


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on


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