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Between Stimulus and Response

Viktor Frankl was born in Austria in 1905 and went on to become one of the world’s leading philosophers. He was also a psychiatrist and a neurologist, and a survivor of the Holocaust. His brilliance was matched by his compassion for others and his dedication to the concept of finding solutions that gave healing and hope to others. As a student he noted a high degree of suicides among other students in Vienna, and asked permission to start a program to prevent suicides. One year later, there were no suicides among students, a remarkable achievement.

There are many different quotes that can be used to capture his approach, the focus of the blog today is on this quote attributed to Frankl:

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.

For people who have experienced significant trauma and have unmet needs, the space between stimulus and response, the space where we can think and feel and explore options, has been taken away. People with complex trauma histories are often in a continuous fight/flight/freeze position, hardly ever having the time to use the space between stimulus and response to experience growth and freedom.

In the Matrix of Needs model, our job is to restore that space, to give people the freedom to grow by ensuring their safety, and meeting Core and Growth needs. We restore that space by first ensuring safety at a physical, psychological, and emotional level. One way of thinking about this is to ask: Is your body safe? Is your heart safe? Is your mind safe? Safety is an all-encompassing need that has to be established in order for people to begin to meet their other needs.

When people feel safe and these five needs are met, they will be able to use the space between stimulus and response to grow. As individuals and as a society this is our greatest challenge, to provide safety to all people at all times in all places.


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