When you’re experiencing a challenging moment, do you get curious?

Victor E. Frankl famously said, “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.”

When we get curious, we have more power to choose our response.

There’s also a paradox with curiosity. For many of us, we need to feel safe in order to get curious. And yet, learning to get curious as a go-to response can help us create more safety. Curiosity widens that gap between what happens and our response to it, and that extra breathing room can make all the difference.

Curiosity is one of our greatest tools. We can lean on curiosity to help us regulate, and de-escalate moments of tension. The more curious we become, the less control our emotions have over us, allowing them to be flowing pieces of information that we can actually learn from.

As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald, consider what “curiosity” means to you.

Reflections on “Curiosity” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Curiosity is the very thing that led me into the field of psychology. What it means is patience to listen and willingness to consider other perspectives. As a psychologist, it is tempting to apply the lens of past experiences to the people in front of me. Horses remind me that curiosity is essential to connection and authentic communication.

Curiosity allows us to really listen to each other and hear what may be behind the message. So much of connection and communication is silent. Horses present to us a silent interpretation of what we might not understand. The work I do with trauma victims includes the opportunity of silent observations of the horses. It is then I can often step out of the way and let the healing unfold. I am always reminded that healing is one part therapy and one-part silent reflection. To be curious about the horses and the myriad of emotions they provoke begins a process within the individual words cannot reflect. To me, the point here is curiosity should never be lost, but when it is lost or misplaced, horses have an uncanny way of reigniting the process.

Reflections on “Curiosity” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard

I think being curious is sometimes a hard thing to be. Maybe it’s my past trauma, but being curious can sometimes get you into trouble. On the other hand, without curiosity, would I have been able to move forward? No, probably not. I am curious despite its challenges.

It’s easier to be curious about myself than others. For instance, I haven’t always been curious about my daughters. I talked at them and gave them my opinion on things they were curious about, but I don’t remember asking them things about themselves very much. It’s so easy to stay insular and much harder to come out of your shell. Now that my daughters are older, I feel very curious about them. Is that because they are older? Or has something changed inside me? I think if I had it to do over again, I would be more curious about them and what they were thinking and why they thought that way.

I’ve always been curious about things I’m interested in, like figuring out how something works or why I think a particular thought. Now, years later, thinking about all I have learned from the Polyvagal Theory, I can truly understand what is going on inside my whole body. It never made sense to me that only my brain would oversee everything that was going on.

I have learned a lot from horses about staying curious, too. I must admit I don’t always want to ride a horse that is curious because curiosity can sometimes lead to being afraid and spooking! Lol. Some horses are naturally curious, and some are not. I think some think like me, that curiosity is not always a great thing. But we all realize it is necessary for growth and even survival. What would happen if there were no curiosity in the world? Nothing new would be discovered, no movement in the horse world or the human world. It would probably be a very dull existence. So, it’s time to put away the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” and replace it with “curiosity opened the cat’s mind”.

Reflections on “Curiosity” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald

Horses are our best teachers. They constantly tell us how they want to be worked with. They show us many clues about what they need from us. It is our task to remain curious and open to the signals they give, so that we can engage and understand how to connect with them. Curiosity is the best tool a horse trainer can possess. Instead of getting frustrated, angry, or emotional, get curious. Becoming curious shifts the focus off what the horse is not doing, to what you can do to help the horse understand the task that you’re asking of him. Be curious about how you can help the horse succeed. To be curious when being with horses is to become compassionate, empathetic, and engaged in a respectful relationship.

To start with an unfocused and inattentive horse and end with a soft, harmonious one is a joyful accomplishment. Relationships can be difficult. It is up to us to discover what is needed to promote a healthy fellowship of working together towards a common goal of connection. Curiosity is a powerful mindset that can bring real change and acceptance.

Reflections on “Curiosity” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald

When it comes to curiosity, I’m like a dog with a bone. I have an insatiable desire to learn and understand the ins and outs of the things that feel important to me. I need to put limits on my learning time because I can get pretty carried away, forgetting to eat, sleep, or even use the bathroom.

Although this slightly manic learning style can get me into trouble sometimes, it’s also been one of my best friends. Understanding more about things like behavior (in humans and horses), why we do the things we do, and how to move through our conditioned responses, has been an incredibly liberating gift of curiosity. This is what led me to Polyvagal Theory: a validating and transformational exploration about why and how we feel safe and connected, and if we don’t, what we can do about it.

Now it’s your turn!
What does “curiosity” mean to YOU?

Dr. Rebecca Bailey
Author: Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Dr . Bailey is a leading trauma therapist who specializes in complex case scenarios. She has over 30 years of experience in the field and continues to be dedicated to the notion that authenticity, common sense, and kindness are the most important elements of effective treatment. She is a lifelong equestrian and animal lover who continues to believe animals, in particular horses, have much to teach humans about curiosity and compassion.