fight or flight – the great instinctual duo

runningit’s my 5 year old’s turn to talk about what happened during the fight that just went on in the boy’s room – from his perspective – because it sucks to not feel heard and i’m working on it with the kids.

and everyone is laughing (because he’s so cute) and then Arden (10) is getting frustrated with how long it’s taking leo to get things out. and then leo starts all over from the beginning. he wants to be heard and he has a limited vocabulary and ability to repeat back a series of events. so i let him start over. and then he wants to repeat the parts that he is confident of again and again… and i think, this is how we are. just like this. even as grown ups. we no more have the perfect words to express how we feel than a 5 year old child. and we get frustrated and those around us get frustrated and impatient for us to finish and get it all out wether they’ve really heard us or not.

can’t we all just say this thing is resolved?

so we shut down. or throw tantrums. fight or flight. it’s easy to recognize in a 5 year old, not so easy to see in an adult that has had decades of practice hiding how they really feel.

i think the hardest part of this survival duo is recognizing when someone escapes the tension by shutting down. it can be easily interpreted as compliance. we do it to our kids all the time.

we do it to one another all the time. hurt feelings lead to tears or steamy silence, and is met with a demand to stop reacting that way.  it’s an uncomfortable, inconvenient moment that we want to be over so we can resume regular life and feel happy.

is this making any sense?head in hands

it’s hard to walk all the way through conflict together. it’s easier to just walk away. conflict resolution isn’t something that just comes naturally, it’s learned. kids that watched their parents fight and never have conflict resolution, (because one or both kept walking away, or they beat each other up with words or actions) that kid can grow up believing that disagreements can never be solved. so they live in fear of conflict, believing it will just go on and on, or make everything fall apart if it is addressed.

whatever is modeled to us is most likely what we end up doing.

so what if fight is your impulse? you can stay and fight for something you believe is worth fighting for all day long, refusing to walk away, refusing to give up the fight, but if the person on the other end of the effort feels beat up by it… well, then that doesn’t work either, does it? you either end up in a fist fight or you’re left standing there alone.

brain fact

the problem isn’t about which of these you do, it really lies in the fact that fight or flight is an instinctual survival impulse. we are not meant to live our lives in survival mode, but unfortunately so many of us do.

i know which side of this instinctual coin toss i land on. i have to choose all the time to stay present and not run away. i’m thinking one day it has to get easier — and it is occurring to me in this moment how much i still live life from a survival perspective. (ugh. come Lord Jesus)

but if we will choose to be gentle with one another, if we choose to stop long enough to really listen to what the other person is saying (what they’re really saying), if we will be honest and vulnerable, telling one another how we feel, then we won’t be slaves to these instincts. we will come out from under their power and relegate this great duo to their original purpose: for survival, when life and death are on the line –

not for every day life.

2 Replies to “fight or flight – the great instinctual duo”

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