When fight or flight doesn’t seem right

The fight or flight response.  It comes into play when we are faced with a dangerous situation that needs our instinctual wits to help us to safety.

Humans have chosen the correct choice enough times in our evolution to keep the species growing and thriving.  OK.  That’s great.  So what’s the problem?

The problem comes in when we are triggered into a fight or flight response when the situation didn’t warrant it.  The situation was not dangerous.  There was no bear in the campground (flight), or threat to family members (fight) to deal with.  Just everyday situations like:

– being questioned why you are doing something or acting a certain way

-being told you are wrong

-having your space violated

regular instances of motives and opinions differing.

The repercussions of situations that turn into conflicts, that trigger the flight or fight response, are many.  Studies have shown the accompanying damage to adrenal glands and immune system from the frequent spikes of stress.

On a more practical level, the cost of this phenomenon is decreased effectiveness in the job, relationship and life.

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, of you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Daniel Goleman

We could talk at this point about why we are triggered.  But I have been finding it much more interesting to look into what to do when triggered.

There are two amazing steps to take in these situations that transform the situation. They often calm and quiet a potential conflict and sometimes move it artfully from conflict to harmony.

1.  Connect through empathy

2.  Gather more information

Really, as simple as that.

Put a mindful pause at the beginning and you have a solid practice.

Connecting is anything that acknowledges that the other person is being heard and matters.  “Hmm, that sounds like it is really hard” , or “I didn’t realize that you felt so strongly about…”

Gathering involves asking further questions to get more information about what is bothering the other person, or what they ultimately want.

If you have ever seen two people have a heated argument when the both want the same outcome you know what I’m getting at.

This is a practice of building awareness.  Both the awareness that you are being triggered and have a chance to artfully and effectively respond, and the awareness of what the other person is going through.  Awareness.  Consciousness.

  1. 1.
    the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings.


“We have seen that the gap between automatic reaction and thoughtful response simply gets narrower and narrower as consciousness increases. This means there is less and less clean up to do, less time wasted in blame, and overall, dramatically increased effectiveness. Not only does this (hopefully) seem intuitively correct, it fits with Daniel Goleman’s wonderful work on Emotional Intelligence and its critical role in effectiveness in life.”  From the blog yourcoachingbrain.com

So in essence fight or flight shouldn’t be called a response at all but rather a reaction. An action becomes a response (responsible) when we overlay it with consciousness. This is our practice.

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