Why do we still react with “fight” or “flight?”

Our ability to physically study the brain supports what many philosophical, spiritual, conflict resolution, educational and therapeutic models attempt to provide:  a way to live into our highest potential as individuals and as humans in relationships.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

I don’t know about you, but I sure need to keep learning, reflecting and growing in these areas.

One thing we know now, is that our brains are hard-wired for survival and that elf-preservation is deeply embedded in our genes. Humans learned to band together because their very survival depended on it.

We got really good at being alert to any danger, whether from a predator that might devour us, or the tribal leader who might banish us from the tribe.

In some places in the world, these situations are still very real. But most of us do not have to worry about being trampled to death by a pack of animals or being banished from a tribe to die in the wilderness.

What we know  is that in 2013, our brains still instinctively react with that primitive flight or fight instinct. This is good if we are in a life-threatening situation, but not in conversation, at work, in family life, in schools, or any other place there are people.

Every day disagreements, miscommunications, conversations that feel like criticism and more, call up this basic fight or flight instinct in us, and literally, to our brain feel like a death threat. When we are stressed, tired, facing significant challenges or illness, this instinct is on hyper-alert. We can’t help it that the instinct is there, but we can help and choose our response to it.

The good news is that we are not slaves to our brains and instincts. We have tools we can choose to learn, use and teach our children. Each of the books I referenced above starts from the premise that with all our uniquenesses, at our core we all desire the same thing: to be treated and live with dignity. It is when our dignity is violated that we react with the defensiveness that can destroy relationships.

We also, can only honor the dignity of another, when we accept our own dignity as human beings, both beauties and imperfections. This is a lifelong process for all of us.

Three of my current reads are:  Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of HappinessPlanting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, and Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict.  Each of these books is very readable.  If you want more detail about the dignity model, you can go to www.drdonnahicks.com or any of these publications.

If you are struggling with experiences of dignity violations at home, at work, in relationships or struggling to recognize your own dignity, please call Aurora Family Service at 1-414-342-4560. 

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One Response to Why do we still react with “fight” or “flight?”

  1. Melanie May says:

    That is, if you want the cheat code to coming out of “fight or flight” and staying there until an emergency.

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