Have you found everyday conversations turned into arguments filled with criticisms or personal attacks? Have you avoided certain conversations because you know it will end up in a fight? Have you got into a fight but later could not even remember how it got started? Do you understand your triggers, reactions, and patterns of interactions?
Hello, my name is Winnis Chiang. I am a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in helping people to turn their communication breakdowns into opportunity for personal, relational and spiritual growth. I not only work to solve your current problems but will give you a foundation of skills that will last a life time.
Today I'm going to talk about the "fight or flight" survival reaction, and how it break down our communication.
We often say "Fight or flight" but it's actually a "fight, flight or freeze" which is the physical and psychological reaction to a perceived threat, harmful event, or dangerous situation.
The "Fight, flight or freeze" survival instinct is the emergency responding system programmed into our brains to protect us. It is natural and common to all mammals and human beings. It is unconscious, meaning we have no control over it.
There are parallel among human behaviors and mammals.
Unlike animals, human beings can do all three by God's design in different situations. However, sometimes a person gets stuck in ONE habitual reaction because that's the reaction that worked in their life.
When our five senses receive warning signals that our safety and security are threatened (for example when someone is pointing a gun at you), the programmed "fight, flight or freeze" reaction automatically happens and we have no control over it in the following sequence:
- Stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are released. You have an adrenaline rush as if you just drank 20 cups of coffee.
- Blood flow changes from normal (e.g. helping your digestive system to digest your lunch) to essential functions to get ready for battle.
- Prefrontal Cortex (the part of your brain which governs your brain's reasoning and executive functions) goes offline and suddenly you have impaired thinking, processing, decision making and language skills.
- Amygdala (the emotional brain) instinctively responds with "Fight, flight or freeze".
The Amygdala is the processing center for emotional responses. It screens the information your five senses take in to. As a result, certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touch are time-stamped and stored into the hippocampus (which is the brain's memory filing system). When certain powerful memories are triggered by a specific cue there may be an emotional or body reaction. Because the Prefrontal Cortex is offline, we don't even realize what prompts us to get so upset!
We all tend to remember the central survival details, and the brain's filing system, the hippocampus, filters out the peripheral details.
When emotional and body reactions seem to pop up from seemingly unrelated occurrences, it can be disconcerting, confusing, frightening and overwhelming. When triggered, we find ourselves back in the "fight, flight or freeze" mode and those stress hormones got kicked in again and we become out of control.
Remember that "Fight, flight, or freeze" is our survival instinct by God's design. Our previous experience programs us to react automatically in certain way to survive, to stay alive! Do you have a repeated pattern of reactions?
Next time you are triggered and suddenly start to attack, run away, or play death, call a timeout. Each of you will need time to calm down your emotional brain so that your logical brain can function again. By reflecting on your feelings, thoughts and needs, you will have a choice of how to respond instead of react. To learn more, please sign up for my webinar, "Breaking Destructive Cycles and Building Constructive Communication that Help, NOT Hurt, the person you love" on my website, ParentingABCToday.com