Houston, We have a Problem!
The oh sh-t moment when life goes from wonderful to dread and we have to act fast. We all have them. Sometimes we handle the situation well and other times, well, we ponder for decades what we could have done differently. Can a person truly be prepared for those problematic moments?
We are all basically hard wired the same way. Note the word basically. It is rare in life when things are one-hundred percent. There are four things we are programmed to do in emergencies. They are flee, fight, freeze or flop. Pretty easy to understand. To flee is to run away from the situation. To fight is to attack the situation head-on. To freeze is to become paralyzed and not able to do much of anything. To flop is to faint.
Which of these tactics a person picks may be the same in all emergencies or can change depending on the circumstances. A woman who suddenly has the strength to lift a car off her child (to fight), might not attack an intruder inside her home. Can we know in advance which behavior we will chose?
Hard to say. The military trains our troops by using repetition. Instilling into them, this is what you do in the following situation. The lives of these people depend upon it. Firefighters, police officers and all other careers where lives are at stake do the same thing. But even then not everyone is able to follow that programming when needed. Why not?
It comes back to all our past experiences. Those experiences become chemical memories in our brains. When a situation occurs similar to a past situation, the brain compares it and acts based on what worked before. No matter how much training a person has, there are times the old experiences will over-ride the current situation. Why? Because, training that your life is in danger is very different from it truly being in danger.
Having said that, there are times, sometimes humorously, when our reactions are way off the mark. Like the picture above where the caveman is using a club to put out a fire. The fire extinguisher is right beside him. This is where feelings step in. Fear, panic and anxiety all play a role in how effective we will behave in an emergency.
Stress produces the same type of reaction. The brain thinks there is a problem. It is either a possible emergency or real emergency and tells us to react. As a result our reactions maybe over the top for the situation. Think about the person who gets road rage because he/she is running late and the person in front is going the speed limit.
Next time you know you are feeling stressed and you find yourself over-reacting (flee, fight, freeze or flop), try to pull yourself together and regroup before reacting. Good questions would be, why am I reacting this way? Is the danger real? How realistic is my thinking? The one I like the best comes from my husband. He says to me, “I think you are reacting to things not in evidence.” Meaning, I’ve either got the cart before the horse or I believe I know what is going to happen without having a crystal ball.
None of us have true knowledge of the future but some of us think we do and base much of our choices and behaviors on this illusion. It can’t be done.
Here’s hoping you have a reaction appropriate day.
Posted on April 11, 2013, in Living with PTSD and Chronic Fatigue, Relationships, The Therapist is in and tagged Behaviors, emergency, fight, firefighters, flee, flop, freeze, illusions, military, over reaction, police, road rage, Stress. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.