Monday, March 25, 2013

The Paralysis of Fear – Fight or Flight

Did you know that one of the most primal of all our emotions is fear.  Of all of our feelings, it is fear that can serve to paralyze or motivate us.  The classic Fight or Flight reaction is deeply embedded in all of us.  How you behave when confronted with a overwhelming frightful situation is both a function of genetics and environment.
Fight or Flight Response
Human have a clear and distinct signature when it comes to their fight or flight response and it has been embedded in our behavior since we first evolved as a species. If there was a predator, you either got aggressive and combative to save yourself or you ran for your life to live to fight again.  That was the law of the jungle and what you did and when you performed either an aggressive behavior or retreated back to safety was predicated on a variety of factors including your personal make up and prior experience with such situations as well as your health and readiness for a fight with an animal or possibly another of your own species.
Today, in modern times, the fight or flight reaction still very much exists but it manifests itself in different ways.  No longer are their enormous creatures that you may need to fight or run from, bur rather the way in which you exhibit the fight or flight behavior takes on a different form.  A person who is combative today may be one who shows their visible anger and become argumentative.  Where one who is in the flight mode tends to be more submissive and passive, withdrawing from a verbal conflict.  It can even take on the form of withdrawing altogether from society by retreating to substance abuse.
It is believed that males and females largely deal with the fight and flight syndrome in a different way due to the way they deal with stress.  Males tend to kick into action when an emergency situation is revealed showing aggression (fight) whereas females more often look to get help from others (flight), hoping to diffuse the situation.
Why different people react in different ways to the same or similar stimuli is somewhat of a mystery but the theory first proposed by William Bradford Cannon in general described animals (humans included) as being reactive and largely governed by their sympathetic nervous system which causes them to respond with either aggression (fight) or flee (flight).  All of our behaviors to a large extent are a function of a general adaptation syndrome which controls our responses to stress.  The less stressful we are in our everyday lives, the less reactive and vulnerable we are to this sympathetic nervous system response.   Fear can cause us to become prisoners to our automatic emotions that tend to kick off a fight or flight response.  In a sense, we are all victims to fear as they take away from us that which makes us who we are as opposed to that which we were thousands of years ago.

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