Earlier this week, I was out running errands with my new partner when we almost got hit by another car. In that instant, as I thrust out my hand to get his attention, I immediately called him by my ex-husband’s name. Now, ignoring the awkwardness of that slip up, it was an “ah ha” moment for me. Instinctively, in a moment when I was reacting out of adrenaline, it instantly made me react in a way that was almost instantaneously negative. In my subconscious mind, my fight reflex went back to my ex-husband. Not good.
So, as most things lately, it got me thinking. I have been doing a disgustingly large amount of reflecting, and in this moment, I started to consider what is my crisis response.
Now, most of us know the basics; fight, flight or freeze. In any type of emergency or crisis situation, our bodies will go into one of these three modes (to a certain degree anyway). We have no control over it and although there are times when we will wish we handled things differently, it is important to remember that it is a natural, uncontrollable response. You don’t even have the time to think about it in the moment.
Yet, I am no longer in those crisis moments, and in looking back on the simple ones, like the almost accident from the other day, and the more complicated ones, something has come to light. I have engaged in all three of those crisis responses.
Fight – I did this one a lot. I fought with my family, I fought with my ex-husband and I fought with the systems that were not helping us. And you know what, in some instances, it saved us. If it wasn’t for my fighting, both figuratively and literally, we would not have gotten a lot of the things handled the way they should have been. The chaos would have been a lot more serious and a lot more long-term. Fighting is my strength to be honest but it is also my downfall. I fought and fought and fought and forgot how to stop my body from being in fight mode. Even now, years later, my massage therapist is telling me that I am still in a chronic state of fight mode and need to actively work on figuring out how to relax. Go figure.
Flight – This one I did a lot with my family. It was an unknown defense mechanism but any time my family, or friends, tried to support me, or question the crises happening in my life, I fled. I fled the questions, the support and the love. I fled as a unintentional response because it kept me safe, or my perception of what safety meant at the time. If I wasn’t facing it, and wasn’t talking about it, it wasn’t happening. Idiotic in hindsight but it was my reality at the time. I wasn’t necessarily safe, and in hindsight, sometimes flight responses might be a better option than the fight move I typically respond with. Yet, as mentioned, in the moment, there is no control. Flight still had its benefits when I needed them too.
Freeze – Typically I find myself using this technique in more of a shut down method when crises or large stressors become too much. I don’t necessarily fight or flee, but rather will freeze and do nothing in the moment. There is no response. There is no reaction. And there is no processing. This freeze mechanism was one I used to disassociate the things that were happening around me in order to mentally keep myself safe. It is interesting, at least to me, to consider that I was in a state of freeze for years at a time. I didn’t even realize that it was a stress response, but it allowed me to handle what was happening in my life so that it did not overtake me. It is fascinating to think how our bodies can protect us.
Regardless of which response I was using, it was an unintentional reaction to a crisis situation. Similar to how I reacted in that near accident, it was subconscious and dependent on what was happening in that moment. So for you, regardless of whether your response is fight, flight or freeze. Just remember, that it is there to keep you safe. It did a great job of doing that for me.
“A leader or man of action in a crisis almost always acts subconsciously and then thinks of the reasons for his actions. “– Jawaharlal Nehru
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