Fight or ight - our automatic response to danger. When fear is present, adrenaline pours into our system to prepare us to ght or ee - from the tiger, the bear, the lava from the volcano.
Fight or ight - today we automatically respond this way to the present dangers, the deep fears that come up in marriages: rejection and engulfment - fears of loss of others and loss of self. Often, when we feel rejected and fear the loss of the other, we ght for love not to go away by defending, explaining, blaming, attacking, complying, xing, or we ee through withdrawal. Often, when we feel engulfed and fear losing ourselves through being controlled by another, we ee through resistance or withdrawal, or ght by attacking, defending, or explaining. Just as our ancestors fought or ed from physical danger, we ght and ee from emotional danger. The problem is that, while ght or ight is appropriate in the face of physical danger, this same behavior in the face of emotional fear causes deep problems in marriages.
When we respond automatically to the fears of losing ourselves and losing another, we behave in the very ways that create fear in the other. Our ght or ight reactions create fear in the other person - the same fears of losing themselves or losing us. Our ghting and eeing activates othersí fear of rejection and engulfment, creating a vicious circle of ghting and eeing. These unconscious, automatic reactions to emotional danger were learned long ago, when we were very small and had to rely on ght or ight as part of our survival. Today they are now longer necessary for our survival, and need to be replaced with loving actions toward ourselves and others.
What does it mean to take loving action in the face of anotherís ght or ight behavior? Where do we get the role modeling for what it looks like to take loving action in the face of another’s unloving behavior? Most of us had parents who did not role model loving action in the face of conict. We have not seen much of it on TV or in movies. How do we learn to take loving action on our own behalf when in conict with another - action that takes care of ourselves without violating or threatening another?
The steps we can take to move out of automatic ght or ight and into loving actions are:
1. Start to attend to your feelings, the physical sensations within your body that let you know when you are anxious or afraid.
2. Stop and breathe when you feel fear or anxiety in the face of conflict, or in the face of another ís fight or flight behavior. Give yourself some breathing time to make a conscious decision rather than go on automatic pilot.
3. Take action on the information you receive.
Examples of loving action are:
Move into compassion for the other person, recognizing that he or she would not be in ght or ight without being in fear. Asking the other person, again from a deep desire to learn, what he or she is afraid of that is causing this behavior may de-escalate the situation and lead to understanding and healing.
If the other person is not open to calm discussion and exploration of the conict, disengage from the interaction, speaking your truth without anger or blame. For example, you might say, ìI donít want to ght with you. I'm going to take a walk and let’s try to talk about it later. Or, This isnít feeling good between us. Letís take a break and get together later.
If the other person has withdrawn from you, loving action may be to do something fun or nurturing for yourself.
Both staying and learning together or taking some time apart to reflect on the issues or self-nurture will break the cycle of each person going into fight or flight in reaction to the other person ís fight or flight. It takes conscious practice to stop going into automatic behavior, but the payoff is well worth the time it takes to practice loving action.