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May 14, 2021

When Relationships get Hard: Fight-or-Flight?

Two words, complete opposites, although one letter apart.

In any stressful situation, a challenging one, one that corners us, tests what we are made of, the body has two ways of coping: one is fight and the other is flight. Ring any bells?

I, personally, was an extremist, and by that, I mean that at some point in my life, flight was always my way to go. Escaping major problems seemed, for me, the way to get less hurt and move on quicker, and this is how I used to handle my storms.

In my previous relationships, for example, I used to avoid fighting at any cost until it got to a point where I let some mistakes, that shouldn’t be ignored, slip. I used to convince myself that it is okay it happened, let it go, and avoid a fight and unnecessary negative feelings in a confrontation. Now I know for a fact that fighting and disagreeing in a relationship only makes it stronger, gives it deeper roots, and offers a greater understanding of one another.

Each one of us is wired in a different way. We each have our own journey, our own scars, our triggers, our pet peeves, our own defense mechanisms, and thus, we react differently to a make-or-break moment.

And guess what! That is totally and absolutely okay!

Sometimes the body’s natural reaction outruns the brain’s analyzing power and acts first. For example, when we are terrified of something or someone, we shiver, our voices tremble, we freeze—literally. And that renders us unable to make any decisions regarding whether we should fight, flight, or even just stare at the wall simply because we can.

The flight approach is powered by avoidance of conflict, confrontation, and basically a fight.

Well, as a previous expert in this area, I can tell you that it works. It is sometimes the easiest way out of an uncomfortable situation. If we are in a place, a situation, a job, or a relationship that dragged us on for too long—drained our patience, our energy, and our happiness away—it is sometimes inevitable for us to just leave, slam the door shut (cinematic sound effects and smoke eruption from the door included) and move on with our journey.

As the wise Tracy Chapman said in one of my favorite songs:

“Any place is better, starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something, Me, myself, I got nothing to prove’’

The fight response is different. It is standing up, facing the fire, confronting the situation face-to-face, eye to eye. It is refusing to settle. Something wrong and terrible has happened, and I am ready to fight it, maybe change it, remove it, and show them what I am made of.

Standing up for one’s beliefs, morals, and values requires sometimes saying, “No, I do not accept this. This is not how I think it should work. We need to fix this. I want something better in this job, in this friendship, or in any presented situation.”

A “ready or not, here I come!’’ state of mind will be taking over.

It requires guts to choose either way. What is the ideal response to every situation and how to predict which response is optimal to a certain implied situation?

Here are a few questions to ask ourselves before acting toward a certain conflict or problem:

>> Even if it requires an immediate response, and it takes practice to get there, the first thing we must do is stop our natural quick response for a fraction of a second, take a deep breath, and try to overcome our instinct to be able to choose the best approach and the best next step. “Inhala, Exhala.”

>> Is this something or someone I want to keep? Are they worth my efforts and my time? Will they keep me happy or make me a happier being in this thing called life? If yes, fight until you drop, until you have no breath left. Give it your best and only best to make it work and fix what can be fixed.

>> Am I through with this? Is this taking away my little drops of happiness? Is this draining me and depriving me of my peace?

>> Does this prevent me from being a better version of myself? Do I need to leave it behind, to metamorphose into my promised self? Or is it a blessing in my life that only needs reshaping and fine-tuning?

>> Is this something/someone I want to invest my time and myself in? Are love and faith involved? Does it help me maintain my sanity or make me lose it?

I am currently a work in progress in that area. I am gradually getting to know myself and what I want. I am building a strong base with deep roots to my existence, to what keeps my soul alive and my mind sane and peaceful, and piece by piece, the puzzle of my life will be built.

The more I understand myself, the easier I’ll know what I want in every situation: “fight-or-flight?’’

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