Do you Fight, Flight, or Freeze? “How did we get here?” | Couple's Net | Chandrama Anderson | Almanac Online |

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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and grief and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1969. I'm the president of Connect2 Marriage Counseling. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in ...  (More)

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Do you Fight, Flight, or Freeze? “How did we get here?”

Uploaded: Jul 10, 2020
When you are triggered or flooded — i.e., upset or overwhelmed — do you fight, take flight, or freeze? These are the biologically wired-in options for humans. This has made us survive as a species. You need this tool; it also gets in your way in your relationship at times.

I often see couples where they name the “dynamic” as one person being the angry one, and the other being either the distant/avoidant one or the (seemingly) calm one. And there are strong feelings about this description.

I encourage you to reframe your viewpoint: when you are triggered (remember, it happens in 1/200th of a second), you will have a limbic (emotional) reaction of fight, flight, or freeze.

The trick is to s l o w  e v e r y t h i n g d o w n to allow time for your cortical
(thinking) brain to come online so you may respond with a constructive and realistic viewpoint.

If you can stop seeing your partner (or yourself, for that matter) as the
“angry/avoidant/frozen one,” and simply as reacting in the way you are wired, many
misunderstandings and fights can be avoided. Or, you can keep playing limbic ping-pong in which you pass moods back and forth, and continue to be unhappy (and think it’s your partner’s

I have heard clients state their style as “dominant/submissive” or “forceful/cowering” or
“yelling/avoiding” and there is understandable anger and frustration with these systems. I do not believe it is your partner’s intention to disrespect you. These are attempts at connection, believe it or not!

Dr. Sue Johnson, in Hold Me Tight, explains the science of attachment theory in relation to couples, and spells out these “demon dialogues” in an understandable way. I highly recommend you read it.

We are an open system species, meaning that part of our physical and emotional regulation comes from within, but part comes from those around us. We are driven to seek connection, even if our attempts (intention) elicit a poor response (impact).

When your partner does not respond, you turn up the volume, then s/he turns up the volume in his or her emotional style, and before you know it, things have escalated and you wonder, “How did we get here?”

Does this cycle sound familiar? Does this look like you two? Do you know how this feels? If you want to break the blaming cycle in addition to breaking the fight, flight, freeze cycle, you can. It is work. And you are capable.

It is possible to get into a positive cycle of appreciation and gratitude with the person you
love(d), and pass this back and forth instead. You can build “credit” for the moments when you say something unfortunate. Dr. John Gottman’s research found that couples need a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions for each one that is negative.

Check out my recommended reading list on my website. If you spend as much time on the solution as you do interacting poorly or thinking about all the things your partner does or doesn’t do right, or avoiding him or her, or planning your vacations, you will make a difference in your own life — and each others’.

What is it worth to you?


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