The uses and limitations of “fight or flight” when dealing with bullying situations


In Daring Greatly (2012), Dr. Brené Brown offers a statement (among many in this excellent book) that speaks volumes:

Our fight or flight strategies are effective for survival, not for reasoning or connection.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m taking Dr. Brown’s online course, the “Living Brave Semester,” which includes plenty of lessons from that book. I’ve seized upon this one line because it’s so relevant to targets of bullying in our workplaces, schools, and communities.

The fight or flight response is a normal one when we’re facing immediate threats to our safety, security, and well-being. Such threats trigger the release of stress hormones that prepare us for the challenge ahead. We are put on high alert.

However, as Dr. Brown suggests, fight or flight mode is not good for engaging in reasoning or connection. Instincts can trump reasoning, and a defensive posture undermines connection. Thus, when we’re confronted by bullying behaviors, we may also be prone to making quick, bad decisions and to pushing away or avoiding others who may offer support.

Because I am not trained as a psychologist or therapist, I’m not going to suggest a counseling protocol for bridging the gap between fight or flight on one end, and reasoning and connection on the other. However, I hope that this little insight via Brené Brown helps us to understand why people in bullying situations sometimes react as they do.

4 responses

  1. I feel that you have” hit the nail on the head,”
    With this.

    In the past I have had to endure alot of work place bullying! For simply doing my job well.

    And I have not known what to do in a highly charged confrontation! Often I have felt the urge to lash out!

    But instead of ” fight” which in the work place is not acceptable behaviour.
    I have chosen to walk away. Unfortunately when I do this the bullying always escalates!

    So I have found this article interesting, as it shows that I have not been suffering alone with this.

  2. I believe we all have been bullied more or less. The one thing that helped me was knowing most of the bullying behaviors, even the subtle behaviors. I was even more amazed how groups demonize or exclude the higher performers or those that volunteer to help.

  3. I would suggest that Bullies count on quick decisions or flight.
    This is part of their strategy and needs to be understood by those under the stress of a bully situation

  4. For years, we have been discussing in Healthy Workplace Advocates meetings the animal instinct of fight or flight. In the American workplace, we can do neither. If we fight: We are fired and/or go to jail. If we take flight: We are fired for abandonment of our job. Ergo, we stay and take it, denying our instincts until we are rendered helpless and hopeless. That is when the trauma happens!

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