Just imagine, for a moment, an antelope, grazing contentedly on a peaceful African plane. It is relaxed, happily munching away, its heartbeat regular, its breathing easyâ¦..when suddenly it smells a lion!
I expect you can feel something of the antelopeâs reaction, for it is one that humans share at times of danger. Firstly the antelope will become actively alert, checking out the situation. If the danger is found to be real, the fight or flight response is activated. The body releases the hormone adrenaline and the animal becomes highly charged and ready to mobilise defensive energies.
In the antelopeâs case, it will usually flee the lion (fighting is not very effective). If it succeeds in evading the lion through flight the adrenaline will naturally dissipate (through the action) and the antelope will return to its natural relaxed state. No damage done!
There is another complication however. What if the lion gets so close that fleeing is not an option? In this case the shock response may be activated. Here the antelope will freeze. It is âpretendingâ to be uninteresting to the lion. âHopingâ that the lion will either not notice it, or think it is dead. In this case if the ploy is successful, the antelope will rid itself of the built up adrenaline through trembling and shaking. It then returns to the active alert state and then to being relaxed. Still no damage done.
This is the process working as it is meant to, allowing the antelope the best chance of survival. But humans are in some ways different. Other factors come in and complicate the process! This can happen in two ways:
- The fight or flight response occurs, but the person âdecidesâ to âcontinue as normalâ. This means the adrenaline has nowhere to go and the symptoms become uncomfortable. The effects of this can be cumulative.
- The shock response occurs, but the person âforcesâ him or herself out of it without releasing the energy. In a situation of stress it is likely that a person would be seen as âoddâ if they were to shake violently and so the shaking would be suppressed.
So, we can see that our socialisation prevents us from acting in the way that nature intended.
Do you fight these bodily reactions?
Are you still holding the remains of old traumas?
The final point on this is that, as humans, we often react âas ifâ there was danger, when the danger is unreal. We may even âknowâ that it is unreal. This makes it even harder for us to deal with the results.