There are some psychological concepts that everyone just kind of “knows.” Things like Freud’s Oedipus Complex (which is offset by the less well known Electra Complex) or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is discussed more in business than in psychology.
Another well-known concept comes from the behaviorists: an individual’s automatic response to an external threat: fight or flight.
These reactions are all around us. Someone looks at you wrong? Let’s gear up for battle. Or maybe let it get to you, and drag you down. An angry “What’s wrong with you” is a psychological fight response, just as “What’s wrong with me” is a psychological flee response. These thoughts can impact our moods, which in turn impact our behavior.
Consider walking through a crowd, and everyone has a bat in their hands. You have one too, but you can control your bat because you have the awareness of the damage it can cause. Some people have a little t-ball bat, and others have a great big ash wood Louisville Slugger. Some people are swinging their bat around without really understanding that they’re even doing it…poking, jabbing, and thrusting indiscriminately. Other people, unfortunately, are deliberately targeting others with their bat. You seem to have two choices: get the heck out of there, retreat into isolation, or start laying into everyone else around you with your own bat in order to give yourself a zone of protection.
Neither is particularly helpful. Here are some thoughts on how to change how you react to an attack.
WHICHEVER REACTION YOU HAVE GIVES POWER TO THE THREAT
Our reaction gives validity to the attacker. If they don’t realize what they’re doing, okay, maybe we don’t bash them too hard. But if they’re attacking us deliberately? We get to retaliate against them, right? My response: it’s their problem; I don’t need to make it mine. If I buy into what they’re doing and retaliate, I’m making it my problem. Sometimes, when someone criticizes us, we accept it without any further explanation; it sticks to us like Velcro. Other times, when someone criticizes us, we react with anger. Either way, by attack or retreat, you’re giving power to the one doing the attacking.
YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR REACTION IF YOU GIVE YOURSELF TIME
Consider, instead of attacking or retreating, standing your ground. Making yourself impervious to other attacks. Consider an old oak tree. If someone walked up to it and started bashing it with a bat, who’s going to get tired first? Sure, the bark may sustain a couple of nicks, but the core of the tree is not impacted. Or maybe a ten foot tall stone wall. A bat against stone…might as well be a storm against a mountain. The storm, the attack, will eventually run out of energy, and even those who are being deliberate with their attacks will move on to someone who responds, because that’s often what they’re looking for. By standing your ground, not attacking and not retreating, you are being rooted firmly with stability. You can then help others around you, those that you care for, to do the same.
ESTABLISHING DEFENSES THAT CAN GO UP OR DOWN
So maybe those in the crowd who are swinging their bat are those that are closest to you. You don’t want to retreat from them, and the only reason we want to attack is to protect ourselves. What do we do then? Make the defenses mobile. Storm coming? Shields up. Storm subsided? Shields down. Let’s talk about what happens when the storm hits, for both of us. Let me caveat here…if anyone is in physical danger, then remove yourself immediately. I’m talking about attack and defense in the metaphorical sense, not the literal sense. I’m referring more to emotional defense than physical defense; no one, ever, should endure abuse, intentional or otherwise.
Fight or flight. Natural responses. Not our only choice, though. We can stand our ground and protect our core self. By building resilience, we can better weather the storms of life.