I Think My Fight or Flight Response is Broken

I used to have a friend who was training to be a beautician. She disappeared on the day they were learning to do bikini waxes until the teacher found her hiding in a cupboard. My response to potential bad shit is equally as sketchy.
Publish date:
November 9, 2012
tequila, flight or fight, running away

What do you do when the going gets tough? Do you stand and fight, or do you run off as quickly as your legs will carry you?

When Louise Mensch announced, earlier this year, that she was standing down as Tory MP for Corby in Northamptonshire she said it was to make a move to New York with her husband for his career. She was vilified for putting her husband’s job and her family before her own career and ambition (which I don’t really buy, by the way – if he’d turned down an amazing new job for her career, would he have had half as much grief? Let the woman make her own decisions about what’s right for her own life, for chrissake).

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago her husband, Peter Mensch, claimed that the real reason the former MP quit, wasn’t for her family per se, but because she was concerned Labour were going to ‘kill’ her in the next election. As a high-profile ‘face’ of the Conservative party, she’d have been an excellent scalp for the Opposition.

And so, according to her husband, she felt that her career as an MP would be relatively short-lived, compared to the longevity of his – hence why it made sense to prioritise his job over hers. She’s since denied that this was the case on Twitter (leading to a marital… disagreement played out on social media. Not the first time this has happened #sallybercow).

But what if it was true? What if she decided to jump before she was pushed, rather than standing and fighting her ground, just because she sensed that the battle would be a hard one to win? She’s a clearly intelligent, articulate woman, who, despite only being an MP for two years had already become one of the most recognisable faces in government. Did she give up a potentially glittering career because she was afraid of a dogfight?

Maybe I’m stretching things here – she’s denied the allegation, after all. But this story resonated with me, nonetheless. Because if I were in her shoes? I’d get out of there as quickly as possible. Science dictates that when faced with a difficult situation, us dumbo human beings respond in the same way as we would have done when faced with pissed-off sabre tooth tiger in prehistoric times.

Our bloodstream courses with adrenaline as the body gets ready to stand and fight, or run away like a little girl. My initial response to anything hard is to flee. I run away from confrontation and avoid anything difficult. Bad news sends me into a blind panic that makes me physically and emotionally run away from things that will only be resolved if I face them head on.

With some things, the benefits of facing your problems are obvious – money troubles don’t go away on their own, and will almost certainly get worse if you don’t face them. Confrontations that go avoided can ruin relationships that could otherwise be saved, and avoiding a difficult conversation can drag an unhappy relationship out far longer than necessary.

[Actually, while I’m on that note, am I the only person who would much rather be dumped by text than have an awkward conversation with someone on their terms, before then getting chucked anyway, so just so they can feel better about themselves?

Seriously, send me a text, let me process the information, decide how I feel and then, if I want a big public confrontation, you’ll know about it. Trust me.]

Erm anyway, back to the case in point. Do you think you can change your body’s natural response to potential bad shit?

Women naturally want to flee, because our prehistoric ancestors were (presumably) less good at fighting off sabre tooth tigers than men. SEXIST. But, irrespective, I think I’m getting worse. When faced with confrontation, my response has become so physical, the adrenaline running through my body, telling me to get the hell out of Dodge has become so pronounced, that all I ever want to do is run away from everything, and hang out in the cupboard under the stairs, drinking tequila. I then spend the rest of the time feeling vaguely guilty about being such a chump.

One of my fantasies, when I was in a shitty relationship, wasn’t that I got out of it, or that things got better. It was one day I’d get irrevocable proof that he was cheating on me, and it would give me the impetus to run away, without a word. In my head, I drove (I hate driving) all the way to Scotland. Sometimes I even got on a ferry to Denmark, without telling a soul. In the Denmark version, I had amazing knitwear and wind-swept hair. Oh yeah.

But is running away really that bad? If Mensch really did decide to quit while she was ahead, rather than face the fear head on, what’s wrong with that? I know she’s a shiny, successful, woman in a position of power, but isn’t it exhausting to go round fighting things all the time?

I mean, I definitely need to get a grip on myself, because my ability to take one tiny little problem and avoid it for so long that it becomes a whopper that I’m unable to cope with it is unparalleled. But what if you fight everything, all the time? What if you’re naturally a perfectionist (did you guess? I’m not), that’s always battling to make things and people better, how on earth do you get anything else done? Don’t you just want to have a snooze and a doughnut instead?

Or if you’re one of life’s fighters, does it mean you get things done, no matter how tough they get? Do your relationships prosper because you refuse to give up, or let petty disagreements ruin things? Are you just better at life? Or are you bloody knackered by it all?

If so, don’t worry I’ve got a great cupboard under the stairs you can come and hang out in. I’ll even make you a margarita.