The Fight/Flight Continuum

The response to extremism in society is “flight or fight” reactions. Our fear compels us to either withdraw more or fight more. Self-protection, not growth drives our choices. Self-interest, not mutual concern, motivates what we do. Consequently, people are either more guarded and closed or more hostile and aggressive:


To control the perceived threat, we adopt a coping style from a continuum of behaviors, using increasingly excessive measures we believe will rescue us, but instead, these measures only polarize or divide us more. The flight response manifests itself in our failing to speak out; we try to hide our hurt and anger. To protect ourselves, our interpersonal behaviors are covert; we manipulate, blame ourselves, or opt out in some way. Martyrdom and self-pity shape our responses. On the other hand, the fight response manifests itself in our becoming more aggressive, using power (position, verbal ability, intelligence) to force our own agenda or self-interest. We monologue, judge, criticize, and attack others, using our anger to control them. Self-righteousness shapes our responses.
Both of these two extreme responses perpetuate an atmosphere in which people do not feel safe; people need to feel reasonably safe to work together efficiently and effectively. When we are constantly bombarded by threats to our well-being, is it any wonder that employees feel their power slipping away?

The hero understands and accepts his personal
vulnerabilities and tendencies but labors to do the
hard and good things that he or she cannot yet do.

The hero at work exercises focus and determination, laying claim to divine or spiritual powers that eliminate the popular copouts of extremism. The hero develops the courage and self-discipline to face the challenges head-on in responsible ways.

Flight Responses
Escape the unpleasant
Avoid challenges if possible

Withdraw / avoid/ hide
Passive aggressive pretending
Deny responsibility
“Politically Correct” action
Smooth over conflict
Paranoid fear
Apathy / hopelessness
Bias to avoid friction
Malicious compliance

Hero Response
The only way out is through
Challenges bring growth

Talk it through / work it out
Constructive confrontation
Accountability / commitment
Openness / candor
Fair treatment
Negotiation / compromise
Mutual trust and respect
Organizational citizenship
Diversity brings strength
Ethical champion

Fight Response
Attack the unpleasant
Challenges are threats

Take out frustrations / act out
Sabotage / revenge tactics
Blaming / scapegoating
Office politics / power games
Force / coercion / dominance
Paranoid mistrust
Egotism / pride
Bias to play favorites
Frivolous litigation

In an ideal world, we would always respond heroically. However, since human beings are works in progress, we make mistakes. The hero understands that most of his or her extreme behaviors are human and expected to be short term; they are functional, temporary survival tactics. But when fight or flight responses become routine patterns of behavior, they become destructive to ourselves and others. The hero understands these coping methods may be used with either positive or negative intent resulting in similar consequences:

Withdraw/avoid/ hide

Attack/act out

Positive Intent
Before I can be fair, I need more information.
My response is emotional, and I need to calm down.

They are hurting me and do not realize it. I need to express my feelings in a powerful way so they realize how important this issue is.

Negative Intent
I do not care and do not want to know.
I would rather avoid dealing with these feelings.

I am having a bad day and it is partially their fault so I am going to dump on them and vent all my frustrations.

The hero is aware that our intentions influence every thought, action, and feeling. He knows that cause and effect are connected and controlled by the choices we make.

You create your own future.
What you see and feel is what you get.

Since we choose our intentions (based upon our assumptions and beliefs), we also choose the outcomes because we decide how we will react to an event. If our purpose or the way we find meaning in life is an attachment to a higher law, we always have liberty because we choose how we will react to adversity. Hence, we are responsible for what happens to us in the big picture of life.

Claiming this personal power by making responsible choices is an important goal of the hero’s journey. Yet, many of our misconceptions about the dynamics of abuse and adversity hold us back from embracing this power. Our victim attitudes hold us hostage to a life of helplessness and hopelessness.

More Models

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About Vivian Zabriskie

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