The Road to Reconciliation: Commit to Values

Once you get in touch with your feelings and allow them to speak to you, they can point you to what is important. They’ll remind you of aspirations you’ve had since you were small. They’ll indicate the direction towards life satisfaction. They’ll give instructions for a meaningful life.

To the extent you’ve been victimized, your life has not been about growth, potential, aspiration, or mission. It’s been about survival. You aren’t your best when you’re fighting back. You aren’t standing for what you believe when you run away in fear. You aren’t acting decisively when you’re frozen in surprise. You’ve lost your integrity when you suck up to the enemy. You aren’t taking action, it’s all reaction.

Crisis tends to make us revert to primitive modes of behavior. Adrenaline awakens the animal in us. When things go from bad to worse, we’re reduced to four options: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Our brains are designed to keep it simple when things get complicated. It’s what gets us through, but it’s not a way out.

Fight is when you strike back. You’d rather be a hammer than a nail. You might, actually be violent, or your fight might be limited to emotional or verbal aggression. We shrinks call it identifying with the offender. It’s the reason abused people can become abusers. Even though you’re the victim in this case, you need to realize, if you don’t already, that you are capable of fighting dirty. You can hurt others, too; and, when you’re a victim, lashing out, you’ll feel good doing so.

Flight is when you take off to avoid danger, make tracks to get out of Dodge. You might physically flee, withdraw emotionally, stonewall attempts to engage, dissociate from the here and now, or weasel out of any attempt to speak honestly. The funny guy who can’t get serious is in flight. So is the gal who stays late at work to avoid going home. The bars and drug dens are filled with people fleeing. So are the ones binge watching Netflix all weekend and even those whose whole life is wrapped up with their children, when their partner is right there, needing attention.

Freeze is when you have lost a will of your own. You can’t make up your mind about what you want to do. You ruminate on your options until the cows come home. You let others make the decisions for you, you ask a million people what they would do. You know you should leave, but you don’t. You know you should get help, but can’t pick up the phone. Glaciers wonder when you will move. Moss grows on your shady side.

Fawn can be the most confusing. It’s the Stockholm Syndrome of responses to trauma. Fawn is when you are bonded to the person who abuses you because he abuses you, not despite. You make nice, at first, so as to not provoke him. You ingratiate yourself so he thinks you’re on his side. You know you can be the most convincing when you convince yourself, so you convince yourself to abandon your own interests. You start to believe you want this life, at first because you feel you have no choice; but then, so thoroughly that, when you have a choice, you miss your chance. The next thing you know you’re Patty Hearst, robbing a bank.

Fight, flight, freeze, and fawn keeps you alive; but that’s all it does. Sooner or later, you have to take stock of the situation, how you really feel about it, and identify the things that are important to you. Then you have to take a stand. You’ve got to serve somebody; either your ultimate values, or the agenda of the person who mistreats you.