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lifeflame's avatar

Fight or flight?

Asked by lifeflame (5902points) May 8th, 2011 from iPhone

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of dreams. In the first one, I was in a protest situation when the PLA army came out with water cannons. Many of my friends stayed, I basically turned tail and fled the scene. In the second one I was walking down a dark street with my mom and brother when we heard one of my students scream. My mother went to investigate but I was struck by this sense of overwhelming dark force that was going to hunt us down. As I ran, I was joined by others fleeing in mass panic. I had no idea where my brother ended up, I was so focused on self preservation I didn’t even think of sticking with him. In both cases I woke up a bit ashamed of my lack of courage to stand with or at least help out the people around me.

Has anyone been in a life threatening situation of this sort and how did you react? Did you think first of self preservation or of others around you?

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13 Answers

jerv's avatar

I find that thinking in a life-threatening situation leads to paralysis, so I merely react.

On icy roads in the dark, I feel the balance of the car, which tires have grip, and juggle the pedals and steering wheel accordingly. When I see flames, I assess what type of fire it is, where the nearest appropriate extinguisher is (do not use water on a Class B fire!), grab it and go. When someone tried to mug me, I stood my ground, sensing they were a coward and would back down.

Each time, I have gone with my gut. Thinking about it afterwards made me want to shit myself, so I make an effort to continue not thinking and just doing the Zen/Tao thing and flowing with it. Save the thought part for later when you can afford to go to pieces.

mazingerz88's avatar

I’m willing to bet that in real life you would have the courage to do the opposite of how you reacted in your dreams. Why? Because dreams rarely come true.

CaptMatt's avatar

Dreams can really mess with you, based on their proximity and timing.

If it’s any help, it sounds like your wrestling with a problem in your life where you can decide to be a leader or you can allow things to happen without intervening.

The dreams seem like your conscious trying to work out how you view either approach. Hope that much helps.

As far as I go, in real life, I’ve been in many life threatening situations, both where my life was in imminent danger, and also situations where others were. I’ve always chosen to fight.

For some people that might not be the right response. You have to be confident in your mindset and your abilities. I say I’ve always chosen to fought because that is fact. But who knows what the future holds. I’m not Superman, and I could find myself in some situation that is better to run from than to fight.

But its also important to mention that almost my entire adult life has been in industries that would require my active response, and that definitely shapes how I size up a scenario. When a drunk guy comes lunging around a corner, I’ve had friends that braced for impact, while I stood my ground watching to see how it pans out.

Getting back to your dreams, I wouldn’t put a lot of thought into them, because they rarely have to do with an actual situation, and more to do with metaphor. That’s my experience.

King_Pariah's avatar

Fight whatever the hell it is, immediately, don’t think, just do.

However, emotionally, I run, immediately, don’t think, just do.

Hibernate's avatar

Depends but most times I choose to fight.

@mazingerz88 careful what you wish, It might come true .. and dreams are projections of our subconscious.

Thammuz's avatar

Assuming i’m not clearly going to get obliterated if i do: fight. Otherwise: tactical retreat, get blunt object, fight. Winning is not always about going in head first, it’s about tactics.

blueiiznh's avatar

I react at first instinct and thinking all the while. When on high alert like that, you can’t be in reaction mode only and you can’t be in think mode only. Even if you are in total flight mode, you still have to think about the attacker or risk being able to catch up.
If you are in total fight mode, you still have to think and plan for the other party being stronger.
Its all about being smarter!

lifeflame's avatar

Great answers, guys.
Yeah, I don’t know what my subsconscious is trying to work out exactly—it’s clearly trying to work out something, because it’s not usual for me to have these types of dreams.

@CaptMatt hits a situation bang on the nail because I’m currently in a teaching situation where I’m expecting college students to be mature enough to make the decision whether to show up to class or not; but I’m wondering if I need to be more strict with them.

And of course, I was involved in social action before I came over to Poland to teach tai chi for a month; maybe I feel guilty for being away; or now, as some of my friends are getting arrested, I’m wondering the degree of civic disobedience I’d be willing to engage in…

But still—the extremity of the situations/emotions in the dream surprises me.
What strikes me is how overwhelming this feeling of self-preservation was.
Going with the gut though, sounds like a good way to go…

WestRiverrat's avatar

Your training can have a lot to do with your reaction too. The military is very good at training its soldiers to fight instead of flee.

I don’t know if they can totally eliminate the flight instinct, but they taught me to override it.

MilkyWay's avatar

I haven’t really been in any life threatening situations, but have been in trouble many a time in dreams. And every time my siblings were there with me. My only thought was to keep them safe and protect them. It’s strange how emotions can be so immensely strong in dreams, but, there you go. M only thought was to run and protect my own…sometimes meaning I’d have to stay behind and fight.
That’s only happened in dreams though.

CaptMatt's avatar

HA! I’m currently a college student, about five weeks from graduation, and students being unmotivated in the class has been my chief complaint.

Sir, the main thing you’re dealing with is that students are appear apathetic. Well, even though I’ve made that comparison, I truly refuse to believe it. I think what is happening is that we’ve collectively spent so much time telling this particular generation the entire process, step by step, that the desire to learn is gone.

We used to be a world of people that received some instruction, and then learned the rest when they tried it themselves. Now we have grown a generation that learns every piece of the puzzle before they understand how to put it together.

If it was us, I doubt we would be very motivated either. Sure, they have to own up to their behavior, but as astute as we “older” folk are, we ought to know when we’ve given too much.

SavoirFaire's avatar

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
—Archilochus

I have been in a few self-defense situations, and my instinct has always been to fight. Generally speaking, I have been acting for the sake of others. I don’t think anyone has purposely tried to fight me since middle school.

Once a self-defense situation is upon us, it is too late for intensive planning. We wouldn’t want to fall back on our basic fighting instincts either, however, as they are not exactly reliable. So if you are worried about being courageous in your waking life, @lifeflame, I highly recommend taking up a martial art. You will not just learn techniques and strategies, but condition yourself to use them. This removes both the need to ploddingly think through your situation and the temptation to let pure instinct take over.

lifeflame's avatar

Actually, i learn tai chi already as a martial art. [Funnily enough, I was just teaching a class on this this morning].
My reflexes tend to be pretty decent in practice; actually, in sparring I tend to go really really calm, to the point where it sort of freaks my opponents out. That said, I’ve never really had to fight for my life though @SavoirFaire is right in that I would say that, in general, it’s made me less afraid in waking life.

@WestRiverrat , I’m very curious about how they conditioned the flight response out of you. [I can read up on it, but I’d love to hear first hand]. Not that I think it’s necessarily good either to have it conditioned out, but I’d love to hear it.

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