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What Is the Fight-Or-Flight Instinct and How Does This Instinct Relate to Trauma?

When watching animals in a park, you can observe the fight-or-flight instinct in action. When approaching geese on a walking path, the geese may respond to you in an aggressive manner by hissing as you get near. This behavior is most often seen when the geese have newborn chicks nearby. Other times, the geese will simply fly away as you approach them.

Most often, animals will choose flight over fight. In other words, the geese perceived a threat in their environment and responded by either preparing to fight or by taking flight. Human beings also have the same fight-or-flight instinct; however, we are rarely in situations requiring this automatic response.

The fight-or-flight instinct is a leftover from times long ago when we were living in the wild, among mastodon and saber-tooth tigers. Individuals with a past history of trauma; however, were most likely in the type of life or death situation that would require a fight-or-flight response.

When an animal faces a threat, the response is automatic and the animal learns to respond to the same threat in the same manner. For example, smaller animals, like geese, have learned to be afraid of larger predators. When a person approaches, the goose assumes that the human is a predator and responds.

People, however, live a much different type of life and automatic responses do not always work in our world. For example, if you were mugged while walking home late at night, you cannot go about your day assuming that anyone resembling your attacker is a threat!

However, you may feel that instinct and energy in your body, while remaining static. The pent up energy you feel is a trauma response because you need to fight your instinct to run or fight! Learning to manage this energy is a key element to healing from trauma.

Somatic Therapy was developed by Dr. Peter Levine after he observed that animals do not experience symptoms of trauma following life-threatening situations. If you or a loved one are experiencing the residual effects of a traumatic experience, call The Guest House at (855) 483-7800. At The Guest House, we incorporate somatic therapy and other approaches to help others heal from their individual traumas. We can teach you how to channel that fight-or-flight energy in a healthy and safe environment!