Self Paradigms Structure Balance
Getting Started Class Syllabus Communicate Library Help!
ESE502 : The Class : Structure : Power and fight/flight

Angry? Me? Of course not! Why the %#$% would you even ask?

Fight or Flight

We have emotional responses to the events in life. Once we become aroused, one of three states typically takes over.

These "knee jerk" responses are built right into our nervous system. They change the way our bodies feel . . . and how we see the world. . . Fight, flight, shut down -- responses rather than rational, planned events. How aware are you? How much control do you really have over your emotions? Are you sure?

People do not have gauges . . . so we may not realize we are coping instead of thinking.

Dr. Paul MacLean's triune brain theory provides interesting insights into the complexities of human behavior. He postulates that the brain has acquired three drivers, all seated up front and all of different minds! In other words, it's as if an alligator, a gorilla, and a computer were driving the human system!

We now know that under stress or when anticipating danger, the cerebellum or lowest and most primitive levels of the brain take control. According to MacLean, the primitive needs dictated by the Reptilian Brain include a sense of safety, survival and territoriality.. Like reptiles, cold-blooded and controlled by instinct, this part of our brain focuses on survival. This reptilian part of our brain is poorly equipped for learning to cope with new situations. and controls the behaviors associated with instinct and survival.

Reptilian brain (r-complex) behaviors are identified as:

Survival - Fight or flight, lashing-out, screams

Monitoring - Breathing, balance and instinct

Territorial - Defensive about possessions, friendship and personal space

Mating rituals - Attention seeking and showing off

Hierarchies - Hanging out with the gang leader

Rote behaviors - Behaviors that are repetitive

When a person is under stress, feeling fearful or angry, higher order thinking shuts down.


We can gain control over our emotions by recognizing and monitoring our affective responses. Leveling supports both feelings and cognitive processes. It is one of the best ways to acknowledge feelings to ourselves and then share them with others. We level when we let someone know we are hurt -- or afraid -- or that we are angry . . . were angry.

Anger, bottled up, or fear that is kept hidden, seems to lead to more recurrences of anger. Anger is an important feeling, yet we often avoid admitting to ourselves or others that we are angry. In fact, when we are fuming we may not tumble to the fact until later. That makes leveling about anger even more difficult. . . and more critical

Leveling, naming the feeling and telling ourselves or others how we really feel,.means we are exploring true feelings for ourselves and sharing our bewilderment or discovery with others

Sometimes, leveling means admitting that we do not understand our feelings, or that our behavior does not make sense. We want things to make sense, to add up, to seem sane and reasonable. Sometimes we are sensible, orderly and rational. Sometimes we are not.

When we are unwilling or unable to level about feelings, defenses take the place of honesty

Leveling Strategies

Gain cognitive control - be thinking about situations and past responses

Review cognitive and visceral messages

Honor what you discover

Name the feeling

Share the naming with those who need to know and those who will honor the knowledge

Think of new ways to respond.

A coward dies a thousand deaths --- A brave man dies but one - Shakespeare

You should now:

Go back to Balance of Power

E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at


Copyright © 1999 Northern Arizona University