“…what we feel when we’re stressed can take several forms, which look very different on the surface, but share a common source: a signal from the brain’s alarm. When we recognize we’re having a stress reaction, that’s when we can do something about it.”
Jon Wortmann and Julian Ford
For most of us, stress has become a way of life these days. One way to describe this hyper-stressed environment is with the acronym VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been dedicating my blog posts to exploring how we react to our VUCA world, and how understanding the various styles of our reactions can help us better navigate our world. If you are new to the series, click here to catch up.
In my book Going Reptile, I present four main categories for how we react to stressful situations: Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn. The Four F’s. Of course, there are variations in how people show up in these categories of reactivity, which I call Styles. We all have Style, a unique way that we tend to respond to the circumstances of the moment. Getting to know your Styles is very helpful because it allows you to see when you are reactive, even when it’s subtle.
In previous posts we’ve taken a look at the Fight and Flight Styles, and we’ve covered the first of the Freeze styles in the last post. This post continues in the Freeze styles with an exploration of “The Right One.”
The Right One finds safety in being right. Like all of the Freeze Styles, this can be a difficult one to recognize. We often interpret this Style as belligerence or argumentativeness, when it may well be that someone is feeling threatened and attempting to find safety. And, from the inside, the person likely won’t feel like they are doing anything other than working through a situation, and may feel baffled as to why others are responding the way that they are.
The more subtle reactive styles are harder to recognize – both from the outside and particularly from the inside. If you exhibit this style, you may well be more familiar with feeling puzzled about others become irritated with you. If this sounds familiar, try slowing down so you can see more of what is happening for you. If it’s hard to see what’s happening, and you are curious, consider getting support to help you see more clearly.
Indicators to look for: The need to be right, no matter what. A narrowing of focus to only tasks that you can control. Becoming very task-oriented. Self-righteousness arises if others do not acknowledge you as being right.
As with all of the Styles, The Right One was created in order to find a way to feel safe. This often happens when we are young. We need these strategies, these ways we adapt to navigate the situations around us. But as we get older, and our “higher human capacities” begin to come online, our Styles no longer serve us. In fact, they can start to get in the way. When this happens, as it does for most of us, we begin to feel more trapped and less fluid in our lives. A strong tension begins to build in our systems, because we are, in a sense, at war with ourselves. We need our higher capacities to navigate our complex world of stress, relationships, and competing demands, but we’re still living with more than a little lizard inside us. We often attempt to assign this tension to things happening in our surroundings. But, for the most part, this tension resides inside us.
Have you ever left a job or a friend or a relationship only to find that in the new situation, the same issues are arising again? This is a great indicator that there is something inside you that needs to be looked at. And, often, you cannot do that alone. As you get to know your Styles, your reactive patterns, you may find you need some outside support to see more clearly. Otherwise, if you recognize this pattern, you may find yourself narrowing your vision once again, and focusing on tasks in order to feel more in control. As long as that works for you, that’s great! When this Style hits its expiration point, life can begin to feel stifling. And, it’s not fun when you feel as if you are caged or cannot breathe in your own life. Often, it doesn’t take much to loosen the grip of this style.
In the next post we’ll take a look at the last of the Freeze styles.