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We all come across situations in our lives where things go from calm to confrontation in the blink of an eye.
Some people are poised to handle these kinds of situations and almost seem as if they’ve been waiting for a calamity so they can spring into action and take control. But alas, not all of us are ready and waiting for these kinds of moments and when they show up our relaxed nature is tested in ways that we aren’t prepared for.
If you’re the sort of person that’s used to dealing with ill-tempered people, or physical danger, or high-pressure situations that require confidence and instant decision-making skills, you might not find it as difficult to switch your mindset from Peaceful to Protest at the drop of a hat. For those of us that aren’t used to situations like that, however, it can feel like traversing foreign terrain.
When your normal state of mind isn’t acclimated to dealing with confrontation, one of two things will happen when those situations do arise and you’re forced to make a decision about how to act. In the same way that seeing a predator in the wild triggers our fight or flight response, when faced with unexpected confrontation in our daily lives, we either Grow to meet the moment head-on, or Shrink from it and allow it to play out without our involvement.
I don’t want to delve to much into the science behind how our amygdala hijacks our cortex and causes us to instinctively fall into a fight or flight response, as there are plenty of other articles written on the subject and this isn’t a research paper. This is, however, an exploration in how we can teach ourselves to rise to the imposing challenge of unexpected confrontation instead of shrinking away from it and allowing life to happen to us instead of guiding the outcome ourselves.
Yes, a lot of our reactions to stressful situations are born of our biology. When faced with a threat, we can’t help but react instinctively. Without even thinking about our response, we find ourselves either moving forward and deeper into the situation or see ourselves recede from it and revert to a more protective mindset.
Just recently, I watched myself doing this. I was faced with a potentially threatening situation that required someone to step up and handle what was going on before things got worse.
Let me explain.
I’m a very relaxed and easy-going person. I don’t ever feel the need to control every situation I’m in or feel as if I need to be the one in charge. I’m happy to go with the flow and mind my own business. I don’t care enough about what other people are doing to always need to be involved in petty drama or big group decisions. This is normally fine as it allows me to keep my autonomy in the context of a group instead of feeling pressured by others into conforming to what they want or how they act. I do my own thing and let other people do theirs. I’m not going to preach my perspectives and I’m not going to chastise anyone else’s. This is all well and good until a situation arises that requires me to make real decisions that affect not only me but those around me.
So, for more context:
I live with a handful of roommates. One of these roommates has a bit of a drinking problem. Long story short, after several attempts to get it through his head that his boozing has become a problem and the rest of the house was at a breaking point with his actions and disregard for our concern, once again we find him near-blacked out and stumbling around the house. Couple this with a recent emotional break-up and being quarantined without work, and he has had nothing to do but sit around the house drinking.
He also owns a gun.
Normally, I’d say who cares. Keep it in your room if you want it for protection, but don’t just have it laying around the house for what I would think are obvious reasons.
For the past few days, he’s been taking it apart and cleaning it and leaving all the pieces laying around the living room. He’s not an inherently violent person and this usually wouldn’t be a problem were he in the right state of mind, but after realizing how emotional he’s been, how absolutely obliterated drunk he was, and watching him fumbling around messing with the gun, it was time to be officially concerned for not only his well-being, but ours as well. After taking away his gun, him protesting like a teenager whose mom just took away his Nintendo, and him trying to fight one of my roommates to get it back, the accosted roommate called the police.
Drunky was blind-sided by the cops showing up and they took him away for the night to assess his situation and keep tabs on his mental health as we told them he had been making casual statements like, “I’m not going to hurt myself. If I wanted to do that I have a million ways to do it.” And those kinds of things shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when someone is so intoxicated and trying to get ahold of a firearm.
During everything that happened, I started to notice how I was behaving in response to what was going on. I did my best to articulate to my friend why we all felt uncomfortable and how he needed to try his best to wrap his drunk mind around the situation. I noticed how I kept trying to keep things casual and relaxed, to diffuse the situation. Most people would agree that diffusing things would be the best course of action in a situation like that. However, I also noticed that while I was trying to deflate his actions, I wasn’t inflating my own. I wasn’t becoming bigger than the situation to better handle what was going on, I was merely trying to bring his heightened state down to our lower level.
You might think that was the right way to go about it, but thinking about it all after the fact led me to believe otherwise. You see, my neutral nature took over and I was allowing the situation to be overrun by passivity. Instead of allowing myself to grow, to expand my confidence and be the person to relegate the situation, I just saw myself following a drunk-ass around the house making sure he didn’t do anything stupid. I wouldn’t consider what I did shrinking from the situation entirely, but in hindsight, I didn’t grow to meet the moment as much as I could have.
These moments to grow or shrink — for fight or flight — happen to us all the time in different ways. It could be the fear of dealing with an overbearing boss, or the frustration of a traffic jam, or the condescending customer you have to serve at your job, or a drunken idiot on the verge of hurting themselves or someone else. These situations aren’t just happening to you, they’re happening for you. It’s your job to determine how much of a part you’re going to play in them. Your best course of action is to try and take these moments of confrontation that feel as if they’re merely happening around you and turn them into a situation that’s happening for you. To turn it into an opportunity to learn more about how you react in situations that require action instead of apathy.
If you don’t want to be the kind of person that sits on the sidelines crossing your fingers that whatever is transpiring won’t affect you personally, you have to be the one to grow to meet the moment. You have to become bigger than what you’re dealing with and face the confrontation with the sort of confidence that only manifests from making the decision to take action.
If you can get yourself into the habit of not shrinking away from situations that impose on your wellbeing and learn to expand yourself into something greater and more in control when something unexpected arises, you’ll start to see yourself in a more confident light. You’ll notice you feel more grounded, more aware of yourself and your surroundings, and more capable of dealing with confrontation when it presents itself.
It might take practice to be able to take a step back from the situation and think about how you really want to act, but the more often you fight your instinct for flight, the more you’ll see yourself rising to challenges and facing them head-on instead of remaining a passive observer.