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Fight or Flight Causes “Mental Illness”

“Fight-or-flight” is a concept I discuss in depth in “Pack Leader Psychology,” because I believe this primal fear response is key to understanding human behavior. This natural survival instinct is also a powerful driver of human emotions and interactions, yet psychiatrists and psychologists seem to have ignored this important fact when developing diagnostic and intervention theories.

I believe we in the profession and in the general public should talk more directly about the fear response. As a psychotherapist, I believe that if we more routinely label these behaviors people will not only begin to understand them, but the behaviors will be normalized. By calmly and clearly explaining a behavior, such as anxiety or depression, as a normal, primal response, perhaps some of the mystery about human behavior and psychology will be removed. It should not abrogate responsibility for these behaviors, especially the violent, abusive behavior that often accompanies the “fight” response, but at least it will increase awareness.

I believe the psychology profession has, for too long, used obscure, confusing terminology. What could be more primal and clear than “avoidance, freeze, flight and fight?” These are behaviors that every animal understands at the level of the survival instinct and to label these reactions as “mental illnesses” is incorrect, stigmatizing and may reduce the effectiveness of therapy.

I routinely explain the “fight-or-fight” response to clients in therapy and many have heard of it, but never applied it to their own behavior.

In “Pack Leader Psychology” I also add new layers of understanding to this concept, explaining why people today are so quick to flip into a fear response in today’s world and how to stop this behavior.

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