There are times in life that people have an instinctive reaction called “fight or flight.” If you’re reading a psych book, it’ll go into further detail and explain that it’s also known as acute stress response. It kicks in when we experience extreme stress, whether it’s physical or emotional. Newsflash: that instinctive reaction is just that – instinct. It does not pay any mind to who is causing that acute stress response. Our instincts are what have been bred into us. It’s what kept our ancestors alive in the times before indoor plumbing.
A friend of mine is militantly anti-spanking. (I’m of the “it’s a big, dangerous tool that should only be used for a very big job” kind of thing… like if he’s a danger to himself or others.) Recently, her child hurt her… to the point that it left a mark. She had an instinctive reaction to fend off the attacker… even though that attacker was her own child. She slapped her child without even thinking about it.
She felt horribly guilty for striking her own child.
That’s a natural response, too.
Now it’s time for true confessions time: I’ve slapped my children when they hurt me, too. Without thinking about it. Without having time to get angry. Without malice, without retribution, without anything at all. I know that my instinctive reaction to physical pain is to fight. My “fight or flight” response leans strongly towards “fight.”
The first time it happened, Norton was getting anti-diaper change. It was starting to become like wrestling a bear. He kicked me. In the face. Hard. So hard that my eyes watered and I was convinced that he’d broken my glasses. Before I could even register that it hurt, instinct took over. I slapped his leg. He cried. I felt bad.
I spent a lot of time beating myself up for it. How I must be a terrible human being for allowing that instinctive reaction to impact my child. Someone should have called CPS because I clearly had no self-control. Blah, blah, blah. After a little (okay, a lot of) reflection and some conversations with my besties, I realized that instinct is something very base and primitive.
And it’s normal.
It sucks, and I do still have that strong leaning towards “fight.” I will always have that strong instinctive reaction because it’s how my brain is wired. A more passive person may have an instinctive reaction to withdraw when hurt by her child. In short, don’t beat yourself up for a natural response. Just try to do better by teaching our children better. (You know, don’t bite, don’t kick Mommy in the face, don’t rip Mommy’s hair out… that sort of thing.)
Have you ever experienced “flight or fight” from something your child has done to you? How did you handle it?