Threat Management (5)
In this final blog of the series on common strategies that everyday people use to survive situations that threaten harm to their bodies, emotional stability, dignity and even threaten to take their lives. In the face of danger there are, in fact, a range of options and people are built to respond differently. This can depend on whether the danger is right now or a general pattern that can be predicted as well as responding differently to pressures if they are physical, psychological or social. We have shown that as the threat to safety becomes more social we can employ strategies that are more interpersonal and are, therefore, more effective.
My Way Is The Only Way
At the final level of this particular model we outline the ways in which people are able to structure their entire personality around a threat management strategy. This can happen when danger is part of a life from so early in development that peril becomes the organising principle around which the child builds the way that they understand themselves and how they relate to their world. Expectedly this personality level response will also follow that active versus passive choices. The way of thinking and doing that moves toward actively managing threats is the Fixed Response. Here the person is rigid in how they approach every aspect of their lives; they have decided how they do things and that is that. So of course, they will move forward towards danger because they already have the firm belief that they have the correct way to handle the situation.
Fixed people are self-assured and organised, but are unaccommodating and challenging, even to the point of being contradictory. This strategy means there is no space for anything unexpected; they control what they allow into their lives and how everything is managed. These fixed people are effective at not allowing danger near them, but this does also mean that to do not allow many people close or many new opportunities.
Unsurprisingly, a fixed approach to life does not allow for change and growth; so the disadvantages are not only intimacy and excitement, but a real struggle to adapt to a changing world. Actually at the level of everyday, small changes they are better at coping than most, this unfortunately gives them confidence in their ways. However, as they are not only unyielding but convinced of their rigidity, these types of people are unable to adapt as society makes significant shifts. Even more so than at previous levels, when a person builds themselves around coping with danger, their strategy becomes the prime threat to their very survival.
You Can’t Touch This
As we have seen throughout the model for every person that finds a way of moving towards the threat, there is an approach that is based on avoiding the situation. Where a fixed person is rigid and in control, the person using the Fuzzy Response is vague, disconnect and disorganised. Fuzzy people, as the name suggests, are “flighty” and flitter from one thing to the next, always busy; or alternatively, “spacy” and are seemingly in a constant daydream. They manage threats by not dealing with them; they move away and do something different or disengage emotionally moving on as soon as the problem has passed. Nothing seems to settle and cause any level of impact. Again, in many ways, this seems to work well, if you can’t stop the threat then don’t let it harm you.
As we have seen every strategy has a sound logic and useful application; however, any tactic used without discrimination causes its own form of damage. Fuzzy people live their lives to avoid the impact of injury; this means that their choices are not based on their own needs, desires and individual natures. They are moulded by the external environment, not themselves. More so they are unable to experience situations and people with any depth when using this approach. This lack of meaningful engagement is the common feature of both strategies; whether you are moving toward containing danger or fleeing from its impact you are disengaging from anything that is truly meaningful to you. Danger defines your life and personality, not who you are.
The Hope for More
The Threat Management Model we have presented covers a full range of strategies to extreme danger from a bewildering physical assault to living with a toxic partner to an uncaring culture. Each level of response has stayed true to the fundamental choice of either charging into the difficulty or attempting to escape. All of these different strategies are available to us all because they evolved for our species and they work. They are in no way problematic by design, but any brilliant tactic used at the wrong time, place or manner will become a threat itself. The hope of this model is that in seeing what is happening unconsciously you will now be able to start making your choices more strategically rather than in urgent desperation. In addition to choosing differently depending on the situation, the hope is that when a strategy is not working or causing more harm than good you will change rather than merely trying harder using the same strategy.
Coping with a crisis is a necessity, but just coping is a situation that leaves you without agency and the confidence that you can protect yourself in the future. A trauma reaction does not come from what happens, but from feeling powerless to stop being injured and from feeling vulnerable to being in the same danger in the future. Coping is not resolving; all of the responses outlined in this model are for containing, harm limitation, they do not go far enough as devices of self-protection. Look out for future blogs covering different strategies to manage situations from a position of greater strength and for ways to build your own sense of agency.