Maybe you are the one who gets attacked at meetings? Or maybe you are the one doing the attacking? Or the ignoring, which is one of the most powerful forms of attack. Why does this even happen? What is this even about?
In the Naked Ape, Desmond Morris talked about how aspiring apes go after the alpha ape, not only because they wanted to be the alpha someday — but to sharpen their own skills and abilities for the day when that might come, even if that is not now.
I read this a long time ago but, in reading about how elephants play in a more recent Scientific American article, it all of a sudden came crashing in on me how flattering it can be to be the one they pick to mess with.
Here is an excerpt from that article on elephants:
Animals learn the rules of engagement for play at a very young age. Among dogs, the bow is a universal invitation to engage in silliness that triggers the same bowing down and splaying of the front legs in the receiver of the signal—inevitably followed by chasing and pretend biting. Chimpanzees and gorillas motivate others to romp by showing their upper and lower teeth in what primatologists refer to as a play face, which is comparable to human laughter.
Play sharpens survival skills: Elephant calves extend an invitation to play by placing their trunk over another’s head (bottom). Sparring is an important play behavior that helps build strength and test new defense maneuvers in a safe zone (top). An older elephant may kneel down to provide an opportunity for a young male relative to spar.
Is It Play?
So is it aggression? Or is it play? From something I posted earlier on play:
…Harvard researchers have found that play not only relieves stress but improves brain function, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity, improves relationships, builds energy and resistance to disease….(and) there are so many kinds of play:
- Object play (basketball)
- Locomotor play (running)
- Social play (pretending)
The one we are talking about here, attacks at meetings, could be social play. But it feels bad when it happens to you. Is play supposed to feel bad? Or maybe it’s more how we are interpreting it that makes the recipient feel bad.
Feeling bad doesn’t necessarily make it — nor you — nor maybe even the perp — bad. Maybe it is something about you; definitely worth considering. But It could also be about what is good about you, and how much they admire you (ok fine, maybe envy you), that makes you the person of choice to go up against.
Reacting Versus Responding
So maybe your amygdala, the part of your brain reacting to threats, is getting it wrong. Maybe it doesn’t have to throw you mindlessly into flight, flight, or freeze.
You don’t have to fight back in kind with some snitty remark or behavior of your own that strips you of the authority and dignity you otherwise had, why they picked you in the first place perhaps. Why would you want to lose that?
Or you freeze or flee. No way you are going to any more of those meetings or, if you do go, then you are just going to sit there and not say a thing. Come on. You are better than that. Don’t let them do that to you.
And none of it, no matter how much it stings, is really going to kill you, the way your amygdala thinks it might.
So why not take control of things right there inside your own head where you actually can.
Why not just take a deep breath, or 3 luxurious belly breaths, kicking it upstairs to the higher brain — and reminding yourself that it could be because of all you are that makes you so much fun to poke!
Why not flip from fight, flight, freeze — to flattered instead. Try this and let us know what happens.