Confidence For Women: Why We Need to Train Our Fight Response

Has anyone seen The Morning Show?

Remember that scene in episode 9 when Hannah confronts Mitch? When she tells him that she doesn’t remember their sexual encounter the way he does?

He immediately responds vehemently, “Don’t act like a victim. I didn’t lure you up there. I didn’t coerce you. I didn’t trick you. We went up there and it happened. You’re an adult. You could have said something.”

As viewers, we see things from Hannah’s side. It’s clear to us that she didn’t want to be with Mitch. That she stiffens in response to his touch. That she wants to leave. But instead, as she later unsuccessfully tries to explain to Mitch, she tried to leave but she froze.

That scene, like so much of the show, highlights one of the fundamental differences between men and women.

How we respond to threat.

In the Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman share research that shows women have a tendency to become worriers in response to threat while men have a tendency to become warriors.

Both men and women have two amygdalae – fear detection centres of the brain. One is associated with memory, emotion and thinking, while the other is associated with taking action. For women, the amygdala associated with thinking is more active while men favour the one associated with action.

Ever have analysis paralysis? You can blame it on your cingulate gyrus – the part of our brain that helps us weigh options and recognize errors – also known as the worrywart centre. Unluckily for us women, we have a larger one.

Kay and Shipman go on to highlight other structural differences in male and female brain but the bottom line is this:

In response to threat, men act. Women think.

It’s why Hannah’s attempt to explain to Mitch that she didn’t want to be there – that she froze when she felt overwhelmed, doesn’t make sense to him. He would have picked up and left. He would have fought to get out of there.

Personally I don’t believe that tendency to overthink, ruminate and freeze is an inherent part of who we are as women. I believe it was bred into us.

2000 years of patriarchy has caused changes in our physical brains.

Early stories of mythology describe a number of women warriors, fighters, and courageous leaders. In Greek mythology, Athena was an ancient Greek goddess responsible for wisdom, strategy, handicraft, and warfare. She was fierce, courageous and wore a helmet and held a spear.

And in Hindu mythology, Durga is a protective mother goddess and goddess of war, responsible for combating evil that threatened peace, prosperity and the oppressed. She rides a lion or a tiger and has multiple arms, each bearing a weapon.

Deep down there is a female warrior goddess in all of us.

If overthinking and freeze has been bred in, it can be bred out.

With awareness, choice and practice we can overcome 2000 years of evolutionary conditioning. And it need not take two centuries.

Research shows that 300 repetitions can create a new habit. 3,000 repetitions can create a new default position, a new hardwired ability to fight in response to threat.

How do we get there?

First, simply recognize that we women have a tendency to think in response to threat. Know that rumination and overthinking is part of our collective conditioned stress response, but that left unchecked in takes us out of action. Essentially overthinking makes us freeze in response to threat and challenge in our life.

Second, choose fight. Train yourself to follow through. To dig in. To keep going in the face of challenge. Summon up your inner warrior, your leader, your courageous Durga and Athena and take the next best step.

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