Category Archives: Conflict Dynamics

Conflict Psychology Basics

Fights often happen because some people lack the inhibitions that most people have. Such fight-prone people aren’t good at controlling their impulses and thus may appear to react irrationally to situations. Many people conclude from this that criminal acts are unpredictable, irrational and perpetrated by fundamentally deranged individuals. While some may be so outside of the bounds of sanity that they cannot be understood let alone reasoned with, there are basic parameters that define how and why the vast majority of violent situations happen.

There are a lot of people who suggest escalating force according to threat level, and not worrying about mentality of the person attacking you or others, suggesting that trying to reason with crazy people is foolish and dangerous or some such thing. While in some cases someone may be out of his or her mind enough for this to be more or less correct, there are also many circumstances where ignoring the mechanics of a conflict can actually cause a conflict to escalate to violence when none needed to happen at all. It’s not possible to sum up the characteristic mechanics of conflict, because they are all different. Rather, are a wide array of variables a portion of which will come into play depending on the specific conflict.

This entry covers a good deal of terminology and abbreviations, some of which to be honest I made up just to describe and simplify the concepts presented here. My goal is not to promote a new terminology but rather provide a basic, accurate view of the dynamics of conflict in as brief and easily read piece I can write. This is a basic intro, not an all encompassing guide. Further research is highly recommended.

Fight Flight Posture Submit (FFPS)

Just about everyone has heard of “Fight or Flight” instincts, a phenomenon that applies to most of the animal kingdom. As you probably know, the two responses of “Fight or Flight” are hardwired, instinctive responses to danger: faced with a threat, a person instinctively reacts by deploying violence or by fleeing.

The “Fight or Flight” terminology suggests that these are the only responses in a serious conflict. However, this misses two additional key responses which may happen when conflicts are between animals of the same species or social order (such as a families pet dog and cat): posturing and submission. Posturing is defined by projecting a tough appearance (either consciously or subconsciously) in order to scare an opponent into backing away from the confrontation. Submission is usually characterized by giving in to an opponent’s demands in order to avoid further trouble. Submission can also describe someone who is so scared in a conflict that he/she freezes in place. (The prevention of this kind of submission is a good reason why training and practicing in fighting techniques is so crucial.) Therefore, instead of talking about a “Fight or Flight” response, we refer to FFPS, as this provides a more complete picture of possible conflict responses.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

The FFPS response is actuated by the SNS, which is a system that all humans inherit through genetics. In a time of dire danger, the SNS automatically releases a very powerful concoction of chemicals to your brain and body with the singular goal of keeping you, your assets (not that assets are worth fighting for) and any companions alive and well in a dangerous and stressful situation. In essence, the SNS instantly makes your heart race, your blood pressure go up, and your pupils dilate; your lungs will take in more oxygen, and you will be panting. Whole textbooks could be written on the science of these reactions; however, for our purposes here, we are less concerned why this unfolds (i.e., the science behind it all) than with how it unfolds and what you can do about it.

SNS Activation

When the SNS is activated by a conflict situation, your focus hones in on all of the variables and factors immediately relevant to the conflict and your singular goal of safety. Your brain very rapidly interprets relevant sounds and other sensory input that is deemed important. Your ability to communicate rapidly about the conflict with any involved people is enhanced greatly. You critically assess the situation without conscious thought, as your brain is in on ‘auto-drive,’ causing you to do and say what needs to be done and said. As all of this happens, an effect known as “auditory exclusion” automatically keeps you from processing any details that are not automatically perceived as critical; these details go unnoticed or are instantly disregarded as unimportant. For many people, this even includes not hearing the sound of gun shots fired within a few feet of them. Your perception of time might even be distorted (and it often is). Concerns about anything other than safety (including laws) will go straight out the window. Legal and moral concerns will only shape your actions at this stage if you have practiced enough to make them part of your second-nature response to danger.

When faced with a dangerous situation, your SNS will cause you to perform one or more of the four responses described above – fight, flight, posture and/or submit. Without practice/training, you may not know which ‘instinctive’ response you will have to a given conflict. This is why practice is so important: with diligence, you can reshape your instincts so that you can perform as you practice (or at least relatively close to how you practiced, depending on how much your practice drills, techniques and scenarios map onto the conflict at hand.) Moreover, you will do this all without having to consciously think about it. Remember: practical fighting simulations are crucial.

SNS After Action

This information is described not because it will keep you alive (the conflict will already be over) but rather so you know what to expect and, perhaps, can made reasonable decisions about not talking to law enforcement agents. It generally isn’t a good idea to talk to the police, and when you’re coming down off the effects of SNS activation is a time even worse than usual to talk to them. If the police get involved and attempt to question you about a conflict you were involved with, do not talk to them at all! Demand to talk to your lawyer instead.

Coming down off of SNS activation can take hours, with possible lingering effects such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) lasting for much longer. Hyperventilation can go on well after the conflict ends. A feeling of sickness in the gut, guilt, perhaps fear, and other emotions can commonly pester you for days, even weeks and longer, after a SNS activation.

More on FFPS

Animals in the same species have a hardwired instinct to not want to harm each other, lest their species go extinct. This is as true for humans as it is for dogs and elephants. As a result of this instinct, animals naturally resort to posturing and submission rather than fighting another of their own kind. Rarely, something goes wrong in nature, and you have a natural born killer. Or as humans have shown with things like military training, video games, and other forms of killing practice, these instincts can be trained away by making taking lives a conditioned response, much like hitting the brake pedal to avoid rear ending another motorist.

Posturing

Posturing refers to instances where a person’s SNS has been activated by conflict involvement, and he/she instinctively reacts by presenting themselves in a manner that implies a willingness or desire to use violence without actually using it beyond perhaps small amounts of contact. One is example is two angry people who get into each other’s faces from a short distance, flail their arms around, maybe gently shove each other, and perhaps get into an instinctive forward crouch. The two “fighters” act like they want a serious fight, when in fact they do not – they are simply posturing. Posturing is a way that animals of the same species attempt to gain dominance without actually having to harm each other. By posturing, they send the message that they could, or will, fight if a problem isn’t resolved.

Remember that posturing is an attempt to achieve one of two things (or both): establish dominance or to put on a show to avoid having to violently defend oneself. Guns, knives, and other weapons are often used to posture, and they can be very effective at it. For example, consider a police officer for who is arresting a felon. “Stop or I’ll shoot” he says, and the felon stops, as directed. The cop established dominance through using his gun to posture, and the felon is off to jail. Alternatively, the felon could run toward the cop, screaming “get out of here!” But he might be shot dead. The felon in the second case made a suicidal decision to posture to make the cop leave and to fight if the cop refused to do so. While quite irrational or illogical to an outsider viewing the situation, the decision to posture in this suicidal manner happens more often than you might think.

Submission

Faced with posturing in a conflict, the smaller, weaker or less crafty of the involved parties will typically choose to back off and move out of posturing mode and into submission mode. He/she may put their hands up, verbally submitting or otherwise gesturing that the other party holds dominance. In most conflicts among people, that is the end of it: the involved parties go on with their lives and do not seek to further challenge each other. Regardless of the initial cause of conflict, after submission, there is no more quarreling at that time.

FFPS responses should be viewed as a continuum, as one response can instantaneously lead to another depending on the situation and personality of people involved.

One possible way to make someone jump from submission to posturing or fighting is by drawing a handgun. Drawing a handgun is one of the most socially recognized displays of force, and it is heavily stigmatized by the media as well as most people’s imaginations. The idea of deploying that level of force can and often does instigate an immediate and incredibly dangerous posturing or full blown fighting response. Alternatively, an attacker being drawn on goes from feeling dominant to feeling like his life is in danger, then fleeing, or the attacker may very well opt to shoot to try to avoid being shot. Both are possible, so neither result can be counted on. By itself, the action of drawing a handgun guarantees nothing but the situation going up or down in danger.

Threat Indication(TI)

Going back to animal responses, imagine you are the biggest ape in the jungle. Or maybe you’re a lion near a herd of zebras. Perhaps you’re the proverbial sheep dog guarding a flock of sheep. Are any of the lesser animals in your turf going to be likely to threaten you? It’s not likely! The dominant animal’s superior jaws, muscles, speed and known aggression are going to mean it’s very safe, at least until a similarly well built challenger comes along. This, we’ll define as TI, because it causes it to be understood ahead of time that a fight against these animals would be dangerous, maybe deadly, and this knowledge will carry over to the fight after the SNS adrenalin dump takes effect on the combatants. It would however be much harder for the zebra to convince the lion that it was the dominant one after a fight had started.

The very same issues apply to humans. The 115 pound 6 foot tall video gamer with severe acne tends not to start fights with the heavy weight boxing crowd. Sure, that’s an extreme example, but similar rules can be applied to everyday life. The medium build guy with tattoos and a built by him 68 Ford Mustang isn’t likely to be picked on by a similarly built man wearing lycra bicycle clothing and a carrying a poodle in his recumbent bicycles handlebar box. The skinny lady riding a motorcycle and wearing leathers with a MC logo is not a significant threat to the safety of a business owner who has 40 pounds more muscle than she does, but he might be afraid around her, or perhaps otherwise uncomfortable because of her TI effect, whether it be her intention or not.

More aggressive appearance can mean more hostile reaction from opponent during fight

The other side of TI is that the more aggressive you appear, as many would perceive stereotypical looking motorcycle riders and other such “badass” modes of attire, the more likely it can be in some cases that a prepared defender may consider you a loose cannon in a confrontation, and act as swiftly as possible to take you out. Either eventuality is possible, and it is because of this that you should always be very careful to be calm, polite and respectful with strangers, and that goes double for those of us who carry guns.

Contagious Emotions

Respect and other displays of attitude and emotion are generally contagious in conflict situations. In other words, anger and aggression leads to anger and aggression from opponents, and the same goes for being calm and respectful. It’s hard for someone, especially someone with any measure of sanity, to respond to calm words with violence. Similarly, it would be hard for an opponent in a fight to respond with polite and kind words while being screamed at, but you can do it if you have it in your head as a strategy before hand, and it may prevent an argument from getting someone killed.

There are essentially never any guarantees about the sort of people you could run into a conflict with, but you should generally try to keep with the classic “golden rule” of treating others as you want to be treated. It can go a very long way towards avoiding trouble, or reducing an aggressor’s anger after a conflict begins.

Victim Indicators (VI)

Victim Indicators are those indications a person displays which suggest that their threat level is low, their awareness is probably also low, and that they are vulnerable, possibly also ripe for being robbed of assets in plain view. Dressing in clothing that would make you look broadly out of place in a dangerous area, paying little attention to your surroundings, and other things identifiable through logic and common sense, can as a direct result of personal negligence make you appear to be a vulnerable person ripe to victimize, and thus increase your chances of getting attacked.

Psychosocial False Victim Indication (PFVI)

The word “psychosocial” means a common belief or practice carried out and/or shared among a group of people. PFVI refers to indicators which make society at large believe a person is vulnerable, and perhaps even abnormally deserving of being attacked.

There is a saying which is about 150 years old now, that “God made man and woman, but Sam Colt made them equal”. While there is some merit to the Colt revolver creating equality among those who had them, weapons have been around for a much longer time. Before humans had pants, they had clubs and spears. We’ll stick to guns, however since that’s the topic at hand. A woman with a pistol could kill a man attempting to rape her, even if he was more than twice her size. Similarly, a blatantly gay man driving a pink Miata might get assaulted by homophobic criminals, and he very well might have his .40 with him and blow them away.

Despite these very obvious truths, much of society at large has deemed women, homosexual men, and indeed others to be weaker, less deserving of some forms of respect, and often offensive when they try to appear or otherwise act dominant. Gay men and petite women are often misinterpreted by society as being weak by nature, when in fact they are no less capable than anyone else.

Psychosocial Mistaken Threat Indication (PMTI)

PMTI is when psychosocial mistaken indicators suggest to large numbers of people that someone or perhaps a group of people is dangerous and/or aggressive, when in fact they aren’t. This applies very heavily to racial tensions, in many areas, where blacks, especially males, are often looked at more suspiciously unless they over dress with fancier clothes than the circumstance really calls for, as compared to what a white person in their same situation would have to dress like to avoid suspicion.

Additionally, men who shave their heads, motorcycle clubs which are actually a bunch of middle class white collar workers who want to look like macho men on weekends, body builders, maybe someone who likes keeping a 3 day shave look, and many others, can easily present a PMTI effect without any real intention of their own.

You mess with my friend/family/pet you mess with me

Most have seen this on TV, and it’s likely you’ve seen it in person too. No matter the reasoning, harming or threatening to harm someone’s friend, family member, pet or even property can throw most other fairly predictable fight effects out the window. A mostly good person with a dangerous and delinquent friend or loved one who commits and assault or other attack, may very well move in to object to a victim of his acquaintance defending themselves. This obviously wouldn’t relate to the flight aspect of FFPS, but it could mean posturing, submission, or fighting. Never discount the ability of someone you would normally assume harmless to engage in a conflict with you over their dangerous companion(s) who their emotions cause them to stand behind.

What it all means for your safety

Much of this information is probably already common sense to you, and this information is probably of little surprise. The way that these effects take place will vary by region, even city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood due to local cultures and customs. The information is presented as food for thought, as something that you should factor in to your strategy to stay safe. It’s all common sense, just so long as you make considering these factors part of your daily routine.

Gun carriers should try to dress and act in such a way that incidents of violence are as unlikely as possible. Certainly this is a free country, people can and should express themselves as they choose to. Nonetheless, as a person armed with a firearm, your safety and the safety of others could be in the balance of how you appear to others. Choose wisely how to present yourself to others.

Also remember that avoiding conflict often falls upon avoiding people that are prone to it, as well as areas which are you believe are abnormally dangerous. Living in fear, day to day, about whether or not it’ll be safe to go somewhere is no way to live life, but there is never a good reason to be downright reckless, or to maintain relationships of any kind with criminally inclined people.

The simple fact is that very few people truly want to fight each other! While our world has become vastly more violent than ever before, it’s still not that bad, especially if you keep you make good choices. Nonetheless, dangerous conflicts can happen at any time, and for even the stupidest and least suspected of reasons. All of these things are a world of variables where nothing can be taken for granted. Always strive to avoid trouble!