Helping the angry young person

Helping the angry young person
– retraining the flight or fight response.


The flight-or-fight response is a finely tuned, automatic response system in our brain for coping with fear, danger, or threat. It is an appropriate reaction that can be harm-preventing and life saving.

The area of our brain called the hypothalamus initiates a chemical release and sequence of nerve cell firing that prepares us for running (flight) or fighting:

  • rapid heart beat,
  • increased adrenaline to give the body increased strength and speed
  • quickened breathing.
  • sweat glands start up to cool the body,
  • eye sight improves,

The flight or fight reaction often causes the reasoning center of the brain to shut off for a time.

Children who live with frequent stress or frightening events such as family stress or abuse, domestic violence or neglect, will constantly be using their hypothalamus to respond to threats. This makes the fight or flight neural connections stronger, and they become the strong pathways the brain uses to react to situations. The brain becomes highly sensitive to register any potential danger, or even the hint or perception of danger. Even if the threat is not real, the response is the same: a shocking, uncomfortable and difficult to ignore alarm. Like a smoke alarm designed to alert us to the danger of fire, but it cannot distinguish between steam from the shower, burnt toast or a house fire. This may be highly useful in abusive situations, but it is not best for building healthy relationships.


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