Threat analysis - Individual responses to threat

From Gender and Tech Resources

Title of the tutorial Individual responses to threat
Kind of learning session Holistic
Tutorial category Discussion
Duration (hours) 1h 30m
"h30m" can not be assigned to a declared number type with value 1.
Learning objectives Understanding stress management as something which helps us better manage our security.

Develop physiological responses to threat and tactics for maintaining calm.

Prerequisites None
Methodology Methodology

Activity: Lion, Horse, Turtle (20 minutes)

Step 1. Divide the space into three sectors by placing pieces of paper on the floor, reading 'Lion'; 'Horse'; and 'Turtle'. Theb ask participants: What are the characteristics of a Lion? How do they respond to danger? (Typically by attacking); What are the characteristics of a Turtle? How do they protect themselves? How are they different than a Lion?; What are the characteristics of a Horse? How do they protect themselves? How are they different than the others?.

Step 2. Gather participants in the centre of the space and ask them to call to mind a particular event in which they felt they were in danger. Leave a moment for this and give hints if necessary (it may be during a protest, or a security incident which has happened to them of which you are aware). Then, ask participants to move to the animal with which they associate their behaviour in that moment.

Discussion (10 minutes)

Lead a pop-corn style discussion on this – if needed, use prompt questions such as: Why do you associate yourself with this animal in that situation? How did you act? Was it a conscious or unconscious decision to act the way that you did? Did you always react the same way, or has it changed in different situations?

Note: Although the energy can be light and fun, in this conversation, people may recall particularly difficult moments wherein they experienced violence. Try to avoid value judgements and critiquing how someone behaved in a particular situation, but rather listen respectfully to their rationale for doing so.

Input: Physiological responses to threat. (20 minutes)

Humans, like all animals, have built-in responses to threat which have helped us to survive throughout our evolution. When we perceive acute danger, many of these responses kick in without our ability to control them: they are hard-wired to our bodies and minds. Introduce the reactions on a paper or flipchart one by one and, for each, ask if it resonates or if any participant has any reflections on it.

The “freeze response” is when a person becomes utterly still while remaining highly alert and poised for action. This response relies on escaping notice until the danger has passed. For example, we might cease the work that we are doing, stop communicating through our usual channels, or reduce communication with someone with whom we are in conflict. In each case, we are hoping that the unwelcome attention will pass if we become inactive.

The “flight response” is when a person quickly tries to get as far away from the danger as possible. We might move our operations to a safer location, abandon certain activities or modes of communication, or separate ourselves from people who might cause us harm.

The “comply response” involves doing what an aggressor instructs in the hope that cooperation will result in the attack ending quickly and without injury. We might agree to suspend or abandon certain objectives or activities, or give up passwords to secure information.

The “tend response” happens when people try to protect other, more vulnerable people who are being similarly victimized. Many HRD are motivated to help others because of our own experiences of oppression and exploitation.

The “befriend response” involves trying to build some kind of relationship with the aggressor in the hope that this will limit the harm perpetrated against oneself or others. By telling physical aggressors about our families we might try to humanize ourselves in their eyes, a strategy that is sometimes useful in reducing violence.

The “posture response” is an attempt to drive off the danger by pretending to have greater power than one actually does. As HRD we often threaten to expose threats of violence broadly so as to publicly embarrass our adversaries.

The “fight response” is when a person attacks with the intent of driving off or destroying the aggressor. Of course there are many ways to fight and we all make our own ethical choices about this.

Deepening: Stress Table (30 minutes)

This is a useful tool which can help us to identify the effect that stress has on our bodies and minds individually and engage our own tactics and resources for managing it.

Step 1. Ask participants to take a sheet of A4 paper and divide it into 16 sections. On a flipchart, draw the following matrix:

            Symptoms          Tactics          Resources




Step 2 Input: We can arbitrarily enough identify three (or more) 'levels' of stress. Green: bearable, motivating stress. This kind of stress might keep us creative, but we may become tired more easily, need more breaks and know that we don't want to feel it for a long period of time. Yellow: unpleasant stress. With this level of stress we may feel tired and at the same time alert. We may manifest physical signs of stress. We will usually have a strong desire to change the situation which is causing this sensation. Red: unbearable, profound and lasting stress. This kind of stress affects different spheres of our lives including our relationships at work, with our friends and family, and also our intimate relationships. Our bodies show clear physical reactions, and we may feel close to collapse, and resort to unhealthy measures to stay alert, such as stimulants.

Step 3. Ask participants to consider for each level – however they define it for themselves – what are the symptoms each one causes in them. If you're comfortable, share an example from your own life. Then, ask participants to fill in what tactics they have for easing these symptoms or the cause of the stress, and what resources are necessary for this.

Synthesis (10 minutes)

Security is not just an abstract concept: our bodies have evolved ways of keeping us safe However this system is impacted by stress, tiredness and trauma. We must better manage this in order to better manage our security.

Number of facilitators involved 1
Technical needs Flipchart, whiteboard, papers/drawings (lion, horse, turtle). Hand-outs on Individual Responses to Threat and the Stress Table
Theoretical and on line resources Holistic Security guide