Fight or Flight: The Temptation and the Cost

We’ve all been there. That email you just don’t open because you don’t want to see what’s in it; the phone call from the bank manager you don’t pick up; running away from something or someone because we just don’t have the wherewithal to deal with the bad stuff.

Apparently, we are hard-wired for flight; it’s the body’s way of sending us signals when we are in danger and need to protect ourselves. Those instincts can save our lives in situations of danger, and for abused women are particularly important.

However, since we are not just animals fleeing from predators (though sometimes it may feel that way!) there are times when we need to stick around for the fight.
This phenomenon with its attendant physiological symptoms is known as fight or flight.

I was reminded of this by a court decision I read recently involving an Israeli woman who was living in Panama with her husband, and during a family trip to Israel, decided to stay in Israel with the children.

The woman claimed that the husband agreed to the relocation to Israel prior to the departure from Panama, and subsequently, during the course of their stay in Israel. One of the major defenses under the Hague Convention (International Child Abduction), is that the party now objecting to the relocation of the children consented to the move at an earlier point in time (See Article 13 of the Convention).

Therefore, the court decision focuses on what precisely constitutes agreement or consent for the purposes of the Convention.
You can read the decision אמנת האג – הסכמה, in Hebrew.

Reading between the lines of the decision, it seems to me the wife/mother was in a quandary: she is married to a controlling individual, from the court decision there is clearly financial abuse, and perhaps worse. Her instinct (probably correct) was that if she stayed in the country of residence, she’d never finish the divorce with the husband on livable terms, she has no support system, no means of making a living, and the process will be viable for her if she does it in Israel. Moreover, she probably didn’t want to be stuck living in a Central American country with her children until such time as they are no longer minors.

So, from her point of view, making a run for it to Israel was probably a good idea. But sometimes acting on instinct protects us in the short run, and complicates our lives in the long run.

I speak to people in situations like these all the time, with variations on the facts at hand. I understand the impulse to want to run and avoid dealing with a protracted confrontation with an unpleasant person on the other side. But, the other fact is, that flight rarely works, particularly in issues of child relocation.

There’s no question that sticking around for the fight can be costly and unpleasant. However, in the long-term, the price of flight is generally even higher, particularly when we are fleeing with children and the other side has recourse to the Hague Convention.

Even in the pre-Hague Convention days, I knew people who took the flight path, and eventually, the other side did catch up with them. I obviously can’t evaluate whether the route they took was in hindsight the best route, but there is wisdom to dealing with problems at the outset, despite how unpleasant that prospect is.
The question of how to deal also arises not infrequently around issues of abuse. How to cope? Should one run away and hide until it’s safe to come out? (For a riveting novel on this, see Anne Quinlan’s


I’m not familiar with the system in other countries, but certainly the system of women’s shelters in Israel is a very good middle ground for at once getting out of danger, and yet providing for a framework in which to confront the abusive spouse and get the necessary help to get out of relationship safely.

To get back to the court decision above, I was impressed that the judge, who ordered the mother to take the children back to Panama understood the emotional dynamic between the couple, particularly the issue of financial abuse. She ordered the husband to make financial arrangements for the wife prior to the return to Panama, so that she would not return to a situation in which she was destitute, or at the mercies of someone who would wrestle concessions from her so that she could buy food for her children.

So that, assuming we have judges and a system of social services that knows how to protect those in need, the advantage of taking the fight path, is that in the majority of cases, there are a couple of very tough years, and then one is able to reconstitute one’s life. There are always going to be those extreme circumstances where fight only increases the dangers, and there is not resolution other than flight, but from my experience – in cases of abusive spouses, and even more so in relocation cases – those are the minority.

Disclaimer: The above is my ponderings on the subject and in no way to be construed as legal advice for any individual. Consult with local counsel if you have a question.

This entry was posted in Children, Domestic Violence, Interesting Court Decisions, Lawyering and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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