Imagine you are at work. You are sitting at your desk, engrossed in a task. Suddenly the fire alarm goes off. What would you do?
Most of us reading this probably think we’d immediately get up and evacuate the building. However, research paints a different picture. We are in fact much more likely to try and gather more information, consult with colleagues or attempt to investigate the situation ourselves. Unfortunately, this type of hesitation can come at a great cost. People have lost their lives because they failed to leave the building at the sound of a fire alarm. Stephen Grosz, author of ‘The examined life’, attributes this hesitation to a fear of a change. A fear so strong that it ‘prevents us from acting when it matters most’.
With some creative license, we can use the fire alarm as a metaphor in coercive control situations. For example, domestic abuse victims might recognize the ‘warning signs’ but worry about what could happen if they leave. Will others believe me? What will my friends and family think when they find out? Where can I go? Similarly, victims of coercive groups experience difficulties and hesitation at the thought of leaving a coercive group, despite hearing the metaphorical ‘fire alarm’ going off.
Recognizing how our brains work and how undue influence affects our lives are the first steps on the road to personal autonomy.
This post was inspired by the 2013 Medium article authored by W.W. Norton, available here.