Tend and Befriend: The Feminine Response to Stress
There are new studies coming out that show that our trusty friend “fight or flight” is actually only proven to be true in the male physiology.
Now, you can stretch fight or flight to fit the feminine—you can make it work—but the more accurate female physiological response to stress is something called “tend and befriend.”
It takes one flashback to middle or high school to see this played out. The mean girls are mean to you and what do you do? You don’t fight them. And you probably didn’t run scared either. What you probably did was anything you could to get back on their good side. You tended to the crappy frienemmy relationships…you were extra kind and friendly.
If that’s not quite clicking for you yet, let’s look at a more extreme example. Victims of domestic violence aren’t usually rushing to the door and leasing a new apartment at the first sign of trouble. And we usually ask why. Why don’t they just leave? Or why don’t they say something or fight back or get help? Well, because they aren’t physiologically designed to respond with fight or flight.
Instead, these women will stay and put up with the abuse because their bodies are hardwired to stay as safe as possible. They will go to great lengths to smooth things over, to make the abuser happy or calm, to appease. Because their bodies are working to make sure everyone is safe and protected. They truly believe that they and maybe their children are safer if they can just stay on the abuser’s good side.
This makes so much energetic sense. If you look at the feminine energy characteristics like:
You see that this Tend and Befriend way of handling stress and danger is much more acutely aligned.
Now, we must step out of the abusive example to see the beauty in this design. This sort of energy and way of being is what keeps a village together. This sort of response is what keeps relationships from crumbling because of miscommunication, strong feelings, and mistakes. And this is exactly the sort of response we need to start leaning in to in order to heal women’s relationships with other women.
The culture has taught us that we just don’t get along well with other women. That women are too judgemental, too sensitive, read too much into every detail. We are taught that hanging out with the guys is what makes us “not like other girls” and also that being able to be in a room full of men and hold your own is what will make us successful.
We were also taught that the right way to respond to stress and danger is fight or flight, so we’ve been taught some particularly masculine things that aren’t aligning.
So we need to start leaning into the impulse to tend and befriend. We need to allow women into our circles again, without the expectation that she’s not to be trusted. We were designed this way for a reason. And aligned with that nature might be the answer to so much healing, renewing, and rebuilding.
for that world.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Owner of Selah Space, Spiritual Healing Facilitator
Jada Dobesh is a Spiritual Director and the creator of Selah Space, a holistic wellness co-op in Sioux Falls, SD. In her work, Jada offers her clients the space and practices needed for holistic healing and sustainable wellness.
The verb “selah” means to take pause and notice, and to make space for what was said, and that’s a practice that Jada takes to heart. From Spiritual direction and reiki, to sexual health practices, and speaking to the divine nature of the feminine, Jada intentionally honors her client’s spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
When she’s not cultivating Selah Space as a place for people to come together to help one another become well, Jada is mama to Audrey, age 3 and Marek, age 1, and wife to Witt. Jada’s education includes Bachelor of Arts degrees in Clinical Psychology and Theology/Youth Ministry and graduate degrees in Christian Leadership and Spiritual Direction.