Flight distance is the minimum distance it takes, when approached, for an animal to go into fight or flight mode. For example, suppose you encounter a strange dog in your neighbor’s yard. You start to approach your neighbor’s yard, and the dog. You take a couple of steps into the yard; no reaction from the dog. A couple of more steps, the dog starts to visibly tense. More steps, the dog starts to move, looking for a place to go. If there is no place for the dog to go – say, it’s blocked by a fence in the yard – the dog might get aggressive toward you. This behavior is controlled by one thing: your approach to the dog. When you are far away, the dog is fairly relaxed. When you are closer, the dog is uncomfortable, and will react.
Flight distance occurs in all animals – yes, including humans. So you know the type. The serial dater who feels an urge to run when his girlfriend asks about marriage. The senior who dodges his parents’ inquiry about doing college applications. The angry sister who will not listen to her family’s genuine concern about her anorexia athletica. The alcoholic who “chooses to drink.” The patient who declares exercise won’t help their obesity because weight gain runs in the family. The grieving daughter who wants antidepressants instead of long-term mourning.
Of course, flight distance can be increased. You introduce yourself to the dog enough, you’re not a stranger anymore and the dog relaxes. Likewise, the more time humans can spend in uncomfortable situations the more comfortable and resilient they become.