There Is More Than Fight Or Flight

Most everyone is aware of the fight or flight response.  This describes how a person reacts to extremely stressful situations, such as being attacked.

Fight means you aggressively fight back, because you believe you can defeat the danger.  When it happens, you feel intense anger, may cry or punch people or things, you may grind your teeth & chances are excellent your stomach will be in knots.

Flight means you run from the danger, because you believe you can’t defeat it.  When it happens, you feel fidgety & anxious.  You can’t stay still.  You want to run for the hills immediately.

There are two other responses beyond fight or flight that are seldom mentioned.  Freezing & fawning are the other two responses.

Freezing means when you’re unable to act in these awful situations.  You can’t think clearly.  Think of a deer in headlights.  That deer sees the danger heading straight for him, but is frozen in place.  This happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat the attacker.  Freezing literally makes you cold when it happens.  Your body feels heavy & hard to move, sometimes it can feel numb as well.

Lastly, there is fawning.  This happens when in an acutely stressful situation, you do your best to comply with their attacker as an attempt to save yourself.  Like freezing, it happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat your attacker.  Fawning is a typical response of those who have been in abusive relationships.  People who fawn realized that fighting, flight & freezing didn’t work, which is why they resorted to fawning.  They found that concerning themselves with the well being of their abuser was their best chance at diffusing the situation.

While fight, flight, freeze & fawn are very different responses, they all share the same goal: to diffuse or preferably end the situation & protect yourself.  A problem is often people get stuck in only one or maybe two responses when each one can be helpful in different circumstances.  This is especially common in those with PTSD or C-PTSD.  The responses become habitual.  The best way I know to overcome this is to recognize what you do in such situations.  Considering how you acted, without any judgment of course, can help you to discern which acute stress responses you have used.  When faced with danger after doing this, you’re more likely to respond after a bit of thought rather than react as in acting without thought.

Another issue can be for those who have experienced multiple traumas.  We can perceive threats when there isn’t one.  It helps to learn to slow down your thinking a bit so you can decide whether or not the threat is real.  Taking a long, deep breath in then releasing it slowly only takes a couple of seconds, but it can slow your body & mind down enough to help you figure out the situation as well as the best way to respond.

Past trauma can affect your life in so many ways.  Learning to manage your responses can be one way to help yourself handle stressful & even new traumatic situations in healthier ways.

8 Comments

Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

8 responses to “There Is More Than Fight Or Flight

  1. Forgive me if I’ve requested this before, but I would love it if you would consider a piece on when it is okay to be dishonest from a Christian perspective. I have found sections of the Bible which condone deception in times of war and when dealing with a dishonest enemy.

    My situation is that after early retirement my narc mother tried to turn me into her personal assistant. I’ve recently said that I’ve taken warehouse temp jobs where phones are not allowed on the floor. I only return calls or texts after 6pm, and then try to limit the calls to 30 minutes. This seems to be working. However, it is uncomfortable to me, as are most things upon awakening to the reality of narcissism.

    I’d appreciate knowing if you tried a similar route.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you requested that before, I honestly don’t remember it, so I apologize.

      I’m sure that is uncomfortable for you!

      One thing I learned from my ex husband’s mother was how to lie without lying. She was a devoted Christian & wouldn’t outright lie, but sometimes in desperate situations, she would do this. Sometimes I would do it with my parents. Like, on the phone… if I wanted to get off quickly, I’d use my cell to call my house phone so the call waiting would beep & say, “Did you hear that? My call waiting just beeped.. I should go.” Or, I’d ring my doorbell which made my dog bark & say, “The doorbell rang, that’s why Bear is barking.. I should go.” That sort of thing walks a fine line, but technically it’s not lying.

      Maybe you could say you aren’t able to take calls at certain times & limit it to that. You do need time between the calls to recuperate from the last one, after all… you can’t recuperate & take her calls, so you can’t take calls at certain times.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. ibikenyc

    I had never before heard of “Freezing” and “Fawning.”

    This is much better than it used to be, but Mr. Happy still gets me frozen sometimes: I go from five to sixty (I am NEVER at zero around him) in my belief that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

    Thank you for the reminder to stop for a second and take that deep breath. It’s amazing how much it helps, if you remember to do it.

    (I also sometimes do that Fawning thing, but always very sarcastically, and of course it always lands me in much bigger trouble.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I hadn’t either until I read Pete Walker’s book about C-PTSD. I recognized those behaviors in myself & knew I had to learn some about them!

      Isn’t it just lovely the effects narcissists have on us?! UGH!

      Done the same with the sarcastic fawning… results are never good but it feels kinda good at the moment anyway… lol

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Yes, psychotherapist Pete Walker’s book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, is also where I learned about the “fawn” component of trauma and abuse. I already knew about fight, flight, and freeze. My tendency in the past has been to either freeze or run. Most often, I would freeze until I had the opportunity to run. But I have also stood my ground and fought when that was necessary and expedient, plus I have done the fawning thing. However, fawning is my least favorite!

    One thing that is very helpful for me to remember is not to pathologize my normal reactions to narcissistic abuse. “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” — This is a quote from Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor E. Frankl M.D., PhD. Dr. Frankl was a World War 2 Holocaust survivor. He survived a Nazi concentration camp, and nearly everyone in his family was wiped out by the Nazis. So he knew a lot about abnormal reactions to abnormal situations.

    Recently, someone in my family has pathologized my PTSD, in a very snarky, condescending way. First, she grossly minimized two episodes of severe abuse that was done to me in the past. Then she pathologized my upset, hurt reaction to her doing that. This especially hurt me, because of who this person is. Many years ago when she was a teenager, she did things like this, and worse. But I thought she had outgrown all of that, in the past thirty years. I thought she had learned from the hard knocks she has gone through in the past few years, and from her master’s level studies of psychology. I am heartbroken to realize that this person really hasn’t changed much, if at all. Apparently the change was an act.

    So, now I am going gray rock with her. Under the present circumstances, it seems like my best option. No fighting, no fleeing, no fawning, and no freezing — gray rock is not freezing, although on the surface it can look like it. After the middle of July, when a special family occasion is set to take place, then I will reassess my options. Until then, I am a Gray Rock, Baby. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Isn’t his book great?!

    Fawning is my least favorite too, yet I tend to lean that way. UGH. It adds to toxic shame!

    Viktor Frankl’s quote is so true! How else can one respond to abnormal behavior?!

    I’m sorry that person did that to you! I can’t stand when someone trivializes PTSD!! Been there too with someone I thought was a friend, who was kinda snarky about me having it & “my little flashes” that go with it (meaning flashbacks). PTSD & C-PTSD are no laughing matter & people need to realize that!

    Good for you! Gray Rock is a very viable & useful option until you can reassess the situation. Smart move lady!

    Liked by 2 people

    • ibikenyc

      “It adds to toxic shame!”

      Oh, inDEED. It serves to somehow get me to distract myself even further from the real issue, which is that I’m being (politely put) messed with.

      Thank you for this pinpoint clarification.

      Liked by 1 person

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