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There are More F’s to Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Fight or flight– we’re familiar with the two part systematic response to threats, which is just our response to stress and fear. There are many more responses than just fighting or taking flight.

Fight: Our most innate response type might be fight. When we are threatened, we are inspired, if only for a moment, to fight back and do something. Many people are caught off-guard by their strong desire to fight. They take action they wouldn’t expect themselves to take. Sometimes we fight by actually, physically fighting. Other times we fight by sticking up for ourselves verbally. Whatever it is we are doing, we are doing some kind of action defensively against a real or perceived threat.

Flight: Our flight response is one of our more animalistic responses. Rabbits, for example, have evolved to be fast so they can escape quick predators like foxes, who are also evolved to be fast. When we cannot fight, or we don’t connect to another response form, we take flight, meaning, we run. People can experience in an unhealthy way when they become conflict-avoidant entirely and never stand up for themselves or fight in any way.

Freeze: Threats, real or perceived, can be shocking. Instead of fighting or running, threat can create a deer in the headlights sort of response. Another animal that uses this response, often to its own demise, is the possum. When being approached by a car or a human, a possum will fall over and play dead. Freezing is a sign that the brain cannot process what is happening so it simply goes into shock until it can decide what to do next.

Flood: Comedy movies tend to use a situation like this to make light out of a dangerous situation. A group might be held hostage or encounter a dangerous situation. Each character embodies a different response, often including one who breaks into hysterics. Catching the perpetrator off guard, the individual can’t help themselves but get overly emotional. This is the flooding effect where we are flooded with emotions which need to be released.

Fawn: As a verb, the word fawn means to act in an exaggerated way “in order to gain favor or advantage”. Fawn is most often used in this way in a statement like “They fawned over the celebrity”. For someone facing a threat, to fawn is to strategically, or perhaps subconsciously, submit to the threat and the demands of the threat. In order to avoid hurt, pain, more fear, or other consequence, fawning is an answer.

Fatigue: Lastly is the least well known response to a threat. When the body and the brain are so overwhelmed by stress, the response to fear, the body can shut down. Fatigue is total exhaustion of mind and body. Some people become very sleepy in the face of threat and feel like the only thing they can do is sleep.


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