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Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn

Surely we’ve all heard of the term “fight or flight”. It’s a well-known type of trauma response. But did you know that there are actually two more which are also very common? They are “freeze” and “fawn”. It would be useful to know about them because then, you could spot them in yourself and learn how to handle them better. Now, let’s take a look at each of them!

 

1- Fight

   The “fight” response could be summed up as the aggressive response. When your brain detects a threat, your blood pressure rises, and your heart rate increases. You might become argumentative, violent, and confrontive. In an actually threatening situation, this could come in handy but in day-to-day situations, it could do more harm than good.

 

2- Flight

   The “flight” response could be described as the opposite of the “fight” response. It is choosing to flee from the threat as you can understand from the name. With this response, your first instinct is to run away from conflict at all costs. If you’ve experienced unhealthy conflict in the past, that could be the cause of this type of reaction. As you grow up, this trauma response could stand in the way of having healthy relationships with others because you’ll tend to leave problems unresolved.

 

3- Freeze

   The “freeze” response is completely passive. You can neither defend yourself nor run away. Dissociation and detachment are common in this type of response. The “freeze” response causes a delay in reaction thus giving the threat an advantage.

 

4- Fawn

   Coined by Pete Walker, the “fawn” response is mostly people-pleasing. Lightening the mood by using self-deprecating jokes can also be observed in this response. People who grew up with narcissistic parents tend to use fawning because growing up, it worked for them and helped them avoid conflict.

 

   Now, let’s give an example so we can have a better understanding of these responses!

 

   Example:

   Imagine that you got into an argument and the person you are arguing with is getting aggressive. If you too get aggressive and get in a fighting mode right away, then you probably tend to use the “fight” response. But if you try to escape the argument and run away from there, then that means you’re more prone to use “flight”. On the other hand, your mind might go blank and you might not know how to react. You might not be able to decide whether to fight back or to go away and stay out of it. That would mean you are using the “freeze” response. Lastly, you may resort to people-pleasing. You may choose not to make any objections to their arguments so that you can calm them down. You may try to talk your way out of the argument. And that is the “fawn” response.

 

   So, there you go! We’ve covered all four most common trauma responses in psychology. Which one do you think you tend to use the most?

 

   References:


MasterClass – Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn: Responses to Stressful Situations: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/fight-flight-freeze-fawn#7bJsDMcPs0ARi6HXQHd9CX

Neuroscience Bulletin – Stay Active to Cope with Fear: A Cortico-Intrathalamic Pathway for Conditioned Flight Behaviour: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12264-019-00439-9

Pete Walker – Codependency, Trauma and the Fawn Response: https://www.pete-walker.com/codependencyFawnResponse.htm

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