Fight, Flight, and Freeze

Most of us have heard of fight, flight, or freeze. These are common responses that humans, and animals have when faced with various situations. Thinking about trauma, and how that impacts us we think about one more term “Fawn”. This term is coined by Pete Walker, a therapist in California.

What is Fight, Flight, and Freeze?

Let’s briefly review what fight, flight, and freeze look like in a person. Fight is seen in inward aggression, controlling behaviors, narcissistic behaviors, and a person that is explosive and unpredictable. This defense might have become the safe way to protect themselves and others from a more volatile violent family member. Flight as a trauma response might look like running away from dangerous situations in a literal sense or more of a figurative way. Inwardly it looks more like being overly anxious, or having obsessive compulsive behaviors. A person might be a workaholic, or never appear to be calm in their own skin. A person in this trauma response finds this to be the best way to not be in the pain, and avoid their pain.

The freeze response in to trauma might feel stuck a lot of the time, have a difficult time making choices, this is also where you see dissociation and numbing behaviors (cutting, drugs, alcohol, excessive screen use, and so forth). Freeze often times is a response that occurs because the trauma or pain someone is experiencing is too difficult to face, and the only way to survive is to detach.

Fawn Response

The last trama response that Peter Walker coined is fawn. A person that uses fawn as their trauma response is often a person who has experienced childhood abuse. They tend to become people pleasers, they are followers and feel uncomfortable when they have to lead any group. They will become overwhelmed easily, and with their lack of healthy boundaries have a tendency to become codependent and not know who they are. All of these traits make it more likely that a person who responds to traumas and stress with fawning will become abused again and again.

No matter what your response you gravitate towards when your emotions become heightened there is healing available if you chose. Once a person has awareness of how they respond we can work together to find healthier more adaptive ways to cope. The unhealthy ways that we have coped did work at some point in our past, that’s why we use them.

Written by: Bethany Juran, LPC
With Contribution of: Andrea Serrano