What do you think of when you hear the term “Fight or flight”? I always recall nature documentaries, where animals are trying to survive the threat of a predator – they will run away or fight for their lives.
In some ways, humans are the same. When we feel attacked, we have an automatic response for survival. As a kid, these responses will be more overt – a child will literally run away or get into a fist fight. As adults, we generally try to find a more socially acceptable form of survival (raising our voices or sidestepping towards the nearest exit come to mind).
We don’t all fly or fight when we feel attacked or unsafe – people can also go into their freeze or fawn response. Have you ever seen a child seemingly freeze with wide, panicked eyes when they are being disciplined? They look like a deer in the headlights, and their body has shut off everything bar its basic functions so they can survive the situation until the threat leaves.
And there is fawn. If you see someone chronically trying to please everyone – perhaps apologising profusely, going above and beyond out of fear of getting it wrong, or trying hard to placate anyone who approaches with conflict, this is their response. It could come as a result of immediate conflict, or as a way to avoid future conflict.
None of these responses are wrong – as humans, our bodies are wired for survival and it’s amazing how they take care of us with these functions. Social dynamics mean that we tend to expect different responses from different people – western culture expects men to be more aggressive and therefore to fight. Yet if a female does this, she is looked down upon and is expected to fawn. That means there can be a lot of shame around how we respond after the incident.
But you don’t have to feel ashamed, your body is just asking you to understand what is going on. In this new emotions wheel by Lindsay Braman, we see how the Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn response appears once we are out of the Window of Tolerance. We’ve talked about the Window of Tolerance before here – it is the area of emotional regulation, where you feel comfortable and in control of your safety, behaviour, environment and feelings. Different events can push us out of this window into the Fight, Flight, Fawn or Freeze response.
It is harder to de-escalate once we have entered this place, but understanding your feelings in the lead up to the event can help. You can also think back to past moment when your fight, fight, freeze or fawn response has been triggered. What happened in the lead up? What emotions were you feeling? How long did it last? Lindsay’s wheel gives us a list of feelings and emotions associated with Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn. Take a look at these here and next time you or a loved one escalates, ask yourself what you are feeling. It will show you why your body is responding in a certain way and give you the ability to self soothe and return to the Window of Tolerance.
Lindsay Braham sells high quality digital prints of her work. Find out more here.
Do you feel out of control of your body? Do you go into Fight, Flight, Freeze or Faun in certain situations? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245, Duncan on 0434 331 243 or Rachel on 0442177193 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now and make an appointment.