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  • Aiden

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Often referred to as the 4 Fs of trauma, fight, flight, freeze, and fawn are mostly recognized as responses to trauma. In every day situations, these responses can typically be seen all around us. In CPTSD, while we grow as children, these responses to traumatic events in our lives are a response (often subconsciously) to the perceived threats of our surroundings, or reactions to others around us, and/or help with potentially offsetting abusive behaviours. These responses are how we react to traumatic triggers, and usually still follow us into adulthood and apply day to day.

In every day situations, these responses can typically be seen all around us.
  • Fight response - an aggressive response is often immediately given, when stimulated. Examples may included balled fists, or sudden onset of anger, or a reactive response, like throwing a glass of water to the wall, or shouting at the potential threat.

  • Flight response - a panicked response is often given. A person might suddenly walk away, or back up from a perceived threat. They respond in a manner meant to immediately escape from the present situation, and flee from the potential source.

  • Freeze response - just as the word suggests. A person might freeze in place, standing still and potentially unresponsive. They may dissociate, reverting inwards to appear unaffected by the current scenario that has elicited this response.They may appear to have completely locked up in response to some perceived threat.

  • Fawn response - often, we see a sense of need, or urgency, to calm down the source. Consoling in soft spoken words or a lowered voice, in an effort to smooth over, calm, placate the threat.

A simple scenario to better display these responses is as follows:

A parent walks in from a day at work, and sees a spilled drink on the kitchen floor. Angrily, they approach you, and demand answers as to why it's there, and tell you to clean it up immediately. Your response could be similar to the following examples, below.

A fight response in you might look like sudden anger, and a defensive state. Your fists curl, and your heart races, and you insist you didn't do it. Or maybe you shout back aggressively, "why don't you clean it up?" Maybe you physically push them when you say this, or get in their face and show your anger in this way.

A flight response might look like a sudden need to get away. You may step backwards and try to move away from the parent. You might avert your eyes, and not make eye contact with them, or try to appear as small as you're able. You may even flee out of the room in effort to escape from the potential repercussions, whatever it takes to get out of this situation as fast as possible.

A freeze response might look like not responding at all, standing motionless or even wide eyed, not uttering a single word. Perhaps you're buying time to come up with an explanation and your body suddenly just won't respond. Perhaps you can barely breathe, let alone blink, and you're completely incapable of moving at all, in a state of frozen panic. The proverbial 'deer in headlights' expression.

A fawn response might look like a sudden effort to clean up the mess, in order to diffuse the anger the parent is displaying. You might try to talk softly, and calmly while doing so, to soothe that anger, and to prevent, or mitigate, the further irritation in the parent. You might try to repeatedly apologize and try to de-escalate the situation at hand, in hopes of quelling, or appeasing, the anger in your parent and calming them down.

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