Making Good Use of Fight, Flight and Freeze

Making Good Use of Fight, Flight and Freeze

What do you do when you are trapped? Is your first instinct to attack, run away or stay where you are? Although there are stark differences between you and flatfish, it may come to you as no surprise that the “bold” among us tend to adopt a “fight-flight” response and the “shy” adopt “freeze-hide”1 . Perhaps, your response does not have to be aggressive or cowardly but simply “flow”2 .

Recognising when you go into any of the fight/flight/freeze modes is a basic step in responding to adverse situations. Identifying the factors that influence you in responding either in consistency with what is “most you” in certain situations can tell you something about you. On the other hand, the spontaneity that comes up when you tackle your usual situations can hint at your desire to take on new approaches or leave the ones that no longer serve you. What does it mean to you then, when you respond in the way that is “you”, and when you don’t?

Once there is ample understanding of your responses (or reactions), room for improvement can then be explored. This is especially crucial when you are going through tough periods in your life and you need new or more tools and resources in handling varying levels of complexities. While you have somehow survived and made it to where you are today, you have received feedback from others and yourself that make you want to do things better.

Case (*names have been changed to protect individuals)

 Casey and Alex decided that they cannot work together. In their most recent project at work, both felt unseen and unheard. Alex initiated a series of meetings to kickstart the project and when Casey disagreed with some of the dates, Alex screamed at her for “making things difficult”. Casey froze as she was taken aback by Alex’s behaviour. She had never been screamed at by anyone in her life before. Casey likes to take her time and do things at her own pace but Alex likes to get things done as soon as possible. Both have tried to convince the other of “the way things should be” but neither wants to “give in”. This has resulted in tasks being delayed and incomplete.

There are many ways to respond to an adverse event or situation so take note of your initial mode of response and reflect on it. In any case, the following may apply to you:

FIGHT includes…

  • throwing a punch at others or the one triggering you
  • hitting the walls or furniture such as tables and door
  • slapping someone
  • making loud sounds such as clapping
  • using items as weapons
  • mental blocking

FLIGHT includes…

  • avoiding the event, situation or person(s)
  • removing yourself from the event or situation
  • going missing or disappearing from others’ sight
  • stonewalling or “numbing” self, dissociating
  • displaying passive-aggressive behaviours
  • dismissing others and self

FREEZE includes…

  • unable to move
  • not taking a step forward
  • not taking on any actions
  • shutting down
  • self isolating

Which of the above do you recognize for yourself? How consistent is it?


  1. Fight-flight or freeze-hide? Personality and metabolic phenotype mediate physiological defence responses in flatfish. Authors: Emmanuel J. Rupia,Sandra A. Binning,Dominique G. Roche,Weiqun Lu

First published: 05 April 2016.

  1. From Fight or Flight, Freeze or Faint, to “Flow”: Identifying a Concept to Express a Positive Embodied Outcome of Trauma Recovery. Author: Julia Seng, CAsCAid GroupFirst. Published June 8, 2018. Research Article Find in PubMed Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association

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