Freeze – Fight – Flight!


Freeze!          Fight!            Flight!

That is the human response to overwhelm. We may literally be unable to move or speak, or at a reduced capacity, in the face of extreme danger. That is the freeze response. But think about it, freezing up is often a response to more subtle feelings of danger or less obvious overwhelm. We may be slower to respond, not because of laziness but because of the freeze response. We may be judged as procrastinating or delaying in decision making.

We know what fight looks like. Of course. But do we understand that in the fight response the ability to reason is lessened. The bulk of our resources are harnessed for the fight in a survival instinct! And there are different methods of fight. It may be a physical fight or perhaps we feel like fighting but have some restraint so we punch the wall or yell or stomp or throw things. The fight might be mostly a shouting match, but whichever way, it is a survival mentality, born out of fear.

Then there is flight. The felt need is for escape, and it can be strong. Sometimes children run away from home, or attempt to.  (You might take a walk or go shopping) While in this mode of flight from the overwhelm or danger, decision making and executive thinking is degraded so the dangers of running away, even if known, are not fully considered. That really goes for all three responses.

So dealing with responses in a logical, thinking way has to be done either before or after the stress response, with assessing what happened, dealing with the results, and planning ahead for next time.

Can you identify in your adopted or foster child whether they tend to revert to freeze, fight or flight?  Perhaps they have exhibited all three.  Are there certain responses that upset you more?  Do you respond more calmly to freeze, or shutting down perhaps, than you would to fight or flight/escape. Or perhaps flight scares you when it tends to happen in public places where you envision more danger.  What is your go to response? Can you relate to the child better if your typical responses (or what you feel like doing even if you do not follow through) are the same? Different?

Make it count. If a full blown stress response has happened, after the cool down, do not fail to make it count by revisiting what happened. Use the opportunity to take preventive measures toward the next time. Failure to do so will inevitably result buried feelings until the next eruption knocks the top off of them. A little understanding will go a long way.  But remember that it is an ongoing process, not a one time fix.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.