STRESS-RESPONSES

FIGHT   FLIGHT   FREEZE   FAWN

 

Identifying your 'stress-response' type (also known as 'reactivity type' or 'threat-response type') combined with the ability to be mindful of your thoughts, triggers, emotions and behaviors, is imperative for emotional and relational health.

 

STRESS-RESPONSE TYPES

MALADAPTIVE PROTECTIVE REACTIONS

Image by JESHOOTS.COM

ADAPTING TO STRESS

Stress-response types, the 4F's (fight, flight, freeze and fawn) are primal defense mechanisms. We are all born with these defenses to help us survive. If we encounter a threat, like a snake, we are triggered within 100 milliseconds with the instinctive urge to 'flight' (run). Nowadays, our threats are more about bills, work, deadlines, and relationship distress. Variances in childhood experiences, birth order, and our unique personalities impact the way we develop the 4F's. 

 

MALADAPTING TO STRESS

The more stress we experience in childhood and adulthood (including heartbreak, abuse, loss, emotional neglect, and inconsistent parenting) the more we had to 'adapt.' We learn a lot from adapting to adverse experiences, yet it can result in over-reliance on one or more of the 4F's. In our daily lives and relationships, we can get triggered (nervous system activation) and end up over-reacting with an over-developed Stress-Response Type.

"a current event can have only the vaguest resemblance to a past traumatic situation and this can be enough to trigger the psyche’s hard-wiring for a fight, flight, or freeze response."

Pete Walker, MA

MALADAPTIVE PROTECTION

It doesn't “feel good” to be in fight-or-flight-or-fawn. The hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) has a painful physiological, hormonal, and neurochemical impact. 

 

Without awareness, we form new maladaptive ways to override or numb stressful feelings - resulting in a slew of multi-layered, counterproductive, even polarizing, maladaptive protective behaviors, like alcohol and food binging, obsessing and controlling, that result in shame and more stress. Fawn types tend to fall into people-pleasing, placating, taking over-responsibility ('rescuing'), over-doing, or over-forgiving when stressed.

Pouring a Shot

"flight types stay perpetually busy and industrious to avoid potentially triggering interactions."

Pete Walker, MA

 

STRESS-RESPONSE TYPES

MALADAPTIVE PROTECTIVE REACTIONS

 

"Fight types avoid real intimacy by unconsciously alienating others with their angry and controlling demands for the unmet childhood need of unconditional love"

Pete Walker, MA

 

PROLONGED STRESS

NERVOUS SYSTEM ACTIVATION

CHRONIC STRESS 

Stuck in the 4F's maladaptive patterns sets you up for chronic activation of the 'fight-or-flight, sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Fawn Types volley between fight and flight, irritability and anxiety. The SNS functions like a gas pedal - accelerating fight-or-flight, resulting in anxiety , reactivity, rage, irritability, and outbursts. Stress hormones impair health drastically, causing inflammation, compromised immune function, and more.

DEPRESSION

When you feel powerless - as if you can't 'fight' back at, 'flight' away from, or 'fawn' out of stressors (especially relationship distress) - you default into an exaggerated parasympathetic response (PSNS), FREEZE mode.

 

The PSNS acts like a brake - promoting "rest and digest" - which is a good thing. However in chronic stress, the SNS and PSNS are both activated - like driving with your brake and gas pedal on at the same time! This results in exhaustion, depression, feeling 'stuck,' insomnia, inflammation, heart conditions, and more. 

Taking a Break

long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body's processes - increasing risk of many health problems

 

THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

NERVOUS SYSTEM ACTIVATION

 

 

HEALTHY STRESS-RESPONSES

MINDFUL ADAPTIVE RESPONSES

OVERCOME OLD PROGRAMMING

The first step is to gain awareness of your default Stress-Response Type(s) and the maladaptive ways you may be automatically reacting to stress and relationships. With  awareness, you can mindfully choose Healthy Responses from all of the 4 F's  (shown below) instead of mindlessly reacting with maladaptive reactions.

 

HEALTHY STRESS RESPONSES

Healthy Responses require taking time to observe your triggers, thoughts and emotions. With Emotional Health Skills you gain Self-Leadership, the power to process triggers, and choose Healthy Responses. For example, there are situations we need to leave (Flight). Some situations require immediate self-defense (Fight). Other situations, like the workplace, demand us to people-please (Fawn) and there are times we need to disengage or isolate for healing (Freeze).

Ready for the Run

"STRESS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS TO US. IT'S OUR RESPONSE TO WHAT HAPPENS AND RESPONSE IS SOMETHING WE CAN CHOOSE."

Maureen Killoran

 

 

HEALTHY STRESS-RESPONSES

SELF-COMPASSION AND SELF-CARE

 

MORE ABOUT STRESS TYPES

EMPOWERING AWARENESS AND TIPS

Kickboxing

FIGHT TYPE

  • Subtle and blatant controlling behaviors

  • May perceive non-compliance as rejection and/or abandonment

  • Takes over-responsibility for others (power-struggles)

  • Angry outbursts and reactivity

  • May come off cold or prickly to prevent closeness, yet subconsciously very sensitive

  • Critical of others (projects inner-criticism)

  • Silent treatment as punishment

  • Overly sensitive to feelings of anger and powerlessness - reacts by automatically trying to get "power back" by controlling, ridiculing, or fighting

  • Shame-intolerant - struggles to feel any portion of blame or responsibility (no one likes feeling shame, but Fight types are especially sensitive and defensive)

 

TIPS FOR FIGHT TYPES

  • Take self-initiated timeouts at the first sign of feeling triggered or angered (Emergency Evacuation Plan)

  • During timeouts, take 100% responsibility for your hurt feelings  (Emotional Health Skills)

  • Instead of controlling or yelling take time to 'dig deep,' understand unmet needs, list exactly what you need in relationships, and clearly, calmly communicate your needs

  • Learn Healthy Stress-Responses, especially the polar opposite and complementary FAWN responses

  • Consider, ask questions, and be curious about loved-ones' feelings, needs, wants, limits, boundaries and rightful freedoms

  • Take time to empathize and take empowering responsibility (process through shame), apologize, and take corrective action to mend relationships - making the real love you crave possible

FLIGHT TYPE

  • Subconscious attempts to flee painful emotions by launching into obsessive/compulsive activity

  • Staying perpetually busy, workaholism

  • Driven by belief that perfection will make you safe and loveable

  • Self-berating and psychologically whipping (Inner Critic) to flee fears of failure, etc.

  • Hyperactive continuum from driven "A" student to the ADHD dropout running amok

  • Prone to adrenaline-addiction - risky activities

  • Susceptible to stimulating substances and alcoholism

  • Frequently compares self with others

  • Anxiety, panic disorders and OCD

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TIPS FOR FLIGHT TYPES

Image by Marten Bjork

"without self-compassion, clients rarely evolve any substantive self-care habits. Similarly, without reconnecting to the instinct of self-protection, clients rarely develop effective resistance to internal or external abuse.

Pete Walker, MA

Sleep

FREEZE TYPE

  • Both SNS and PSNS are activated - like driving with brake and accelerator on at the same time

  • May feel trapped, helpless, depressed

  • Fogginess, emptiness, tired, feeling "stuck"

  • Subconscious belief that people will expect too much from you - so tend to self-isolate

  • Seems your starter button is stuck on "off"

  • Tends to "power-under," explain and defend (see power-struggles)

  • Dissociation to disconnect from abandonment pain

  • Often presents as ADD symptoms

  • Seeks refuge in sleep, daydreaming, and right brain-dominant activities like TV, video games, scrolling 

  • Identified with substance-use disorders and drawn to marijuana and narcotics 

 

TIPS FOR FREEZE TYPES

"Fawn types avoid potential disappointment by hiding behind helpful personas, over-listening or overdoing - by giving service but never risking real self-exposure and the possibility of deeper level rejection."

Pete Walker, MA

FAWN TYPE

  • Uses compliance, niceness, people-pleasing in attempt to protect from others' disappointment or anger

  • Codependency and love addiction

  • Seek comfort by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others

  • Forfeits own needs, values, and boundaries

  • Forgives and trusts untrustworthy people

  • Rescues and takes over-responsibility for other people (see power-struggles)

  • Tend to be the most self-critical of all four types

  • Over-giving results in resentment, especially self-resentment, and passive aggressive behaviors

TIPS FOR FAWN TYPES

  • Build a sense of "Self" with Boundaries and Self-Leadership with Emotional Health Skills

  • Learn to feel your guilt and anger - instead of buckling into Fawn reactions, set limits and build Boundaries

  • Did I mention how important Boundaries are? :) 

  • Recognize and renounce the compulsion that draws you to narcissistic or controller types who exploit you

  • Develop awareness of your needs, wants, limits

  • Learn to communicate your needs, wants, limits

  • Inner Critic Work to gain Self-Leadership

  • Mindful Self-Compassion to build Soothing System

Distanced Couple

IMPORTANT VIDEO

 

worksheets & practices

identifying stress-response types

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maladaptive protective REACTIONS/
DRIFTS
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OUR 5 BASIC FEARS
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daily triggers and reactions
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MORE IMPORTANT VIDEOS

 

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Creating Your Balance LLC and information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.  It is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed professional. Creating Your Balance LLC and information provided may not make any medical diagnoses, claims and/or substitute for your personal physician’s care.