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

This illustrates how we can over-use default stress-response types and end up in maladaptive patterns

We all experience each of the four types from time to time! There are situations in which it is appropriate or necessary to leave (FLIGHT). Other situations require us to take immediate or planned action (Fight) to protect ourselves. Some situations, like the workplace, demand us to people-please to ensure we fit-in (Fawn). There are also times in which we need to isolate for self-care and healing (Freeze).

what is the STRESS-response system?

Our 'fight or flight' response system reacts to real and perceived threats (for example, a real  tiger or getting cut-off in traffic, and perceived rejection or feeling insulted) immediately without taking time to ponder or provide a risk-assessment of the threat (mindfulness).

reaction in 100 milliseconds

This stress-response system results in a near-instantaneous sequence of physiological reactions to Fight the threat off or FLIGHT (run away). The issue is, it can over-protect and overreact to perceived threats (painful emotions, fears, possible 'failures', imperfections, worries, relationship dynamics, perceived insults, etc.) can ignite fight-or-flight repeatedly for days, weeks, or years at a time.

nervous system

It does not “feel good” when you are in fight-or-flight. The resulting physiological, hormonal, neurochemical impact includes increased cortisol levels and hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). When overwhelmed, you move into exaggerated parasympathetic response (PSNS) or 'freeze' mode.


​ Chronic activation of the stress-response system impairs health drastically. The SNS functions like a gas pedal in a car - accelerating fight-or-flight, resulting in anxiety disorders and reactivity (irritability, outbursts, etc.) The PSNS acts like a brake - promoting "rest and digest."


In toxic stress, however, the SNS and PSNS are over-activated and geared-up - so it's like driving with your brake and gas pedal on at the same time, resulting in exhaustion, depression, isolation and feeling 'stuck.'

why learn about stress-response types?

  1. Over-using default stress-responses keeps you stuck in maladaptive protective patterns

  2. They tend to disconnect you from your feelings, authenticity and genuine desires

  3. They over-protect you from others - shielding you from sharing the more vulnerable, playful, trusting, fun, loving, creative, joyful, aspects of yourself (trust is an essential ingredient for love)

  4. Understanding stress-responses is empowering and can resolve disordered behaviors, such as outbursts, codependency, addiction, and conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders

  5.  During stress-response you lose access to the rational, calm, higher-intelligent part of your mind

  6. Once understood, you will learn adaptive ways to use a balance of stress-response strategies 



Associated with anxiety, addictive patterns to substances and processes, obsessive-compulsive behavior, ADD, ADHD, and similar dysfunctions


MALADAPTIVE Flight strategies

Flight does not necessarily mean running away - we tend to find maladaptive ways to"flee" perceived threats and painful emotions in a myriad of ways. These maladaptive strategies tend to keep us stuck in toxic stress and behavioral patterns that cause more harm than good.

  • Staying perpetually busy to avoid potentially painful emotions - resulting in over-doers and workaholics

  • Self-berating (psychologically whipping) with relenting self-criticism (Inner Critic) to flee feelings of emptiness, unworthiness or feeling like a failure

  • Overly-comparing self with others 

  • Perfectionism and not allowing a sense of completion / accomplishment 

  • Substance-use, over-eating and over-consuming in a subconscious attempt to flee feelings of overwhelm, emptiness, unworthiness, loneliness, boredom, powerlessness, and other painful emotions


healthy, balanced Flight strategies

  • During fights with your loved-ones, use your Emergency Evacuation Plan to 'Flee' rather than 'Fight' 

  • Examine threats and problems in your life (i.e. toxic work environment, abusive relationship, bad living situation, etc.) and start planning to leave ('Flight')   

  • Realize areas in your life that are not aligned with your values and decide if 'leaving' or ending these obligations and/or situations is appropriate


A blend of fight and flight. ASSOCIATED WITH compliance, SELFLESSNESS, and people-pleasing

maladaptive FAWN strategies

  • Attempts to protect from feeling rejection, and others' anger and disappointment with compliance and/or appeasing others (Codepedency patterns) - learn about Compliant Boundaries

  • Pete Walker describes FAWN types on his website, as those that "seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others... as if they unconsciously believe the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries...

  • May overshare personal details and give trust those that haven't shown themselves to be trustworthy

  • Tend to be the most self-critical of all four types (Inner Critic) 

  • Can end up in seething resentment and display passive aggressive behaviors


healthy, balanced FAWN strategies

  • FAWN types have high levels of empathy. Leverage your empathy to connect, ask curious questions, listen and problem-solve together (INTENT TO LEARN) when both parties are calm and connected (rather than make assumptions about what others are thinking and needing)

  • Realize not everyone has high-levels of empathy, thus is it imperative to focus on understanding your own needs, limits and expectations FIRST and communication these effectively with kindness (rather than assuming others' can read your mind, only to be disappointed and resentful)

  • Roll with the punches and go with the flow (balanced compliance) when appropriate

  • Choose to provide care and help to others in a balanced way, rather than out of guilt or fear

  • Build and maintain Balanced Boundaries


"Fawn types avoid emotional investment and potential disappointment by barely showing themselves - by hiding behind their helpful personas, over-listening, over-eliciting or overdoing for the other - by giving service but never risking real self-exposure and the possibility of deeper level rejection."

Pete Walker, MA


Physiologically equivalent to "deer in headlights" or "playing dead," FREEZE ignites an urge to hide until the threat goes away - rendering you 'stuck' and powerless

maladaptive FREEZE strategies

  • During FREEZE, both SNS and PSNS are activated - like driving with the brake and accelerator on at the same time

  • You feel trapped in a life-threatening attack - resulting feelings of helplessness, dissocation, and despair 

  • Identified with depression, exhaustion, procrastination, and isolation

  • Also identified with substance-use disorders and process addictions, such as binge watching TV, gaming, and on-line shopping 


healthy, balanced FREEZE strategies

  • Slow down and create an 'Emotional Cast' when healing from a loss, heartbreak, or recent trauma

  • Schedule and provide yourself with time to 'disconnect' from life (weekend to chill, Netflix, simple comforts, play video games, etc.)

  • Allow yourself to 'daydream' every now and then, especially during a boring class, meeting, etc.



polarize to ‘outer criticism’ and controlling behaviors mainly due to repressed anger (severe lack of emotional health skills) AND feelings of powerlessnesS

maladaptive Fight strategies

  • Frequent angry outbursts and reactivity

  • Critical of others due to perceiving others' non-compliance to their wishes as betrayal and rejection

  • Silent treatment as a form of punishment

  • Blatant controlling behaviors due to repressed feelings of powerlessness and deep fears of abandonment

  • May come off cold, or prickly, to prevent people coming too close, although subconsciously very sensitive

  • May perceive angry feelings as powerlessness and react by automatically trying to get "power back" from whomever else is involved by controlling, insulting, ridiculing, or physical acts of fighting



healthy, balanced Fight strategies

  • Leverage the passion that comes with Fight energy to 'attack' your goals

  • 'Protect' your loved-ones and yourself with well-planned strategies

  • Harness your 'fire' within to 'conquer' difficult tasks and overcome complex threats

  • Strategize creative solutions to find power in situations that appear powerless

  • Communicate clearly with assertiveness

  • Fight for your values by choosing to live in alignment with them

  • Build and maintain Balanced Boundaries


"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


worksheets & practices

identifying stress-response types

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maladaptive protective patterns
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daily triggers and reactions
understanding anger
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5 basic fears

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grounding exercises
inner critic 

additional videos


If you are experiencing a crisis or an emergency dial 911 or Crisis Response at 602.222.9444

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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.