the 4Fs

Most people are aware of the two stress responses Fight or Flight.  Back in 1920, Walter Cannon coined the phrase that I grew up with all my life. My mother studied stress so I heard plenty about it.  However, I was in counseling before I learned these basic primal responses have a couple of cousins, freeze and fawn.  The article below gives a much longer description of all of these.!about1/c2bg

These responses are generated deep with in the primal part of the brain.  They become automatic responses similar to kicking out your foot when your knee is hit.  To override this responses requires awareness, understanding, courage, and determination.   My first counselor spent many sessions teaching me to slow down my thought process and choose how I would respond.  If I am working on autopilot, the 4 Fs take over my life.

Basics of these reactions.  An event or object causes stress and our amygdala, part of the brain, takes over and executes one of the 4 basic responses.

My quick way to describe each one – A tiger jumps in my path

Fight – I fight the tiger

Flight – I run from the tiger

Freeze – I stand still in front of the tiger – Deer in the headlight reaction

Fawn – I love the tiger and let him eat me.

Sounds ridiculous but let’s change the source of stress.

A rapist jumps in my path

Fight – I fight the rapist

Flight – I run from the rapist

Freeze – I do nothing while I am raped

Fawn – I help the rapist to rape me.

Does this make sense why I need to put these responses under my control instead of the amygdala hijacking my brain?

I was taught to do several things in counseling.  Most sources of stress are not so life and instant death that I can’t take at least a few seconds to think over my response.  Give myself thinking time.

Consider my choices and recognize that most stresses have multiple solutions.  Look at my options.

Stress filled problems sometimes need a different perspective.  Talk problems over with a trusted person.

Many problems are a combination of stresses.  Pull problems apart to their smaller pieces.

Look for old hurts unresolved making a mountain out of mole hill.  Check in with myself if the emotional response has more to do with my past then the present problem.

Remind myself that if I always do what I always done then I will always get what I always got.  I can’t change the stresses but I can change how I will respond.



2 thoughts on “the 4Fs

    • I agree La Quemada. Perhaps what you take from this article is it is part of the pattern of PTSD. Sitting up boundaries, honoring yourself, and choosing differently once we understand give us new opportunities to do things differently. Self forgiveness is particularly hard in these situations. I’m working at being kind to myself. Thank you for your comment. Hugs

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