4 Fs of Stress Response

I am on Facebook and joined two groups that are similar to each other but slightly different.  One is Living with CPTSD and the other is Healing from CPTSD.  Matt, one of the founders and sometimes administrators, shares some of the most awesome stuff.  I like sharing but I also respect copywrite laws.  I am delighted to say that one resources says share with a link back to what they wrote. https://www.spiritualselfhelp.org/resources.html

4 Fs of Stress responses



Most people are familiar with Fight or flight with many experiencing both.  Freeze is more familiar as the ‘Deer in the headlights’ response.  Freezing is obvious when you feel totally immobile in a stressful situation.  The least known is the Fawn response.  Tricky to recognize when it is reinforced by beliefs in service.  I’m going to share my perspective on these and why they were important in my survival.

Flight – I lived with fights everyday growing up.  Fights between my brothers were a daily occurrence.  Most conversations were fights with words.  I detested fighting but felt drawn into it.  I avoided fighting more and more often.  Run Away, Run away was my motto.  I did too.  Dissociation is the ultimate hiding technique.  I could hide from myself and anyone else.  My mother described it was like I would be standing there then my eyes would glaze over and I would no longer respond.  My brother’s description said it best, “Lights are on but nobody’s home.”  I also physically ran away.  I quit jobs rather than face the stress there.  I quit friendships rather than work out differences.  I quit life for several years by cocooning myself in fiction books.  I believe that many situations are best handled by flight.  On Facebook, an inflammatory post just scroll on by.  On the freeway, someone cuts me off just drive on by.  At church, someone says a cutting a remark, ignore and move on by.  I decided many situations the best option is to leave it alone and go on with my life.  The difference is I am making a decision.  Flight as a knee jerk response is not healthy, walking deliberately away is a healthy choice in many situations.  Going no contact with my mother was a deliberate thought out choice that I did not regret.  It brought peace to my life.

Fight – I was stunned when my counselor told me he needed to bring me up to fighting weight.  WHAT?! Sometimes I need to fight?  My counselor purposely provoked me to piss me off and get me angry enough to fight back.  Nope nope nope.  I disappeared and made the anger disappear too.  He was frustrated.  He knew that I needed to be willing to fight for myself.  He knew how hard counseling was going to be.  He knew if I wasn’t willing to fight for myself nobody else would.  He poked and prodded until he found my hot button by accident.  After about 5 months he led me to the clear understanding that I functioned with multiple personalities, some people call it DID.  He asked me which one was real.  Oh wow.  From compliant to Fighting mad in the time to ask the question.  I stiffly replied, “We are all real.”  Yup, he found that I had something to fight for and that something was a someone, me.  I needed that.  I needed that Fight for me attitude.  I needed to stand up for myself.  I needed to see that I am worth fighting for.  This was his goal, to get me to see that I am worth fighting for.  I am important to me.  I didn’t need to be important to anyone else.  I needed to be willing to fight for me.  I was fighting severe depression I truly was in for a fight for my life.  My sister calls it, “You need to David Goggins it”  https://davidgoggins.com/ Sometimes I need to fight.  However, fighting every person around me because they don’t respond they way I want them to is unhealthy.  Picking a fight and starting fights to terminate relationships is not a good idea either.  I knew people that the only way they responded was with a fighting contentious attitude.  I watched daily fights, it rarely if ever solved anything.  Needing to fight sometimes is an interesting balance.  I called it ‘Choose your battles.’  Another way to consider it, you don’t need to attend every fight you are invited to.  Fight as the only response usually leads to negative consequences.  Knowing when the fight is worth it is very individual.

Freeze – If I stop and do nothing, I might not be noticed.  I can’t do wrong if I do nothing.  These statement epitomize the doing nothing attitude but doesn’t cover all the areas.  Other forms of freezing are procrastination, isolating, indecision, brain fog, depression and other ways of using inaction as a form of defense.  Toddlers display it best when they flop on the floor when asked to put away their toys.  Freeze is sneaky and can set in like a Winter frost slowly immobilizing a person until they are doing nothing.  Perhaps it is hiding out in a book or watching endless TV shows or online or a video game or some other distraction that keeps a person from responding in a healthy way to the challenge at hand.  The problem with freeze is some people react by being frantically active and not giving themselves time to pause/rest.  Pause and rest can appear like a freeze so what is different?  A pause or a rest is gathering strength, planning and preparing to carry on again.  Freeze is endless, pause and rest are for a short duration and quite necessary.  Constant frantic activities can be counter productive without a pause to plan and prepare.  I learned that pausing is not freezing.  A break for a video game is not a freeze.  A freeze would be playing video games for hours and hours rather meeting the goals of the day.  I’ve done both so I am learning the difference.

Fawn – Least recognized and probably most misunderstood.  The hard thing about fawning is distinguishing it from service.  I was raised in a culture of giving service is a good thing, so I didn’t recognize that what I was doing was tied to fear of rejection and people pleasing.  My husband tried to point it out but I just didn’t see it.  My counselor helped me sort it out because he explained it in a way that I understood.  Fawning is a debilitating people pleasing that puts the wants of others before your own personal needs.  It can be fueled by the Stockholm affect and the deep desire to be loved by those that you serve…sadly, they hold acceptance out like a carrot and whipped me forward until I risked my own health and that still wasn’t enough.  How I straightened it out is fawning is based in fear and results in an attitude of servitude or even slavery.  Service is based in love and is empowering and a thought out choice.  If I am feeling overwhelmed by what I am being asked to do, I ask myself (same thing my counselor asked me) who is holding a gun to my head?  What is my motivation for what I am doing?  Is what I am doing satisfying a want or a need for me or the other person?  I am ok with doing things for someone else.  I enjoy giving service.  I believe it is one of the keys to a happy life but it is not helpful if I am putting someone else’s wants above my needs.  I need to give when I have something to give.  Being completely depleted is a difficult place to serve others.  One way to view it, I need to fill my bucket before I can fill someone else’s bucket.  I didn’t recognize that the people pleasing behavior was fueled by my wish and desire to be liked.  In this type of behavior, people only like you as long as you do something for them.  If you stop doing for them they go away like yesterday’s snow.  I discovered if a relationship is based on what I can give the other person, stop giving to them and see what happens.  If they go away then it wasn’t really a friendship.  It is hard for me sometimes.  I want to help but my reality is I got a cheap-shot body that never worked very well.  As much as I like doing things, I still have days like yesterday, after a long lunch with family, I came home went straight to bed and slept for 3 hours.  People pleasing is the unhealthy version of service.  Building a foundation of love, self-care, and acceptance of who I am prepares me to give service from a place of strength instead of a place of fear.


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