When life doesn’t go according to plan, our first response will often be one of fear. Unfortunately, life generally never goes according to plan – so we encounter fear a lot!
Since fear cannot be avoided, we need to develop tools to cope with it so that we can allow it a constructive space in our lives, and not let it be a destructive force if left unchecked.
Hopefully, this brief article can spark conversations that will help us all learn to fight the fear in our daily lives and begin to explore our own unique reactions a little closer.
This blog is how we recognise our stress responses to fear, accept them and move past them.
If you ask most people what the typical responses to fear are, they may reply with ‘Fight or Flight’. But what many of us don’t know is that there are two more responses, these are Freeze and Fawn. None of these are good or bad, they’re just typical responses that we lean towards to cope with our fear.
With the help of trauma-informed treatment specialist, Patrick Walden, (LICSW), here are some brief overviews that he shared in an interview with The Mighty.
Those of us who tend toward the fight response innately believe power will guarantee the security and control that we may have lacked in childhood.
“Fight looks like self-preservation at all costs,” Walden told The Mighty, adding that this trauma response can manifest in explosive outbursts of temper, aggressive behavior, demanding perfection from others or being “unfair” in interpersonal confrontations.
He also noted that while we typically associate the fight response with men, women can also struggle with anger, though in many cases they direct their anger inward at themselves instead of toward others.
Recognising our default response to be angry will help us temper this response and create space to calm down before making any decisions or hurting people around us unnecessarily.
This fear response usually shows up in people who are chronically busy and perfectionistic. They may believe “being perfect” is a surefire way to receive love and prevent abandonment by important people in their lives.
“Flight can look like obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior, feelings of panic or anxiety, rushing around, being a workaholic or over-worrying, [and being] unable to sit still or feel relaxed,” Walden said.
Taking time to meditate and reduce anxiety is helpful for those of us who tend towards this type of response.
Some of us who experience the freeze response are often mistrustful of others and generally find comfort in solitude. The freeze response may also refer to feeling physically or mentally “frozen” as a result of trauma, which people may experience as dissociation.
“Freeze looks like spacing out or feeling unreal, isolating [yourself] from the outside world, being a couch potato … [and having] difficulty making and acting on decisions,” Walden said.
If you feel like this when fear hits, having a few people you trust and can encourage you to take action would be helpful to overcoming your fears.
Fawning is perhaps best understood as “people-pleasing.” According to Walker, who coined the term “fawn” as it relates to trauma, people with the fawn response are so accommodating of others’ needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships.
“Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”
If you’re a ‘YES’ person and struggle to enforce boundaries, remind yourself that it’s okay to say ‘NO’ and put yourself first. If you don’t work on yourself you will have nothing to give others in times of crisis.
Remember, we will all experience fear – every day in fact. Most of the time the fear that we experience is easy to cope with, but when fear becomes debilitating we need to bring it in check so that we can move forward and not find ourselves stuck in our fear or reacting in fear.