Combinations of The Fight, Flight, Please-Appease, and Freeze Survival Responses

Keywords: Fight flight.

Survival responses of fight, flight, please-appease, and finally freeze often come in combinations. Furthermore, some of these combinations will be more hardwired for you than others.

You might habitually default to a please-appease response first, when being triggered or put under stress, and when that isn’t effective you might default to anger to try to power through a particular confrontation or situation.

When neither pleasing nor fighting seem to be productive—and you remain overwhelmed—you might finally go into a shutdown state.

In this example you have a combination of flight-fight and then freeze.

Fight, Flight, Please-Appease, & Freeze Examples

These combinations of survival responses are honed through repeated exposure to abuse or neglect.You might even have several combinations that work for you depending on different situations and the people involved.

Perhaps as a child with an overtly abusive parent you tried to please-appease first, then took flight if the abuse continued, and finally retreated in a shutdown-freeze response when the first two responses didn’t work for you.

These combinations of survival responses are honed through repeated exposure to abuse or neglect.You might even have several combinations that work for you depending on different situations and the people involved.

The Combination of Fight, Flight, Pleasing, and Freeze

You see that a number of variations are possible, and they all largely depend on the environment that you grew up in and how you adapted to deal with people and situations.

You will often find that you have one dominant pattern of combinations, and several less dominant survival combinations.

The variation of combinations are:

  1. Fight first, flight second, then freeze;
  2. Flight first, fight second, then freeze;
  3. Please-appease first, flight second, then freeze;
  4. Fight first, please-appease second, then freeze;
  5. Please-appease first, fight second, then freeze; or
  6. Flight first, please-appease second, then freeze.

Creating a Variable to Counter Reenactment

It would be a good exercise to determine what is the dominant pattern that you act out habitually. You could reflect on how you act out—when triggered or activated—with your kids, partner, or in a work environment.

When you can identify your main pattern, you can then start to work on it by becoming more aware of the pattern itself.

That awareness creates a variable—a window in time where you might be able to see that you are reenacting a pattern that is hardwired and that had use when you were young—but that might be creating more damage right here-now, in the present moment.

Differentiating in Time to Break the Bond to Your Past

Your hardwired pattern can start to loosen up the moment that some of that energy charge flows into awareness.

When that happens, you are starting to differentiate between then-there—the past where the abuse happened—and here-now, where you might be reenacting a pattern even though you have other tools available.

That differentiation helps you to hold the space for yourself, for that part of you that is still hurting.

Allowing Emotional Residue to Flow into Awareness

When you repeatedly apply this awareness and allow yourself to feel through the hurt, the anger, the pain, the sadness, the lack of loving and assurance, you are re-parenting that younger you.

In time, you will also see that you have other survival combinations—apart from the most dominant one—that you used in other situations or with other people.

In general, you have one main default survival pattern, and two to three lesser combinations that you need to work on and through.

The Strengths of Your Survival Fight, Flight, Please-Appease Responses

As a final note, each of your survival patterns, once contained, also carry with them their strengths:

A healthy please-appease response, once contained, integrated, and when you have sufficient boundaries, can express itself as empathy and sensitivity.

A flight response, once contained, can give you sharpness, alertness, discernment, and excitement.

A healthy fight response, once contained, can give you motivation, healthy boundaries, the will to do things and get things done, healthy self-esteem, and self-worth.

How did this article resonate with you, and what is your default combination of flight, flight, please-appease before freeze?

  • Do you want to reduce anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and being “ON” alert constantly?
  • Do you want to move out of a dissociated, fatigued and depressed state?
  • Do you want to work with anger and reestablishing boundaries?
  • Are you interested in sleeping better, having better relationships, and being able to live a normal life?

I have created The Trauma Care Audio Guided Meditations which address the most fundamental insights into the processes of trauma and dissociation and how you can work through them.

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