The PTSD Flight Response, Apathy & Neglect

The flight response is much more hidden than the fight or please-appease response.

Some of the characteristics of a flight response might be that you tend to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable situations, which might further lead you into escapism and seclusion.

The Flight Response as Survival

Each response is based on optimizing your survival chances and preserving your sense of self; furthermore, each response—be it fight, flight, or please—is often adopted in childhood and honed through repeated experiences that were upsetting to you.

Hence, your particular survival response becomes hardwired.

Some of the characteristics of a flight survival response might be that you tend to avoid confrontation or uncomfortable situations, which might further lead you into escapism and seclusion.

A flight response can seem to be the least harmful response at first—when you were a child—but can grow into a serious handicap as an adult.

Invalidation, Escapism and Avoidance

When you are constantly avoiding situations, or escape whenever you are under pressure, you will fail to set boundaries with others, which results in an invalidation of your sense of self.

That lack of validation then needs to be constantly counteracted by spending a lot of time alone, in order to get back a sense of containment and sense of self; this leads to further isolation.

Anxiety might also be an outcome of this lack of boundaries when the escapism persists.

The Flight-Freeze Response and Neglect

The trouble doesn’t just stop there.

While I can see a lot of benefits to the flight response in terms of avoiding stupidity or by not engaging with someone who is having a self-righteous monologue and discourse, the flight response can also result in you being (or appearing to be) indifferent, apathetic, and neglectful.

It is likely that when you are repeatedly confronted with an overwhelming environment—both in the past and present—you will exhibit a mixture of the flight-freeze response. This will result in your not just avoiding confrontation, but again in potentially becoming indifferent, apathetic, and neglectful.


This is a serious concern!

Seeing the Flight Response for What It Is

Being constantly in flight mode as a parent will result in your not being able to be accountable for your responsibilities as a parent. The same might apply in a working environment or in maintaining a relationship.

This isn’t said to put you on a guilt trip. We are describing the difficulties and patterns of the flight or flight-freeze response and we need be aware first of how detrimental this response can become in the long run.

When you are willing to see this response for what it is and the harm that it does, without further going into guilt, shame, or blame with it, you can then start to work on it.

Balancing Out Your Survival Responses

You will always have one or the other of the survival responses more strongly present. If you tend to be a flight-type personality, you will have to start to see the dangers and pains that it causes.

Once you are willing to start to do that—and it is a process of growing your awareness of this response—you can then ask yourself which response you might not be acting on sufficiently.

As with the please-appease response, when you overdo the flight response, you will likely not be exhibiting or lacking a healthy fight response.

It is by pushing back, holding your ground, setting your boundaries, taking responsibility, voicing yourself that you can start to balance out your lopsided flight response and work towards more health and equilibrium.

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  • Anna says:

    The way you have explained this is so very helpful, thank you.
    I am so attached to my flight/freeze reactions that it feels like it is my identity / personality. It feels like a daunting task to have to change this… but I know that I do have to. It is scary but I have no choice as the approach I have been taking so far is killing me. I need to be ok with people not liking me, and to be prepared to deal with the aggression in others. I hope I can achieve this.

  • Argnesh Rose says:

    Hi Roland, I have been using your trauma care meditations, and suggesting them to friends and clients. It is the only mindfulness meditation I am able to follow due to complex relational and medical trauma. It works really well for me in combination with Internal Family Systems therapy, or parts work. Your understanding and tracking of trauma response is very useful. thank you.

  • Christine says:

    This article is spot-in. Denial, as an adult, doesn’t achieve anything, so it’s very helpful to see how this response plays out in life. One can then look at what needs to be done to change. Thanks Roland

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