Am I Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Flop

Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas Matta

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Key Takeaways – Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Flop

  • There are 5 physiological trauma responses – fight flight freeze fawn flop

  • The responses are driven by the sympathetic nervous system

  • The 5 trauma responses of fight flight freeze fawn flop are all useful survival instincts

  •  The flop response is considered the scariest of the 5 trauma responses

  • If you find yourself ‘stuck’ in a trauma response seek professional counseling

5 Trauma Responses of Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Flop


Many of us are familiar with trauma responses, the physiological state your body goes into when faced with immediate danger, having learned such responses from previous traumatic incidents. Ask the average person about immediate trauma responses, and they will likely tell you that there are two options – fight or flight.


While fight or flight are the two most well-known trauma responses, did you know that there are 5 physiological trauma responses – fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and flop? What does each response entail? What does it mean? And how do you know if you are more likely to respond in one way than the others?


Fight vs Flight Trauma Response


Let’s start by looking at what we know: fight and flight. Fight is of course the first response that we think of in these situations, the first part, along with flight, of our human survival instinct dating back thousands of years. While in the modern world a fight response may be employed in an argument rather than a saber-tooth tiger fight, our body reacts the same way that it would have back then.


The sympathetic nervous system triggers the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. If you have a flight response, you might show signs through jaw clenching, desire to punch something, intense anger, crying, glaring at others, and attacking the source of the danger. While this response may be appropriate if you are going into a physical fight, it may be an overreaction to a verbal argument.


The prehistoric alternative to the fight response is the flight response, the belief that instead of fighting the threat in front of you your best chance of survival is to run away from it. The flight response often manifests in the body as excessive energy and a restless body, constant fidgeting, the feeling of being trapped, numbness in hands and feet, dilated and darting eyes, and excessive exercise.


Freeze Trauma Response


Of the other responses to trauma, freeze is probably the most well understood generally – on a base level, the idea that if you don’t move, the danger will not attack you. Although some people going through a freeze response feel as if they cannot move, other signs include a loud and pounding heart, decreasing heart rate, pale skin, a sense of dread, and feelings of being stiff, numb, or heavy.


The fawn response is the response of a pacifier – someone who tries to keep the peace. If you respond with the fawn trauma response, likely, you have already tried and failed in resolving the situation through fight, flight, or freezing response.


Fawners typically grew up in abusive or emotionally unstable households, when agreeing with parents or caregivers was often the best way for children to make sure they were safe. Some fawners have also been victims of abusive relationships in the past. While the fawn response and the people-pleasing that accompanies it are useful to keep the peace at the moment, in the long term it can be damaging to you as if you are a fawner, you put the needs and wellbeing of others above your own needs.


Flop Trauma Response


The flop response can, in some ways, be considered the scariest of the 5 trauma responses. If you have a flop trauma response, you become unresponsive, both mentally and physically, and may even faint.


This of course, in physical and prehistoric senses, could mean presenting yourself to a predator and making yourself easy prey. Fainting is likely to happen when your body becomes overwhelmed by the stress of the apparent danger, and you cannot cope. Some animals ‘play dead’ to avoid being hunted by a predator, but in our 21st-century lives, the closest situation that often causes a flop response in many humans is the sight of blood or needles.

Pros & Cons of Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Flop Responses


Fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and flop responses all have their benefits in the right situations, places, and times. However, in our modern, technologically connected, and often urbanized lives, often these trauma responses are overreactions to the mostly psychological pressures that we find ourselves under.


The 5 responses provide physiological changes in the body that prime you to face a situation under pressure. However, these are mostly designed for a physically stressful situation, such as a saber-tooth tiger trying to attack you, rather than the psychological challenges that you are more likely to face today.


As a result, the sympathetic nervous system is often overwhelmed by the disparity between the stressful situation and the physiological response within the body, which can create or emphasize feelings of anxiety and nervousness. This can be especially jarring, as while a stress response will trigger instantly in a stressful situation, the body’s return to normal can take approximately 20-30 minutes after the apparent danger has passed, which includes response signs such as faster breathing and an adrenaline rush becoming regular again.

Getting Stuck in Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Mode


Some people can become stuck in trauma responses such as fight flight freeze fawn for extended periods, especially those with trauma in their past such as a history of being abused. The extended response and physiological changes can heighten feelings of helplessness, fear, and loss of control that often come from trauma, and as a result, many try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, to try and numb themselves to the trauma they have suffered and soothe the elongated physiological response.


While understandable, if you feel as though you can relate to these scenarios and feelings, it is recommended that you seek out techniques to come with stress responses that don’t involve self-medication. Instead, adopt practices such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, visualization, physical activity, and support from loved ones, in addition to help from medical and mental health professionals where necessary.

Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Flop Definitions


Fight Response Characteristics


  • jaw clenching
  • desire to punch something
  • intense anger
  • crying
  • glaring at others
  • attacking the source of the danger


Flight Response Definition


  • excessive energy
  • restless body
  • constant fidgeting
  • feeling of being trapped
  • numbness in hands and feet
  • dilated and darting eyes
  • excessive exercise


Freeze Response Characteristics


  • feel like you cannot move
  • loud and pounding heart
  • decreasing heart rate
  • pale skin
  • sense of dread
  • feelings of being stiff, numb, or heavy


Fawn Response Definition


  • over-agreeable behavior
  • acting like a pacifier
  • people pleasing
  • need for approval
  • approval seeking behavior


Flop Response Signs


  • presenting yourself to a predator
  • making yourself easy prey
  • overwhelmed by stress
  • fainting
  • playing dead


Freeze vs Fawn Response


Your body’s inability to move or respond to a threat is known as freeze. When your body reacts to stress by going out of its way to appease others in order to prevent conflict this is called Fawn. To lessen, stop, or dodge danger and return to a calm, relaxed condition are the objectives of all 5 trauma responses.


Trauma Responses are Survival Instincts


Ultimately, the 5 trauma responses of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and flop are all very different from each other, yet are all useful survival instincts in humans. However, they are often overwhelming responses to the psychological stressors of modern life. If you are stuck in a trauma response you should seek help and support in relaxational and healing methods rather than self-medication.


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