Fight, flight, freeze

ReConnected Life

I won’t tell a lie, I get lots of my inspiration for these blog posts from within the Community.  It shouldn’t strike me as odd that so many of us don’t know that Freeze is a common trauma response, but it does. Even though I didn’t know either, not until after it had happened to me. And yet, we all know about the rabbit in the headlights, frozen on the spot, unable to move, getting splished by the car.

Apologies for that image. No rabbits have been hurt in the writing of this blog.

So, why do we tend to only talk about the fight or flight response, as though, in the face of danger, there is only a binary choice between two options. You will either fight, or you will run away. If you don’t do either of those things, perhaps you didn’t think there was danger, you must have wanted it.

No. There is not a binary response to trauma.

You will not either fight or run away. You may freeze. You may submit. You may attach. There are 5 – FIVE – traumatic responses.

Your animal brain will decide, in a moment, before conscious thought can get a word in, which response is right for you in the context of what is happening.

If your animal brain decides you might be able to fight your way out of the danger, you might try that first.

If your animal brain decides that running away is your best bet, then you’d find yourself running, or hiding. Often, flight will occur after fight has been attempted. But not always.

If either fighting, or ‘flighting’, are impossible – for example, if you’re a woman, and he’s a stronger, bigger man, and he’s got you pinned down, and you fear for your life – then freeze will be adopted.

Freeze is the most common traumatic response for women.

When you freeze, you will often, but not always, disassociate. You may find yourself watching from a distance away. You may blank everything out. If you stay consciously aware whilst frozen you will experience a feeling of paralysis, unable to move; frozen.

And there are two further responses, talked about even less. You may submit and comply with your attacker’s demands. This is still decided by your clever animal brain, although it is also perfectly rational when the alternative appears to be danger or death. This will generally happen when fight or flight are not available, and something has snapped you out of freeze.

Finally, there is attach. Stockholm Syndrome, if you like. Starting to see the attacker as your saviour too. This will generally emerge after a sustained period of abuse. And you can see how it’s a survival mechanism created by the clever animal brain – to turn the abuse into love.

However your animal brain chose to respond in the face of danger, it was the choice most likely to keep you alive. What happened was not your fault. You could have done nothing else in that moment. You are blameless.

Your animal brain kept you alive.

DSI Stella Gibson, aka Gillian Anderson, in the Fall said it very more eloquently than I can in Season 3, episode 1 (speaking to Tom):

Men always think in terms of fight or flight.

In fact, the most common instinct in the face of this kind of threat is to freeze. If she didn’t cry out, if she didn’t scream, if she was silent and numb, it’s because she was petrified.

If she went with him quietly it’s because she was afraid for her life, and not just her life, yours, and Nancy’s, and the baby’s.

In that state of fear she might well have submitted but that does not mean she consented.

It does not mean you consented.

All the love xx


  1. Erin Fado

    sorry it submitted before I had finished. My blog is dedicated to those who have been sexually abused in childhood and have Complex Ptsd. It is

    I look forward to hearing from you and hope you will consider being a guestblogger.

    Regards Erin

  2. Robert

    I knew of the 3F’s Freeze, fight or flight. As a male I am sure all males uses the 3F’s, Most humans freeze first then decide which will work the best fight, flight, or the second freeze you described.
    My mother was physically and emotionally abusive to me. She required I stand still and not cry as she hit me in the face. Because of her authority over me (attachment) I believed I had no choice but to comply. Attach and comply fit neatly into what is the 2nd freeze behaviors. Clearly children succumb to the same 3F’s.
    Some men fall into all these area as well because of trauma. In war or prison some men are forced to comply with behavior they would not otherwise do and become attached to the perpetrator. I am sure male children abused by a female will find abusive female to be in relationship with, attaching and complying with her wants and needs.
    It is late and I don’t mean to offend, but I have been studying the 3F’s and could not see how one could limited the freeze behavior to females only. If I mistook your intent, forgive me.

    • Emily Jacob

      Hi Robert. Of course, you’re absolutely right, any one of the 5 responses can be experienced by any gender, or any age of person. I didn’t mean to imply it is only women who will experience freeze, although it is the case it is the most common response for women. I’m so sorry for your experience, solidarity xx

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