It’s been bugging me how often I see articles, blogs and other general information on the fight or flight instinct but nothing is mentioned about the freeze instinct. You’d think people would be more knowledgeable, especially since it’s such a well-known instinct in rabbits. Who doesn’t know about rabbits freezing when they see the lights from cars coming towards them. Or about dogs and other animals playing dead when something scares or attacks them. It’s so obviously seen in the animal kingdom so why is it not as well known amongst humans? Baffling.
Fight, flight or freeze.
When a person is confronted with a dire situation the body will have an instinctual reaction, depending on the situation and the way that particular person’s body/mind reacts will determine what instinctual reaction will kick in. For many they will fight with everything they’ve got, either to stop the situation from continuing or to escape. Some will flight, running as fast and as far as possible to get away from the situation. For others they will freeze and hope the situation will either resolve itself or the damage will be minimised.
For a great number of people, the instincts will go through each possibility until it gets to the one which works. For example: when faced with a person who is being aggressive, a person might freeze in the hopes the aggressor will stop, if the aggressor continues or escalates their attack the person may then try to flee (flight), if they are unable to get away or the aggressor becomes physical then the person may then resort to fight. The order of the instincts used may change depending on the person and situation. For many, the instinct used most will be based on their personality and their life experience. For example: a person who’s personality dictates that they would freeze first, might have learnt that doing so makes people more aggressive towards them because of their lack of response and so might have started to fight in order to prevent the aggression getting worse, especially if the fight response does have the necessary response.
Some people might categorise the freeze instinct as a shutdown and the fight instinct as a meltdown. Flight might be included in either of these as some may flee and then shutdown or flee and then meltdown. There is no ‘correct’ response as each instinct will have a different reaction to each situation. Like the rabbit in the headlights analogy, freeze might not be the correct response if the driver doesn’t see it whereas freezing might be the ‘correct’ response if the driver does see the rabbit and decides to swerve to avoid it. If the rabbit flees and the driver swerves the two might collide. We have to use our best judgement as far as we are able to control the response, often though, we are unable to control which instinct is used. At least if we can understand how our bodies and minds work and the principle behind the fight, flight and freeze instinct then we can work to either change our instincts or at least understand why we do the things we do.