I bet most of you have heard of the fight/flight response. You know – you think you can overpower your attacker, you fight. You think they can overpower you, you run. And various versions of flee or stand your ground responses in between.
But have you heard of the third F?
I asked a client if they knew what the 3rd F was after they’d pretty much described the 3rd F behaviour. To my absolute delight, they responded “F**ked?”
Boy did I laugh.
Turns out that client was perfectly right.
The 3rd F is technically called Freeze. We freeze when we think we have neither the strength to fight or the speed to outrun and the only option is to freeze. This involves the hope we won’t be seen if we’re completely still and hardly breathing. Or the hope that playing dead will take away the fun of the chase. In other words we think we’re f**ked.
Another thing that’s suggested with the Freeze response is that our body takes us into a dissociated state where we switch off from what’s going on around us and numb the pain that we believe is coming.
You can imagine if you were cornered by a wild, savage beast, salivating at the idea of eating your flesh. No way to fight, no way to run. Best option: check out. Feel as little pain as possible. Play dead and hope it gets bored.
Obviously this all sounds quite extreme but if we have the Freeze response as our main go to, we will use it in far less life threatening situations. Have you ever been put on the spot and completely frozen – not known what to say? Not been able to move from the spot? That’s a mild version of the Freeze response.
How about when someone’s yelling at you and despite being pretty sharp witted you can’t find anything to say? That’s a mild version of the Freeze response.
If you feel like you slip into the freeze response easily, it might be time to start doing some things to settle your nervous system . It can also help to start listing the symptoms of Freeze so you can identify when you’re there. Then you can start to talk yourself through the situations that trigger it. “Is it really life threatening when someone yells at me? Yes it reminds of this …… But in the present moment there is no terrible danger”.
If it’s something that plagues you, there’s a good chance you have something you found traumatic that isn’t resolved. And that will probably require seeing a therapist.