Flight, fight, freeze or fawn.
In the 1920s, a physiologist named Walter cannon described what he called the acute stress response, fight or flight. Over the years, this has been continued to be studied.
If your subconscious believes you can conquer the danger, your body jumps into fight mode. If you believe there’s no hope, you might take flight run away. If you think you can not win by fight or flight, you may freeze. Fawn is when those three don’t work, or you find the best way to protect yourself is to go along with it and try to win over the person who’s trying to abuse you.
When you’ve left a narcissist, a lot of those around you, that haven’t experienced it may not understand or may question why you didn’t leave sooner. You may be still questioning yourself, and their response isn’t helping. You may still be feeling fear, shame, alienation, rage and grief, or depression, anxiety.
You may now have CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder. This is an attachment disorder. It is a psychological disorder, which can happen to your child and yourself when you’ve been exposed to repeated interpersonal trauma.
After a narcissistic relationship, the triggers can easily arise, from flashbacks to a noise that triggers you.
Humans basic biological needs is for safety and security. If this is compromised because of either spiritual, physical, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, this forces your inner defence mechanism to find a way to escape what is happening to you. To avoid the situation that’s happening around you and try to control it within yourself.
When people who haven’t suffered the manipulative trauma, they don’t always understand it or put themselves in your shoes.
When you’ve been repeatedly let down, ignored, made to think things that happened didn’t. Something that didn’t happen did, not knowing what you’ve done wrong, words always twisted to your fault, and so much more. As it’s so slow and so underhanded, with a sudden reappearance of the person you met, to them go back to the mental abuse, people in the situation don’t see it, even when they know somethings not right, With the narcissist’s manipulation, you are left thinking it’s you. So full of self-doubt and little self-worth. You believe it’s all your fault.
Your subconscious kicks in to protect yourself in these situations. You try certain things, as does the child, to see if it works. If it got the attention you craved even for a short time, or it stopped the abuse for a short while, it becomes a habit. You might end up with a few as there are so many things a narcissist will do for you to protect yourself against.
You could respond to the stress in one of four ways.
When we experience stress or trauma, our body automatically gravitates to one. If a car suddenly comes towards you, you might like to think you’d run ( flight ), or you may panic and stand still ( freeze )
Children that spend a lot of time around a narcissist will carry these into adulthood. If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, you may carry them with you for a while afterwards. You will have used one of these four or sometimes all four to protect yourself against the narcissist. When you carry them with you close to the surface, it can cause problems.
These are either learned behaviours from growing up with a narcissist parent or having a relationship with a narcissist as an adult. What you did whilst you was with the narcissist is not a weakness or a flaw within yourself. You did what you needed to do in order to survive. The best news is as it’s learned behaviour, you can now unlearn it.
Whatever your situation was. However, you responded, is no better or worse than any other response, as you needed to protect yourself and respond. It’s ok to escape sometimes. It’s ok to zone out. It’s ok to fight back. It’s ok to try and be kinder. With a narcissist, you may have done all of these.
Fight types of reactions. We are all capable of this. It’s our inner instinct to protect ourselves. The narcissist is actually driven by this, usually due to some form of childhood trauma.
You’re going to feel defensive around those who are offensive.
( narcissistic people are extremely self-centred with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.)
In the begging, you may fight, cry, feel like punching something, glare at the narcissist and talk angrily, feel like stomping, feel intense anger. You were doing it to protect yourself from any given situation you were in with the narcissist. Which the narcissist will use against you, so you believe they are correct when they blame you.
Flight types subconsciously believe that perfection will make them loved and safe,
Flight means you’ll try to outrun the trauma by,
Abuse stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, cocaine, cannabis etc.
When your in flight mode, your legs may be restless, feeling numb, constantly moving legs or feet, continually cleaning, you’re tense. You feel trapped.
Freeze types, subconsciously disconnect, to stop experiencing the pain,
Running away from problems,
Lack of ambition,
When you freeze, you may have a sense of dread. You feel exhausted. You’re sick most of the time, have trouble doing normal day to day things.
Fawn, subconsciously seeking safety by meeting the narcissist demands and needs,
Over listening to what others say,
Slave to others.
Loss of self,
You become compliant and helpful, meeting the narcissist demands for fear of reactions.
To recover from these, you do need to grieve, cry, scream shout, just let it all out, start reclaiming your assertiveness.
You may be suffering from anxiety. I have a few posts on what this is and how you can help yourself recover.
The mental disorders associated with responses
Fight type: Narcissism.
Flight type: obsessive-compulsive disorder,
Freeze type: dissociative disorder.
Fawn type: codependency.
So those who question after if you were the narcissist. Not if you have empathy and cared to try and help, you just went into, fight-flight, freeze and fawn mode, subconsciously to protect yourself, now it’s time to unlearn those that you taught yourself to use on a daily basis. So you could protect yourself from the narcissist manipulation.
You can, and you will recover from this.
Fight, flight, freeze, fawn.
Signs of a narcissist.
Click on the links below to join Elizabeth Shaw – Life Coach on social media, for more information on Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse.