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.
Narcissistic Abuse puts our minds into extreme states of stress and confusion when we are living under stress. Our minds try to find ways to cope with protecting ourselves from the abuse. Often it’s our subconscious survival mechanisms that kick in, which helps in the short term. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help in the long term. Once in the fight, flight, freeze or fawn survival mode, a narcissist will then twist our survival instincts and use these against us. Often why, the real victim feels like they are to blame and does all they can to change and please the abuser. Only once out, can the survivor being learning the truth of reality and unlearn coping mechanisms that no longer serve them.
If your subconscious believes you can conquer a danger, your body jumps into fight mode. If you believe there’s no hope, you might run away in flight mode. If you think you can not win by fight or flight, you may freeze. Fawn is when those three don’t work, so you find the best way to protect yourself is by unwittingly going along with it, give up and agreeing to the very person who’s abusing you for fear of what could happen to you if you stood up for yourself.
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.
As well as the manipulation that has been so covertly hidden from you and slowly becoming more regular. From being Gaslighted into losing your own reality and sanity to being provoked, and thus reacting, then the narcissist downplaying or denying their behaviour and exaggerating your behaviour, placing all the blame onto you, so you believe everything is your fault, those hideous Silent treatments when you had no idea what you did wrong, yet still apologised to them, to end your inner pain, even though you didn’t truly understand what you were apologising for.
You may now have CPTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and this is an attachment disorder. It is a psychological disorder, which can happen to you and your children when you’ve been exposed to repeated interpersonal trauma by a narcissist.
After a narcissistic relationship, those triggers of the painful past can quickly arise, from flashbacks to a noise that triggers you.
Humans have a basic biological need for safety and security. If this is compromised because of either spiritual, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, any real or perceived threat of abuse or danger, 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.
With people who haven’t suffered the manipulation trauma, they don’t always understand it.
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 nice person when the narcissist offers intermittent re idealisation of you, to then go back to the mental abuse, people in the situation don’t see it, even when they know something is not right, With the narcissists’ manipulation, you are left to think it’s you. So full of self-doubt and little self-worth. You genuinely believe it’s all your fault.
Abuse is abuse, and it’s NOT your fault.
Your subconscious kicks in to protect yourself in these situations. You try certain things, as does a child of a narcissist. To see if it works. If it got the nice 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 find ways to protect yourself against.
Living in constant fear or stress, our bodies release adrenaline￼ and cortisol. Over a prolonged period of time, our bodies become addicted to the abuse. You are weaning yourself off a drug, why at the beginning of recovery, our minds can the look for problems or fear, to release those chemicals, not understanding, this uncomfortable life is making us feel more comfortable, even though it’s uncomfortable. What we need to do is face the painful reality, work through the pain, and find positive things to release those chemicals while we slowly wean ourselves off them.
- Trying new sports.
- Saying hello to a stranger.
- Starting new hobbies.
- Apply for that job.
- Go for the interview.
Not all at once take things at a pace to suit you; you’re trying to decrease the cortisol and adrenaline to an average level.
When in highly stressful situations, you could respond to the stress in one of four ways.
When we experience stress or trauma, our body’s automatically gravitate 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 of a narcissist can carry these into adulthood. If you’ve been in any form of 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 within other areas of your life or other relationships.
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 while you were with a narcissist is not a weakness or a flaw within yourself. You did what you needed to do in order to survive. The best thing is, as it’s learned behaviour, you can now unlearn it.
Also, 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, and 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.
When we go into fight, flight, freeze or fawn, the narcissist can then continually use us against ourselves, and when we become trapped in this mindset, they can use our response in their smear campaigns against us.
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, they live the rest of their lives in fight mode.
Even the best of people can be driven to their limits of depths of despair and fight back. Yet often feel guilt afterwards
Narcissistic people are incredibly self-centred with an exaggerated sense of self-importance and little to no empathy towards others. They will not feel remorse for the things they do. They’ll just blame it on all others.
Fight response are.
Overly demanding behaviours.
In the begging, you may fight, cry, feel like punching something, glare at the narcissist and talk angrily, feel like stomping, feel intense anger, say something negative back. Often called Reactive abuse. No, it’s not right. Yet, 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.
Most of those who went to fight mode, often believe they could be the narcissist once out of the relationship, because of their behaviour within the relationship, for example, because you might have once spent so much of your time around them when they stop spending time with you. You have a feeling that they are cheating. You might have been the one to start arguments or beg for attention. Not because you’re a narcissist, because you wanted the very person who was causing you pain to end the suffering and be honest with you, proved they still cared, as your instincts were telling you they didn’t care.
Due to the Trauma Bond, once you’re that far in the relationship, it’s hard to see what’s truly happening and walk free, or if it was your parent, you never knew any different. You feel guilty, walking away from the person who raised you, even though they harm you, as often there’s no physical harm, it’s hard to see.
Even with physical violence, theirs so much self-doubt, fear and paranoia, within ourselves, we dare not leave or speak against them.
Flight types unconsciously 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, alcohol etc.
When you’re in flight mode, your legs may be restless, continually moving legs or feet, continually cleaning, you’re tense, you feel trapped.
As the reality of your living becomes more unbearable, as you slowly lose control of your thoughts and emotions, we can try to gain control in other areas of our lives to feel a sense of significance or control. Certainty and uncertainty are part of Tony Robbins basic human needs.
So when our relationship seems so uncertain at times, we can then pick up obsessive behaviour to claim back some form of certainty. This can be down to routines and feeling out of balance if you sway from your routine. To excessive exercise, and not in a healthy way. Or constantly calling or messaging the narcissist, which they will twist around onto you for being “insecure.” Even though you have every right to feel insecure as their behaviour is sending you that way, yet they can constantly message and call you and demand you to answer. Yet, they do this to instil fear in you. You do it for love and connection to another human need.
We meet love and connection by caring for others, being close to, and communicating with others. The narcissist meets it by using others, intimidating others.
This is when we can unconsciously disconnect from what’s happening to us, stopping experiencing the pain,
Running away from problems.
Lack of ambition.
When you freeze, you may have a sense of dread, you feel exhausted, and you’re sick most of the time, have trouble doing normal day to day things.
This is perfect for the narcissist to use against you.
A narcissist often wants you isolated from support. They will often use Triangulation to divide and conquer people. When you’ve gone into the human survival mechanism of freeze, you’re often left with anxiety, and not wanting to speak to those around you, feeling depressed and unable to take care of yourself, consciously tired, often coming down with illness after illness, as your body and mind are completely drained fighting daily battles within the mind.
Then when the narcissist tells you that you are not good enough, your behaviour is now matching their words, often why when they say, “You’re lucky to have me.” Or “No one will love you as I do.” You believe within your own mind that you are lucky to have them, not seeing they are the very person making you feel the way you do.
Then comes the narcissist’s Smear campaigns to those around you. Most often, the narcissist will not self-reflect. They will not look back to see the part they played, they’ll not overthink or analyse the situation, they’ll just see it as, you’ve stopped taking care of them, and that you have indeed gone crazy. They will then play the hero, telling all others how they’ve tried to help you, also play the victim on how badly you’ve treated them. As you might have gone into fight mode at some point snapping at them in front of others, or you are finding it hard to take care of yourself, your behaviour then match’s the narcissists’ words to you and to others, causing that Cognitive Dissonance within your own mind, where you are living two different realities, the one you live due to the narcissists’ manipulation, the one the narcissist is telling you that you are living, and how you’re acting, yet nothing is adding up, because there’s a mismatch in the story—living in a state of confusion. You deep down know it’s them, yet your beliefs become confused from how you are acting, and you feel completely lost within yourself. Often feeling scared, fear or ashamed, the person you go to for help and support is the narcissist, the very person who’s trying to sink you, as you don’t believe others would understand you, as it all sounds so unbelievable within your own mind. The narcissist will then uses how you’re feeling to bring you further down.
Unconsciously seeking safety by meeting the narcissists’ 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.
You might be all smiles and giggles to the outside world, trying to hide how you really feel, for fear of reaction from the narcissist.
Often we can then become an unwitting enabler to the narcissist’s hideous treatment of others, not understanding the full picture, not knowing the whole story, as the narcissist will only ever tell you what they want you to hear.
We learn to do all we can do to please the narcissist, for fear of reactions if we step out of line, learning to walk on eggshells around them.
Slowly losing out values and beliefs and listening to what the narcissist tells us we should or should not do, doubting ourselves more, and taking their opinions on as our own.
Begging them, when they’ve promised to do something and fail to deliver, we can then plead with them, while they will then gaslight us all the more, saying, “I never said that.” Again leaving us questioning ourselves and reality.
To recover from these, you do need to grieve, cry, scream, shout, just let it all out, start reclaiming your assertiveness.
The link for trauma bonding and how to help yourself if you’re looking for more information at the end.
You may be suffering anxiety, The link on how this happens and methods to help you recover, at the end.
The mental disorders associated with responses
Fight type: Narcissism.
Flight type: obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Freeze type: dissociative disorder.
Fawn type: codependency.
If you went into fight mode, that means while around someone who is narcissistic, you became narcissistic to protect yourself. This does not mean you have the disorder.
So those who question after if you were the narcissist. No, you have empathy and care to try and help. You just went into fight-flight, freeze and fawn mode, deep within your subconscious to protect yourself. Now it’s time to unlearn those that you taught yourself to survive on a daily basis. So you could protect yourself from the narcissist manipulation.
You can, and you will recover from this.
Click the links below to join, Elizabeth Shaw – Life Coach on social media, for more information on Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse.
The online courses available by Elizabeth Shaw.
For the full course.
For the free course.
To help with overcoming the trauma bond and anxiety course.
All about the narcissist Online course.
The narcissists counter-parenting.
Elizabeth Shaw is not a Doctor or a therapist. She is a mother of five, a blogger, a survivor of narcissistic abuse, and a life coach, She always recommends you get the support you feel comfortable and happy with. Finding the right support for you. Elizabeth has partnered with BetterHelp (Sponsored.) where you will be matched with a licensed councillor, who specialises in recovery from this kind of abuse.