Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fawn Survival Response To Narcissistic Abuse.

In the 1920s, a psychologist named Walter Canon described what he called the acute stress response of fight or flight. Over the years, this had been studied more, and they’ve added freeze and fawn.

Narcissistic abuse puts us under extreme and repeated stress; therefore, our subconscious survival mechanism can kick in to protect ourselves, which helps in the short-term not so good in the long-term.

Narcissists use covert manipulation, their hidden behaviours, such as gaslighting, triangulation, denying their behaviour, exaggerating our behaviour, blame-shifting, invalidation, ignoring, devaluing, isolating us, this all causes us stress and leaves us with issues such as CPTSD, anxiety, codependency, trauma bonding, physical and mental health problems.

Humans have a basic biological need for safety and security. If this is compromised because of 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.

When living under stressful situations, our minds go all out to protect ourselves, which can prompt our adrenal glands to release chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, which increases the heart rate, which increases our blood pressure which causes us so many physical illnesses, it’s difficult to see what’s happening towards when we can see we’ve got physical illnesses. Still, we can’t recognise it’s those that claim to love and care about us that are causing these issues within us through their manipulation.

Fight responses are often very similar to a narcissists behaviour, those passive-aggressive behaviours of the sulking and the silent treatment, so the aggressiveness in the controlling behaviour is switching from nasty to nice, becoming over-demanding, a sense of entitlement, bullying other people, shaming other people, demanding perfection, sociopath, we might react in a fight survival mode to the situation we are in around a narcissist, standing up for ourselves, to which a narcissist will use against us to claim our reactions are the problem, when it’s their abuse that’s the problem, when we go into that mode it doesn’t make us a narcissist it means our bodies have gone into the survival response of fight. We need to get out of that situation so that we can find who we are again.

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, prove 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.

Fawn is when people begin to people please, end up with a loss of identity, those codependent behaviours, lack of boundaries, feeling guilty, looking to others for opinions, ignoring their own beliefs, questioning their own truth people go into the fawn survival mode in order to protect themselves they fear their abuses reactions. Therefore they fawn to the behaviour of their abuser, believing it will protect them.

When in the survival fawn mode. 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.

We can often 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.

When in flight survival mode, people can become obsessive. They can become hyperactive. They can run away from their problems by developing things such as OCD. They can start hoarding items, having compulsive rituals, they can start having more panic attacks, rushing around, worrying a lot, have a sense of drivenness when that adrenaline kicks in to keep them addicted to something to avoid the situation they are in using stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, drugs, alcohol, a sense of restlessness.

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.

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 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.

When in the freeze survival mode, people can start to procrastinate a lot. They can try to run away from their problems by not dealing with their problems. They can become depressed, start daydreaming, lack ambition, become extremely tired, isolate themselves from the world, become disassociated from the world and disconnect from it, dread events, feeling exhausted, have trouble completing tasks.

When you freeze, you may have a sense of dread, you feel exhausted, and you’re sick most of the time, have trouble doing typical 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 mind that you are lucky to have them, not seeing they are the very person making you feel the way you do.

Many of these are symptoms of other things, so when we go to the doctors because we’re feeling exhausted, we can just think that it’s day-to-day life and day-to-day stresses we don’t recognise the stress we are living under due to being around a narcissistic person on the survival mode that we have gone into in order to protect ourselves people then go to try and find treatment for the physical problems rather than getting to the root cause of the problem which is being around a narcissist.

When people are manipulating you in such a way that you cannot see what they are doing to you, you’re not going to be aware of how their behaviour is affecting you, which is why more often than not, we don’t see what’s happened to us when we are in the eye of the storm we only know once we are out of it and start joining the pieces together joining the dots together and recognising precisely what we have been through and start building a new life for ourselves again.

When we are in the survival mode, one of the first things we need to do to recover from this is to remove the source of our pain remove the source of our problem, which is why it’s always recommended to go no contact with a narcissist, not always possible in which case it needs to be limited contact and grey rock, then starting to discover who you are again, beginning things to discover your passions, your dreams of what you want to do with your life, one way to discover who you are as a person is what makes you smile what gives you joy, what do you enjoy talking about, what hobbies did you enjoy, what things do you find interesting and start working on the way to start doing those things again for you.

You can, and you will recover from this.

Trauma bonding.

Our response to narcissists behaviour.


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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.

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