July 30, 2022

E377: Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn | CPTSD and Trauma Healing Coach

Listen to the full episode at On Today's Episode: I wanted to go into this deeper because I think it's really important, especially right now, where hyper-vigilance is probably as high as it's ever been, where people are struggling each day....
See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/e377-fight-flight-freeze-and-fawn-cptsd-and-trauma-healing-coach/#show-notes

Listen to the full episode at https://www.ThinkUnbrokenPodcast.com

On Today's Episode:

I wanted to go into this deeper because I think it's really important, especially right now, where hyper-vigilance is probably as high as it's ever been, where people are struggling each day, and where you're consuming this information because you want to have a different outcome.

One of the most interesting things about the human response to stressors is that we have a fight flight freeze or fawn mechanism that is effectively built into us for survival.

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So, as you may know, one of the most interesting things about the human response to stressors is that we have a fight flight freeze or fawn mechanism that is effectively built into us for survival.

And I wanted to go into this a little bit deeper than I have previously, or maybe you've known because I think it's really important. Especially right now where hyper vigilance is probably as high as it's ever been, where people are struggling each day and where you're consuming this information because you want to have a different outcome.

You know, one of the things I think is really important first and foremost is to recognize that this response fight flight freeze fawn is effectively your body's natural reaction to danger, it just is. And it's that reaction that actually is so primordial and so animalistic in us that it is one of the first systems in our bodies to develop. It does that so that we can survive stressful situations, right? It's effectively a stress response and we all evaluate stress differently, I mean, stress could be a door slamming, it could be someone, you know, coming close to cutting you off in traffic, dogs barking, people crying, it could be conflict at work. There are so many different things, but you know, it is as old as any of our ancestors are. Right. I mean, it's literally primordial. And one of the things that's important to know is that it's an active, defensive response, right? Especially if you are in fight or flight, because that is the place in which survival becomes imminent, right? And fight or flight specifically is physiological response. And so, you will find things like your heart rate gets faster and you might get tunnel vision, and that's because your heart is literally pumping blood to your extremities. In a fighting situation, your legs and your arms, your head need to be able to move quickly in a running or flight situation, your legs and your arms you have to be able to run, sprint away, get away from the perceived danger. And as you do this, one of the things that happens is you kind of are in this place where you're on this one side, where you're in this place of hyper, for lack of a better way to phrase that mobility, where you're trying to escape. And the other side is the freeze and fawn, and this is immobility and this is also a physiological change in your body. But what happens here is you effectively break down, but if you may hear the term playing possum, right? That's kind of what's going on here. This reaction, it actually begins in your amygdala and this is the part of your brain responsible for fear, right? Perceiving fear. And the amygdala responds by sending signals to your hypothalamus which stimulates your nervous system. And in your nervous system, you have your autonomic nervous system, right? Now, two sides of this, you have your sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is really what steps you into fight or flight. The parasympathetic nervous system actually is a little bit more on the freeze and fawn side. And these two systems, you have one for alertness and wellbeing and you have the other one for rest and digest.

Parasympathetic what I always try to teach people is to think about parachute. And so parasympathetic, parachute, survival, safety, rest, digest, recover. Now what happens is either way, your nervous system is stimulated. You're going to release adrenaline and cortisol, and these are stress and cortisol obviously is a stress hormone. And these are going to impact your heart rate, your oxygen, your eyes, your ears, your blood, even, your skin, your feet, your hands, the perception of pain, like if you've ever had your adrenaline pumping. Like, let's say for instance, you played sports or you were in a car accident and your adrenaline's pumping out of control. Well, you know, the thing that happens is that, you actually perceive pain differently in that time because your body is in emo of survival.

I remember one time I'd broken my foot playing basketball, but my adrenaline was so high that it wasn't until probably about two hours later where I realized I had seriously injured myself. And it turns out that injury actually required surgery. I was on crutches for, I wanna say like seven or eight weeks. And so, that's one of those things that happens when your body has these physiological responses

Now, when you look at this, fear is something that is both a survival mechanism for us; for us to understand the world. It's also something that can keep us stuck. And when our brain thinks we are in danger, it's assessing the situation to determine whether or not it's life threatening, and this could be anything, right? This could even be people crossing the street. The brain is assessing and going, okay, am I in danger? This could be, you know, again, the door slamming, dogs on the street, it could feel it could be all kinds of different things. And body at that moment, your brain and your body together are trying to make meaning.

I've shared this before.

The number one service of the brain is survival, only followed by making meaning so effectively this nervous system is always operating in both of these. Now, one of the hard parts about this is that these systems can actually be hyperactive and overactive. And I'm assuming you're listening to this and you're in these courses and you're a part of the Think Unbroken Community. You probably had traumatic experiences in your life.

Now traumatic events can exacerbate the stress response and it often creates a recurring pattern. And this especially becomes recurring if you are not going and doing the things that you need to do to understand the heal, recover, make meanings so on and so forth.

And so, this could be lot of different responses, starting through trauma based on things like CPTSD, physical sexual assault, accidents, even just really stressful life events. It can be through anxiety and a lot of different things. And so, I will always preach awareness. I will always preach no by itself because often, sometimes we are getting triggered, it's running through our nervous system, and now we're in this flight flight freeze fawn response to some things that actually are not fear based or danger based. And so, it's very, very, very important that you understand how you get into that situation to begin with. Some of it is ingrained, like if you're in the woods and there's a bear, you want that to happen, you want your body to be able to react quickly, to be able to move through this situation to fight, fight, freeze fawn, because there's a bear in the woods. If you're just walking down the street and a stranger is passing you, now, you're in this place of hypervigilant. I was in this place for a long time. A lot of the people I coach have been in this place or are in this place and were working through it. I used to walk down the street with my keys between my knuckles, hyper vigilant fight or flight. And the reason why is because of a lot of the abuse and suffering that I had as a kid.

And so, I always perceived everyone as dangerous. And that is, let me just tell you that is not healthy. It's exhausting, physically, mentally, emotionally it's draining and there is a place for hypervigilance. I do believe that it's actually probably helped save my life a few times, but ultimately if it's happening day in and day out and your brain is always perceiving stimulus as potential danger. Like you've really gotta get into this place where you start thinking about, well, how do you control this? What is it that you need to do? How do you get into effectively relaxing your vagal nerve, right? The longest nerve in your body. It runs top to bottom in your torso and it's about that is where control of all this stimulus is really kind of taking place.

And so, there's a few ways that you can do it.

One is just starting and again, this is really contextual what I'm about to say breathing, like deep, deep abdominal breathing, where you're filling up your entire torso is a great way to start slowing down this response. Context, if you are in the freaking woods and there's a bear, now's not probably the time to start going into a deep breathing exercise. Right?

If you are simply in your car or at home or at work and you start to feel triggered, this is the place where you wanna step into it, remove yourself for two minutes, give yourself the ability and the space to do that. Right? You can focus on visualizations of peaceful images. You can do meditation. Some people do prayer. Some people will step into yoga and Tai Chi. And this is all about regulating those nervous systems, right?


Getting yourself in this position in which you can find calmness, right? Slowing down the response from your amygdala, slowing down the blood, flowing and pumping through your body. What happens quite frequently is when people are in this mode, they don't think that they have control and it takes a long time for adrenaline to wear off. It takes a long time for your amygdala to become regulated again, if you are not in a place that you are not cognizant that you can actually slowdown that response just by simply focusing, breathing, meditating, or moving your body. And you know, exercise can be a big part of this as well, because over time, what happens is actually reduces your stress response, because it's going to decrease your stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, because you're physically moving all the time. It's going to increase your endorphins, it's going to make your calmness just in the day to day better, and it's gonna help you sleep. All the research and I've said this ad nauseum points to sleep being one of the most important aspects of the healing journey.

Now there's also this other part of this, where as you get deeper into it, and you're like, man, I'm really just, I'm triggered all the time, these coping mechanisms, they aren't really working somewhere in here, I'm missing the connection, there's a gap. This is where you're gonna want support. This is where it makes a lot of sense to have a therapist, to have a coach, to be in programs like Think Unbroken, to join coaching, to join group programs, to have individual one-on-one sessions. Right? Because here's how I often think about it. You're effectively when you are having a back and forth a parlay with someone who has been where you are, they can help you find the blind spots for what's not working for you because you may just only be one slight modification away from being able to really be able to facilitate and manage these stressful events. Cuz again, some of them are stressful and some of them just aren't. And you know, of course you, you wanna measure whether or not you need to see a therapist. Professional help can make a huge difference of this. If you're like where I was and I'm like, I'm always just on the Razor's edge of this, I'm always in this fear response, walking down the street with keys in my hand, always hypervigilant, paying attention to everything all the time, stressed through the roof, blood pressure, all over the place, I'm scared of things that I shouldn't be scared of, that's when I went to therapy. And got deeper into it, that's when I went into coaching programs like this got deeper into it, programs like Think Unbroken.

So, you know, if you're in this place where you've been trying to understand, to measure this, to work through these things and to get to a place where you can healthily cope with the stressors of your day-to-day life, this is what you need to understand. There are ways for you to manage and facilitate the response that you have in your nervous system, but you have got to pay attention. And the moment that you start to get triggered, the moment that you start to get stressed, evaluate your environment.

This is probably the number one thing that I teach clients when we're in individual or group coaching and so, I'm gonna share it with you.

Look at your environment and ask yourself this question…

“Am I safe?”

Because the chances are that you are safe. The chances are that you are in real time in the environment that you are in, not in imminent danger of life or limb. But because of the learned experiences that we have and the autonomic response that our body has to stressors, and the knowing that when we get triggered, we will go into this fight flight freeze fawn state, when you are assessing your environment, what that gives you the ability to do is to actually calm yourself through a very, very simple question.

So, if you find yourself triggered your heart's beating out of control, you're getting tunnel vision, adrenaline is pumping, but you're at a kid's birthday party. You really need to pause for a moment and you need to say, am I safe? Am I in a supportive safe environment? And if so, let's move to some of these tools here.

Can you remove yourself from the environment and take three minutes to breathe.

To get those deep body breaths.

To close your eyes.

To focus on something positive.

To use gratitude.

To even actually talk to someone around you and just find human connection.

And just remember you're not in this on your own. You're not alone in this and you have support, but you have to be willing to reach out. And so, my hope is that you'll take some of these tools.

You'll take this deeper understanding of this response.

You'll use it in a way that makes your life different.

And that my friend, you continue to be UNBROKEN.

I'll see you.

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Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.