4 forms of fear: flight, fight, freeze, and fake

the escalations of fear- fight flight freeze and fakeThis post is the conceptual bridge between my last two posts. This one is also rather simple and behavioral.

Consider that all forms of fearing are variations of fleeing. This makes sense considering that fear is ultimately about protection and prevention.

Even the mode of fighting is recognized as serving the purpose of neutralizing a perceived threat (or even a possible future threat/competitor). Note that the fight response (within the realm of fear) is to push away and is thus preventive or protective, and thus distinct from physical aggression in general, such as when a predator attacks prey to eat. That fighting is a “last resort” for a cornered or trapped target of aggression. When fleeing fails, then fighting may be attempted.

English: Male Northern Elephant Seals fighting...

English: Male Northern Elephant Seals fighting for territory and mates, Piedras Blancas, San Simeon, California (USA). Français : Deux Éléphant de mer du nord mâles se battent pour le contrôle d’un territoire et de femelles. Pedras Blancas, San Simeon, Californie (États Unis). Polski: Słonie morskie walczące o terytorium i partnerki u wybrzeży Piedras Blancas w Kalifornii. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further, if “fleeing” through fighting is not expected to be effective, then perhaps the next most advanced form of fear is to freeze. Obviously, literally fleeing to remote safety is favorable over freezing near the presence of potential future danger, so if freezing (or “appeasing”) leads to the perception that the aggressor(s) or threat(s) has “lost interest,” then a frightened creature is likely, after freezing or appeasing, next to physically flee at their first perception of an opportunity to effectively flee.


English: Pierre_Dumont, missionnary of the MEP

English: Pierre_Dumont, missionnary of the MEP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note that the chart shown above is not comprehensive. Certainly, it also makes sense to say that the more common sequence is first to attempt to flee, then to freeze, then to fight, then finally to fake.  Any prey that does not perceive a viable route of escape may freeze and wait, willing to defend themselves if freezing does not work.

Any linguistic labels that we could apply would be approximate anyway (only so precise). Consider a case in which someone justifies a past action or inaction. If done aggressively and with accusations, that would be called arguing. However, if the level of aggression and animosity gradually declines, there is no absolute boundary at which we can know that “justifying a past action or inaction” is being done meekly (in the realm of faking), as in pleading for mercy with justifications, especially confusion. “I admit that it was wrong to do that, but I justify it anyway with the following: __________” The more a communication is like that, the more we could call it faking. That would contrast with the “fighting” of “No, you are wrong, not me, and here is why:___________.”

Combat Engineers

Combat Engineers (Photo credit: nukeit1)

As mentioned two blog posts ago, flight includes physical withdrawal as well as interactive distinctions like aloofness, changing the subject abruptly (evasion), as well as fixation (neurotic obsession) and even addictions (in the broadest sense of the word, including addiction to substances, to a certain person- whether vilified or glorified- to TV shows, to a diet fad, to a political ideal, to gambling on speculative real estate investments, etc). Fighting includes physical aggression, but also belligerent blaming, argumentativeness, conversational interrupting, as well as defensiveness (like reacting to perceived or expected “attacks” on someone’s logic or linguistic justifications).

Fighting involves risk, so fighting tends to be sincere. Faking does not need to be sincere.

One who is moderately frightened may use justifications to meekly explain “here is why that method was doomed to fail.” They may believe it or not, but the resignation serves to attempt to linguistically justify some inaction. Cynicism would be to attack another for contemplating an action at all (as in the mode of fighting or interrupting aggressively).

Of course, arguing can include known deceptions, intentional misleading, intentional evasion, intentional distracting of others with references to subjects designed to trigger derailing a conversation toward a possible “neurotic obsession” of the aggressor. Shaming others in contrast to one’s self is fight, while shaming one’s self or a group that includes one’s self is a form of freezing, inhibition, suppression.

The looks are pretty aggressive. Both are pet ...

The looks are pretty aggressive. Both are pet dogs. Initially it may appear that these two dogs will tear each other down, but the much bigger dog is lying on its back. And they are just having fun. People who are experienced may be able to point out other body language signs that may confirm that they are NOT fighting. — Tomsu and Fluffy seem to be going on well, but time will tell how Brownie handles the competition from Fluffy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, these verbal categories are approximate. They overlap. The behaviors noted in the chart above are also approximately parallel to the labels of scared (flight), mad (fight), frustration/exhaustion (freeze), and the less concrete category that ranges from sadness to neurotic, hysterical optimism (fake/denial).

Generally speaking, any activity of withdrawing can be labeled “scared.” Further, any activity to interrupt or interfere or push away can be labeled as “mad.”

Those topics are familiar. The less common references in this post and the prior two is to two other forms of fear: freezing and faking.

Freezing includes physical fainting and paralysis, but also frustration (which is basically anger without any particular external target, as in a linguistic internalizing of responsibility). Addictions can even be considered a type of freezing, with the addiction serving to support a certain numbness and a “holding pattern,” with an extreme analogy being to use a band-aid and some ice to treat a broken bone sticking out through the skin. Such “freezing” already sounds a bit like faking (delusion, denial), right?

The most delicate subject area discussed here would be the realm of frightened faking. All ideologies and idealisms and idolatries may be labeled faking. All mythology, all belief systems (whether recognized as just being beliefs or not), and all language constructed for the purpose of justifying behavior is, generally speaking, within the realm that I am calling “faking.” Other people, in referencing the faking dynamic of fear, use terms like “socially constructed reality” or “verbal agreements about reality.”

While many models of morality condemn fear (with a cultural fear of fear itself), this composition is not a model of moral suppression or moral justification. As noted at the very beginning of the first of the last three posts, faking- when conducted consciously- implies a degree of experimentation and humor.

Considering my original example of “faking courage.” That is a bit like faking a smile. To fake a smile, that involves some of the aspects of smiling, but not all. Faking something can mean to slowly initiate that thing, or to partly do something with caution and great attention to whether there is a reaction of aggression when someone begins to make jokes once an argument has begun to dissipate.

First, small and timid joking may develop in to sighing, teasing, laughing, and even “make-up sex.” Faking empathy and calmness is a lot closer to empathy and calmness than launching accusations. To fake “being calm” would typically automatically redirect attention toward a calming down of any prior animosity or anxiety (fears).

English: Feral stallions fighting for dominanc...

English: Feral stallions fighting for dominance of a herd of mares. Image taken at the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humor may be scathing and sarcastic (aggressive and belligerent), but scathing humor is much less belligerent than a physical assault, right? So, if there is a degree of fear present, then faking can arise. The faking can be unconscious, like sincere repetitions of self-suppression or resigned self-sabotage as in “I am the victim of my past,” or the faking can be conscious but covert, as in “no, I did not really mean what I said. In fact, you just heard me wrong. I did not even say anything like that. Your accusation is totally outrageous!”

(If there was not some truth to a particular sequence of words, why would it ever be blurted out? Was someone “just faking” in order to test the response, but then could deny that they were “just pretending” by claiming to just be pretending?)

Or, the faking can be open and obvious to everyone involved, like saying in a very silly voice: “no, I was not angry. I was only yelling because you never listen since you are so horrible and selfish.” If those words are accompanied by an affectionate hug and kiss, the words may be labeled as fake or playful. Or, there may be very kind words accompanied by a playful or teasing physical “aggression.”

AF2_6783 Alert Fire and Security

(Photo credit: BURNLEY.CO.UK)

So, faking something is a possible way to begin something. To fake being calm involves a certain amount of calm, relative to a raging hysteria. Ultimately, all of these words are relative, simply contrasting with the other words to promote an experience of clarity and peace (a subsiding of any frightened amygdala-triggered/adrenalin-hormone soup that can arise in neurology, producing a relaxing, providing for a metaphorical “waking up” or spiritual rebirth).

You are now terrified. You are now calm and courageous. You are now both terrified and calm and courageous and silly and relaxed and tense and holding your breath and breathing out a sigh of laughter.

The amygdala--our inner nut

The amygdala–our inner nut (Photo credit: cheerfulmonk)

Words are only words. You are beyond any particular word or words.

You can be afraid of being afraid or not. You can pretend to be pretending or not.

All words are symbolic. All words can be used for pretense, for irony, for joking, for the directing of the present and the future, for declaring various relationships with reality, as reality, in reality.

Without words, reality is entirely complete and requires no words. With words, reality is still entirely complete, but words can be used to pretend absolutely anything about reality, and all pretending is real pretending.

Only in the realm of words are there any concepts, and one of the very most bizarre concepts of all is the concept of “the unreal.” The unreal is entirely absurd.

There are just real verbal ideas (“the spiritual realm?”) and real non-verbal patterns (“the physical realm”). These are not two realms isolated from each other, but two sides of a single metaphorical sheet of paper. With words, we can isolate “this side of the paper” from “that side of the paper,” but that isolating is ONLY in language. There are no one-sided pieces of paper.

Combat de lézards

Combat de lézards (Photo credit: sybarite48)

Likewise, there is no such thing as an unreality. To recognize that the entire concept of unreality is simply a verbal category allows for the perceiving of verbal categories as simply verbal categories. Such a revelation or realization can correspond to a profound physical relaxing, release, and relief.

The idea that language is isolated from the physical reality of neurology and the mechanisms of vocalization and hearing is absurd. Muscles and nerves make language. Language labels muscles and nerves. All these verbal categories are facets of the same unity.

There is no such thing as an isolated reality, except as a linguistic phrase. There is no such thing as an isolating of identity (or an identifying of isolation), except as a neuro-linguistic pattern.

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One Response to “4 forms of fear: flight, fight, freeze, and fake”

  1. How to stop agonizing over possible disappointed hopes | power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci Says:

    [...] http://jrfibonacci.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/4-forms-of-fear-flight-fight-freeze-and-fake/ [...]

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