The other night my family and I were watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. It was around Halloween so they were running through all the trick-or-treat clips. In one of the clips it showed a group of people slowly approaching the front porch of an old farmhouse. Sitting in a rocking chair, not moving a muscle, is a scarecrow holding the large bowl of candy. We, the viewers, know what is coming but one man in the group wasn’t quite sure if the scarecrow was a dummy or a real person.
Ever so slowly, the man approaches the bowl… starts to stretch out his hand… grabs a piece of candy… BOO!
The scarecrow jumps up and scares the crowd.
But that’s not the funny part.
Because the man, without any thought or reasoning, automatically throws his right fist straight into the face of the scarecrow knocking him completely over.
Laugh your butt off funny (because it wasn’t you getting scared or getting punched in the face).
The man’s actions are a natural and reasonable response to being afraid. If it seems there that there is a good chance that a person will win a fight, then aggression becomes the logical form of defense. The fight response is not thought out. It just happens. Our deep, internal brains take an assessment of the situation and make a split-second decision. Sometimes, that decision is to fight.
One of the all time classic movies is The Princess Bride. If you’re on a college campus, its almost a requirement to be able to quote most of the lines from the movie.
Remember the scene near the end of the movie, just after Wesley and Inigo have gotten into the castle to rescue Princess Buttercup, where Count Rugen and Inigo meet each other for the first time face to face.
They square off in the corridor, each assuming their chosen fighting stance. We, the audience, are ready for the revenge battle scene.
And then Count Rugen turns and runs away. He just runs away.
When someone is faced with a situation that they don’t feel they can win, then the flight response becomes the most natural defense to take. Again, this choice is not usually thought out. It is a gut response that happens naturally and intuitively.
Most people are not aware of the third most common response when we are faced with an overwhelming situation—the Freeze response. Sometimes, the goal isn’t to win. Sometimes the goal is just to survive no matter how you get there. “The object is to stay alive until the danger is past and deal with the consequences later. “ Peter Levine
Because the Freeze response appears to be passive and inactive people feel very ashamed or self critical. In the animal world, when an animal plays dead in order to be as uninteresting to the predator, they don’t feel ashamed, weak or inadequate. And neither should we.
Because the Freeze response is so common and carries such potential shame, I’m going to devote an entire post to explaining why we respond that way.