Fight or flight. We know these. We hear about these tow options all the time. These are our choices when threatened. Except they are not our only choices. There is a third option, the one no one talks about. The one that can save your life. The one that many people chose when they are threatened. The one most people are too ashamed to admit they chose. Freeze.
You have three options, not two: Fight, Flight, or Freeze
Freeze. Not sparring with danger like a hero. Not escaping, in hopes of winning later. Not hero-like at all. Freeze. Doing absolutely nothing. Barely even breathing. Many post traumatic stress sufferers are stuck where they are, because they are still frozen. They can’t let go of their guilt and shame. They berate themselves for not being brave enough to fight or smart enough to run. They did – nothing.
Freeze deserves more respect. Freeze does work, at least as often as the other two. People heap lots of negative judgments on themselves for the choices made under duress. But if you are here worrying about “what if” and “maybe I should have”, that means you chose well because you are still here.
In nature, that is all that matters. Success in society has many meanings. In nature it has only one – the continuation of life. The only criteria for success is: did it work? If you are attacked, and you fight, but get killed in the process, that’s a great big FAIL. Nature isn’t impressed with heroes. But it loves survivors. That's why rabbits don't wrestle foxes.
Engaging is all well and good when you are stronger than your attacker, when you have a chance of winning. But sometimes, you aren’t. No, life is not fair. If struggling will get attention and bring help, it might work for you. But often times, it doesn’t.
A robin who struggles while in the jaws of a cat will be crushed between feline teeth. But if he freezes and plays dead, he may be dropped on the ground, as the cat pauses to lick its paws in triumph. That is the bird’s chance to fly away before its captor realizes his mistake. I saw it happened to this guy:
That was one angry cat. And a very smart, and joyously alive bird. I’m quite certain that robin did not feel at all bad about his choice. It takes a human being to feel bad about success.
Freezing is not for cowards. It takes a great deal of courage not to move when all your instincts scream in terror. Panic can cost you your life. It would have cost the robin his life. But freezing saved it.
How do you know the which option to chose ?
You don’t, not really. You make your choice based on past experience, with limited information about the present. You make that choice in a nanosecond. The consequences you live with for the rest of your life. (Unless you choose poorly and die.)
You may feel guilt or shame. You may have to
You may have to accept your failure. But you can not change the choice you made. It is in the past. You have
to figure out a way to live with it in the future. All you can do now
Have you lost a loved one? Read my series on the subject of grief.
Part 1: My Story of Grief
Part 2: Why a Short Life?
Part 3: Now What Do I Do?