Do you know which one you are? Being in one situation doesn’t mean this reaction is set in stone. The best answer is simple. YOU DON’T KNOW until you are in THE SPECIFIC AND UNIQUE situation. My goal today is to describe these and give examples as concisely yet vividly as I can. You have probably been in situations (violent AND non-violent) where you have applied one or a combination of the following.
Fight back and inflict pain because you are in fear of your life. Good examples are snakes and spiders. The intentions of these animals in the wild are to stay away from larger predators, so when they know you’re coming, they’ll avoid you. But if the situation is sudden, their natural reaction is to sting first. Smaller scale scenario is your nervous aunt Sally, whom everyone knows can’t be surprised and tickled because she’ll knock your lights out.
Run at all costs. NEED to get outta here. Gazelles and mice are great examples. At a smaller scale, when you see an ex and you didn’t want to engage, didn’t your instincts (hunches or gut feeling) tell you to go a different route? People who are passionately enraged would do the exact opposite and launch an assault. “OH HELL NAH!”
Won’t move, can’t move. Play dead. Possums play dead, deer in the headlights. Easy to describe in the animal kingdom but hard to internalize when this happens to you. If you think of it this way, a young person in the cafeteria that got bullied, beat up and punched yet didn’t do anything but be angry inside his mind has experienced this freeze.
Animals with more complex emotions are more likely to demonstrate this. Pack animals submit to the alpha just like some young adults will follow the bully of the school even if he also bullies them around.
We cannot strictly say any human will go with one over the others. Factors that determine these are chemical make-up in the adrenal system, social context, social setting, and whether the situation is abrupt or gradually built up.
You may have been in a few bar settings and seen this, some gals who are groped by creeps would either be surprised and slap the creep (fight), rush away without looking (flight), look at said creep but not know what to do (freeze), or think that’s a norm in bars and not react yet not engage (submit). Please note: This scenario IS NOT OK! CREEPS SHOULD NOT GET AWAY WITH ASSAULT. Period.
Like I said, YOU DON’T KNOW until you are in THE SPECIFIC AND UNIQUE situation. Want to improve your reactions in decision-making under stressful situations? TRAIN. Exposure to stressors improve your threshold and ability to respond to negative stimuli.