Fight, Flight, or Freeze
Fight, flight, or freeze. Psychologists and anthropologists alike have observed how humans react to conflict and have come up with these three responses to how we combat them. It was these strategies that have allowed the human race to survive and endure their natural environment millions of years ago. But as times have changed and civilizations have been formed, the focus for many of us is much less on survival, but on living.
To reference another psych term, our hierarchy of needs has progressed to the extent where our own basic needs and personal safety are usually an afterthought. What comes next are things like relationship, esteem, and self-actualization. Yet, we are still equipped with the same instincts that our predecessors used in a drastically different era. We are still programmed to fight, flight, or freeze, but there are no more wild animals we have to hunt or harsh winters we need to prepare for. No, what we face is usually something much more abstract, something that we usually can’t completely understand until we look deeper. What I am talking about are inner-conflicts, what we struggle with behind the scenes of what we see.
Let’s take esteem for example. It’s no argument that at one point or another we have all felt a little sense of insecurity or low self-esteem. Now, notice what your mind is doing in response. The fight, flight, or freeze complex still exists, but this time it is going against yourself. When we try to fight, we have a tendency to release our frustration and project how we feel onto others. It’s this method that can leave us acting incredibly stubborn and critical in the hopes it will validate us. Conversely, when the flight mechanism kicks in, we try to bottle ourselves in and pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. After all, insecurity isn’t something that we can physically see, so we tend to just push it away and try to avoid it. However, by doing this over and over it can be incredibly taxing on yourself and the root of the problem is never solved. Lastly, there’s freeze, which can often look like when we just watch Netflix for hours when we don’t want to do something (I think we’re all guilty of this one). So if none of these solutions are viable in resolving conflict and have been deeply embedded into our brains, what is there to do? What we need to do is to learn to trust ourselves and become our own best friends.
For me personally, I find trust hard to come by. Trust doesn’t magically appear; it’s built through reliability and consistency that with time, we can finally develop a level of trust. But what we fail to accomplish is inspiring this confidence in ourselves. Too often are we in a constant state of dissatisfaction and judging how we’re doing in relation to others. We all make mistakes, and taking accountability for your actions is important, but what regularly happens is that we believe there is something intrinsically wrong with us. After all, it’s what we’ve been taught to do. But what this results in is a cycle of anxiety that tells us we might not be enough even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.
So the real question here is how do we trust ourselves despite knowing that difficult times will inevitably come? The truth is that trust can’t predict the future, and we can’t always be sure that everything will be “ok”. But what we can do is know that we are strong enough to endure it and know that everything we need is already within ourselves. It’s because of this fight, flight, freeze reaction that we just want to protect ourselves, and that’s perfectly fine to do and it shows that you do truly care for yourself. But having the awareness to know this and that you act out of self-care is how we can begin to trust ourselves. Trust doesn’t mean everything will be ok; it means that everything is already ok. While we can’t know that everything will work out as we expected, we can trust ourselves to be ready for it and be all we need to be happy.
Creating Friendship with Ourselves
To add another quick editorial, much of what I have been saying is what I’ve personally found useful in giving me fulfillment and joy. Take it from an especially academic self-conscious student, I know how it feels to think that you aren’t “smart enough” to do well in a class or “outgoing enough” to start that club. What ends up happening in most cases is that I would shy away from these opportunities and never give myself a chance to prove my worth. But one strategy that I’ve learned is to pretend that I’m listening to a friend rather than myself. We tend to be more considerate when we listen to our friends’ problems rather than our own because we can look at them objectively rather than subjectively. Think about it: when your friends come to you with their insecurities, you usually dismiss them as irrational or false. The same logic can be applied to ourselves.
It’s only when we begin to love ourselves that we can start to love others. I know how cliche and sappy and overused that line sounds, but I honestly can’t give better advice than what the short phrase offers. I think the problem with this phrase is that it doesn’t specify what kind of love we should give ourselves. Most of the time, our love is conditional. While there’s nothing wrong with setting standards and holding yourself to certain expectations, we often base our self-worth on a list of demands rather than who we are as people. Yet, when things don’t go the perfect way we imagined, our love falters and we begin to think we don’t deserve it. Our relationships are not meant to be conditional and temporary; that’s not what that phrase embodies. What it means is that through thick and thin, we are there for ourselves at all times and constantly accepting of who we are. It’s by doing this that you allow others to be who they are and have the freedom to be themselves. When you free yourself of judgement, you can then look outward with an open mind and appreciate the world around you. You don’t have to go around yelling and screaming how much you love others (although I’ve never tried this technique). Being your true authentic self is more than enough, and never think that isn’t true.