Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn
A car full of choppas (and e’erybody quiet)
And if you froze up last time you can’t ride (can’t ride)
The third line resonated with me, because it was approximately 13 years prior to the song’s release that I “froze up” when participating in knucklehead criminal activity with my friends. I almost died one night and I carried shame for many years after the event.
One evening in high school, when running from the police, I followed my buddy, “Caesar,” across Interstate 40 (I-40) in Bomb City. Caesar had a running start and cleared the interstate roadway ahead of me.
Once I made it past the eastbound lanes of traffic, I hopped over a concrete barrier and into the westbound lanes. From a distance, I observed three semi-trailer trucks staggered in each of the oncoming lanes.
Suddenly, I froze. Although memory is reconstructive, I seem to recall being aware of my inability to move. The semi closest to me showed no signs of slowing down and I heard a loud horn in the distance.
I remember then detecting the faint voice of Caesar calling for me from an area north of the highway. Somehow, hearing his familiar voice allowed me to snap out of my frozen state and I bolted to Caesar’s position.
Unlike the advisement Plies issued to others in “Goons Lurkin’,” none of my friends prevented me from partaking in criminal activities as a result of the event. However, I was teased mercilessly for having “froze up” that night.
Several years after my inability to move when startled, I performed my duties as a military police (MP) patrolman in the United States Marine Corps when stationed aboard Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. Yes, I went from one side of the law to the other, much as I’d crossed over an I-40 barrier years prior.
One afternoon, I received a call regarding a well-known individual who had a reputation for physically assaulting MPs, other Marines, and off-base bouncers at clubs. Known on Okinawa as “Deebo,” after Tommy Lister Jr.’s character in Friday, I was advised not to attend the call alone.
Deebo was the adult-aged dependent son of a Marine stationed on Kinser. I was aware of reports regarding Deebo having once fought a number of MPs who encircled him and took turns striking the man with Monadnock PR-24 side-handle nightsticks.
He was said to have prevailed in the skirmish. Subsequently, Deebo was banned from a number of Marine Corps bases and facilities.
Another tale of Deebo’s alleged physically assaultive behavior involved an occasion during which he was said to have fought two K-9 units—dogs and MPs—during an event that supposedly ended in a draw. Who in his right mind would take on two Belgian Malinois-stocked units?
Still, another account of Deebo involved him apparently having defeated every bouncer on duty in a club, as he was said to have taken off his shirt after battering them to challenge onlookers. I remain skeptical of this tale, because it sounds too much like a Hollywood Courts reference from Outkast’s 1998 song “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.”
At any rate, another MP, “Dilmo,” and I were sent to the Kinser Towers along with a separate patrol unit consisting of two MPs. Deebo allegedly battered a Marine. Once on-scene, I informed Dilmo that because of Deebo’s size, our continuum of force was automatically escalated.
The other MP unit hadn’t arrived when I exited the patrol vehicle and as I approached Deebo with my PR-24 in hand, I noticed that Dilmo wasn’t beside me. Turns out, he was completely frozen in place several yards behind me.
In fact, Dilmo was so incapacitated that as an MP from the second unit arrived without retrieving a PR-24 from his vehicle, he was able to withdraw Dilmo’s baton without Dilmo responding. Thankfully, Deebo went peacefully to the Provost Marshal Office without confrontation.
Due to his inability to respond adequately in the face of danger, Dilmo was transferred to a non-patrol position on that very day. As was expressed by Plies in “Goons Lurkin’,” when MPs were lurkin’ and Dilmo froze in place, he could no longer ride with other MPs.
Why did I freeze on I-40, and how was it possible for Dilmo to have frozen in the presence of Deebo? According to WebMD:
Your muscles tense, your heart races, and your breath comes faster – we all know what stress feels like. The “fight or flight” response is behind it: Your hormones get your body ready to either take on a threat or run from it.
This experience is known as the body’s stress response. However, the “fight or flight” dichotomy isn’t a proper term for behavior associated with this effect.
As indicated in the two aforementioned anecdotes, people have the ability to freeze when inundated with stress. As well, there’s even a reaction related to the fawn phenomenon. Per a separate WebMD source:
The fight response is your body’s way of facing any perceived threat aggressively. Flight means your body urges you to run from danger. Freeze is your body’s inability to move or act against a threat. Fawn is your body’s stress response to try to please someone to avoid conflict.
For comedic effect, I deliberately used WebMD as a resource for this post. This is because the website has the perceived reputation of jumping to the “worst possible conclusions.”
However, it isn’t necessarily as though I agree with some other sources when it comes to how a stress response occurs. Consider the following commentary from SimplyPsychology:
It is your turn to present in front of a big crowd. While out for a walk, a dog jumps onto your path and begins barking at you. You are driving down the highway, the car in front of you suddenly stops, and you slam the brakes. These are examples that trigger the fight or flight response (also known as the acute stress response).
From a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective, I question whether each of the listed examples qualify as “trigger” mechanisms for the stress response. In a blogpost entitled On Feelings, I listed the “primary emotions [of] joy, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust, or surprise.”
When out for a walk and a dog startles you, or when on a drive and a car suddenly stops as you instantaneously slam on your brakes, these examples illustrate the primary emotions of fear and surprise. This is an automatic process that doesn’t require forethought.
However, presenting in front of a large crowd has more to do with a belief-driven emotion rather than an instant reaction. In essence, we get in our own way with what we tell ourselves about many events.
The same is true of a person viewing WebMD symptoms for a superficial condition and discovering that it could result in death. It’s what we believe about these events which results in an unpleasant emotion.
When I hopped the concrete barrier on I-40 many years ago, the 18-wheeler trucks were far enough from me that I had time to think before experiencing imminent danger. I likely believed something like, “I must not die tonight!”
Because my internal demand upon the universe was subject to being violated, I experienced the unhelpful consequence of fear and my body having frozen. This process is in accordance with the ABC Model:
Action – What occurred
Belief – What you told yourself about the action
Consequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) in regards to what you believed about what happened and what you did (behavior)
Disputation – How you might dispute what you told yourself which led to the consequence
Effective new belief – What effective new beliefs you can tell yourself rather than using self-disturbing narratives
To demonstrate this technique, I’ll use Dilmo’s example. Rather than going through the lengthy disputation process and achieving an effective new belief, I’ll merely format what A-B-C chain I imagine that applied to Dilmo’s situation.
Action – Deebo—a large man with a reputation for violence—stood before Dilmo, and Deebo was visibly angry and shouting.
Belief – Dilmo likely believed something like, “I shouldn’t get hurt on this call, because I couldn’t stand to be beaten by Deebo. He’ll kill me!”
Consequence – Because of his unproductive belief, Dilmo was gripped with fear and rendered unable to move his body.
Understanding this REBT technique, it isn’t the action that causes a consequence. Therefore, there’s no reason to dispute what occurred. Deebo actually was larger than Dilmo and quite upset.
Likewise, the consequence of an unhelpful belief isn’t worth disputing. It certainly was a valid effect for Dilmo to have experienced fear and a freeze response when disturbing himself with his belief.
Since the action and consequence aren’t worth disputing, it’s the self-disturbing belief that isn’t accurate and is in need of challenge. Though not always are emotional, sensory, or behavioral responses the outcome of our beliefs, often it’s our unhealthy assumptions which produce these results.
Whether goons or MPs are out lurkin’, the narratives we tell ourselves can have a significant impact on our emotions, bodily sensations, and behavior. In particular, we may experience a stress response.
Whether fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, it’s often the case that our beliefs create unpleasant consequences. Herein, I’ve addressed events concerning the stress response described by Plies and as they related to me in my youth and Dilmo as an MP.
Although we cannot alter the outcome of every stress response experience, because sometimes we automatically react without any forethought, we can take control of other instances of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn episodes. Would you like to know more about how this is done?
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
(Yes, I’m aware that my Texas flag was improperly hung in my Okinawa barracks room.)
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