According to Walker (n.d.) there are four basic types of defenses that emanate from trauma: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. I seem to experience three out of the four at any given time, depending upon my level of emotional and physical fatigue. Primarily, my “go to” defense involves freezing. [Funny, doesn’t seem like a defense now does it?] Secondarily, I choose flight but that’s only because sometimes I cannot flee. 🙂 On a tertiary level, fawning is the option. Generally, fawning occurs when I am anxious and/or cannot muster the courage to flee and contributes to codependent behaviors.
Walker states that “freeze types hide away in their rooms and reveries” (para. 4) and I find this to be ambiguous because I am pretty introverted and that, on its face, is not an unhealthy thing. However, I know that there’s a lot more to it than my love of quiet and being alone; mental white space is what I call it when I use the coping mechanism to recharge. In an unhealthy sense, I tend to gravitate toward secret schizoid tendencies which essentially means that my acting skills serve me well because nobody outside of my head realizes how withdrawn into my safe little world I actually am. My avoidant attachment style dovetails “nicely”.
Walker writes “The freeze response, also known as the camouflage response, often triggers the individual into hiding, isolating and eschewing human contact as much as possible. This type can be so frozen in retreat mode that it seems as if their starter button is stuck in the “off” position. It is usually the most profoundly abandoned child – “the lost child” – who is forced to “choose” and habituate to the freeze response (the most primitive of the 4Fs). Unable to successfully employ fight, flight or fawn responses, the freeze type’s defenses develop around classical dissociation, which allows him to disconnect from experiencing his abandonment pain, and protects him from risky social interactions – any of which might trigger feelings of being reabandoned. Freeze types often present as ADD” (para. 9). Not surprisingly “When they are especially traumatized or triggered, they may exhibit a schizoid-like detachment from ordinary reality” (para. 9). Freeze and flight types are usually unconscious of their fear and their tortuous inner critic, which makes treating difficult, according to Walker.
It was enlightening and somewhat comforting to read “flight types respond to their family trauma somewhere along a hyperactive continuum that stretches between the extremes of the driven “A” student and the ADHD dropout running amok” (Walker, n.d., para. 6). The author states that “flight types stay perpetually busy and industrious to avoid potentially triggering interactions” (para. 4). Um yeah. That’s a very accurate description of the second half of my life so far vs. the first half of my life. Walker points out that flight types “relentlessly flee the inner pain of their abandonment and lack of attachment with the symbolic flight of constant busyness” (para. 7).
Fawn types avoid emotional investment and potential disappointment by barely showing themselves – by hiding behind their helpful personas, over-listening, over-eliciting or overdoing for the other – by giving service but never risking real self-exposure and the possibility of deeper level rejection” (para. 4). Walker states that “they act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries” (para. 12). Contempt, shame, and guilt by a narcissistic parent prompt the fawn type into compliance so that a temporary feeling of safety can be attained. Long term, development of a sense of self that is healthy and are prone to relationships with narcissistic personalities in adult life. Walker observes that “even the thought of expressing a preference or need triggers an emotional flashback of such intensity that they completely dissociate from their knowledge of and ability to express what they want.”
The flight/freeze combination is my typical defense as I avoid my feelings “with an obsessive-compulsive/dissociative ‘two-step’ that severely narrows [my] existence”. This combination, according to Walker, is more common in men and is stereotypical of the “information technology nerd”. Although I’m not a man, I conduct business like a man in terms of philosophy and assertiveness and – damn – I am a true technology nerd (uh, I mean professor…).
Walker concludes by stating “recovery is not an all-or-none phenomenon, but rather a gradual one marked by decreasing frequency, intensity and duration of flashbacks”. I’ll blog on flashbacks next but in the meanwhile, I will admit to being relieved to understand my defense structures. One of the most frightening things I experience is freezing when I cannot flee. Fawning is something that I do out of fear or fatigue and is, on its face, not as obviously disturbing in the short run, but it is highly damaging in the long run.
Walker, P. (n.d.). The 4Fs: A trauma typology in Complex PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.pete-walker.com/fourFs_TraumaTypologyComplexPTSD.htm