The flight response
On Friday, I wrote about the fight response in relation to both developmental and interpersonal trauma. Today, I'm looking into the flight response and how that evolves as a go-to response in situations of perceived danger.
It is common for flight types to flee and hide from things which they cannot control. The flight response can make survivors feel that they are obsessively drawn to perfection as a form of safety and thus will force themselves to achieve, act and think in such rushed ways.
It can look like ADHD in children but can also come across as the "driven student" (Walker, 2014). The flight type response causes trauma survivors to feel constantly switched on; obsessively and compulsively driven to their goals. When a flight type is not (able to) they respond by overthinking, planning or dissociating through obsessive thought.
Walker (2014) calls this left brain dissociation. Where the individual uses constant thinking to distract themselves from an underlying fear of abandonment. Not only does the flight type constantly worry, but they are compelled to stay ahead of their goals in a rushed fashion.
(Whilst writing this, it becomes more apparent that I am writing about myself in some ways...)
It is common for a flight response type to become addicted to their own surges of adrenaline. Adrenaline is favoured because it helps the individual get everything done they need to and so can lead to risky behaviours such as placing oneself in dangerous situations so as to peak their adrenal spike. This is a maladaptive coping mechanism used by trauma survivors, but one which can spiral out of control and result in substance abuse, workaholism and OCD.
For trauma survivors, it can be easy to miss the signs of flight behaviour because we are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of even ourselves. It is common for flight behaviour types to keep ourselves so busy that we have no time for self-reflection or we have become too drained to attempt to after a full day of constant overthinking. In this instance, therapy can be beneficial as it would be at least 1 required hour out of the week which a survivor can be guided to positively self reflect and become more self-aware.
Knowledge about the different responses can aid a survivor who relies on flight response by increasing awareness and helping our ability to let go of our perfectionist demands.
When life becomes a forest of thought, it can become exceptionally easy to lose your way and fear the unsafety that it brings. It's common for survivors who are flight types to prioritise the wrong things and lose sight of key issues. A flight response doesn't necessarily mean you run away with your tail between your legs; just as a fight type doesn't mean you have to physically hurt another. Flight responses happen in preparing for the worst - making sure they and their lives are as perfect as possible so to minimise the risk of danger.
When triggered to a flashback, survivors using flight responses can scatter to do meaningless activities or chores in order to merge into the background in a sense.
It can be difficult for an individual who relies on flight responses to do yoga and meditation, however, it is recommended in smaller stages. One would no doubt have to be mindful of sticking through the slower pace which can cause feelings of fear to surface. When we can manage a small minute long meditation we can progress to longer, eventually accessing our emotions in a controlled way.
It is important to note that over time, any of our 4f responses can generalize and cause issues with our daily lives as our fear response and perception of danger becomes oversensitive. As adults, we normalise this in order to deal with our maladaptive coping, however we become highly reactive to any type of perceived threat in our daily life and resort to this more often.
It is common for adult survivors to revert to addiction in order to dull emotions. Addiction (soft or hard) is used to reduce stress and the addictive substance will release endorphins to reduce cortisol. That makes it incredibly fast acting and all the more sought after. The higher cortisol levels in the body, the more an individual requires these endorphins and as the endorphin system begins to react to more and more situations of perceived danger, it causes us to rely more on the substance used. I would like to write more in-depth about addiction this week.
With constant stress hormones at high levels within your body through multiple traumas, it becomes a go to respond to quickly snap back to using a flight response. It can cause us to use energy we don't have; as we plan, prepare and overthink every detail. As adults of trauma - we may have learnt that if we acted perfectly or "appropriately" - that we can control and minimise the intensity of abuse faced and this can carry on in our lives as a constant maladaptive reaction as we become more sensitive to stress. If left unchecked, the flight response can lead to addiction, eating disorders and OCD and can be difficult to navigate without the support of therapy.