There is no single way to identify when you are someone else is having an emotional reaction. We do tend to have tendencies, for example, you may be someone that is quick to have a fight reaction. However, you may be in a similar circumstance and find that you react completely differently and have a freeze response.
Understanding the range of reactions helps you to make sense of what is happening internally and with your clients. While this is a general reference with categories to help organize it, these reactions can happen in unexpected combinations. Using common ways of thinking about it, here are ways you might identify reactions are happening and thinking about them in terms of their general goal.
Also important to note, positive emotional experiences can also trigger the same reactions.
In a fight reaction, we have access to lifeforce, and we are mobilized against a threat. We will often move or take action without thinking about it. Different that flight, our reaction is directed towards the threat.
- Aggressively argues and debates
- Anger / Rage
- Lashing Out / Attacking
- Become Demanding,
- Sharp, Vector in Voice
- Increase in Voice Volume
- Gets Competitive
- Becomes Arrogant or Condescending
- Bullying / Intimidation
- Dismisses others’ Perspectives
- Sarcasm or belittling comments
- Embarrassing others
Flight is the reaction of wanting to remove ourselves from the situation in some way. We still have the ability to move, or take action of some kind but the goal is to put distance between us and the threat.
- Gets defensive / Guarded / Protected
- Running Away / Leaving the Room / Withdraws
- Feeling Trapped
- Overly emotional to diffuse
- Not Participating
- Diversion / Avoidant / Ignores
- Cracking Jokes / Laughing
- Minimizes what is going on
In the freeze response, our nervous system is in essence “playing possum.” Based on Poly Vagal theory, in extreme threat, our nervous systems have evolved an ability to shut down in order to minimize pain and suffering and prepare us for imminent death. When a freeze response is happening, our nervous system is experiencing something so threatening that it shuts down. Freeze is a more extreme version of the analogy of a circuit breaker going off — our capacity has been overloaded.
- Leaving Body / Disassociating
- Inability to focus / eyesight goes blurry or eyes flutter, roll up in head
- Zoning Out
- Going Numb
- Going Blank / Can’t Think
- Loss of Words / Can’t Speak
Fright is similar to freeze in that there is often no action, but instead of going numb or shutting down, there is a hyper-awareness and an intensifying of the experience.
- Being startled / jumping
- Involuntary twitching or moving
- Hyper Sensitivity
- Trembling / Shaking
- Trembling Voice
- Darting Eyes
- Feeling like you are going to die
Fuck is similar to fight in that there can be a surge of lifeforce/aliveness that results in an increase in libido and desire to be sexual. The common rom-com scene where two people are fighting and suddenly start to passionately have sex is a great example of this reaction. Or another would be someone that reacts to an emotional situation by going out and picking up a stranger to have sex with. It can be a way to channel big energy that our system doesn’t know what else to do with. With consent, BDSM scenes can be a healthy way to work out power dynamics and emotional reactions through pain, domination, submission which would also be related to this category. A controversial take is that rape is also a possible outcome of this category.
- Angry Sex
- Makeup Sex
Dr. Kathy Obear, identifies another category of reactions that she calls fumble. This when you are thrown and find yourself stumbling around.
- Bumping into stuff
Related to fight and flight, release has big energy that wants to move. In this case, the energy is dissipated and released in some way. It can be small or large. Crying after orgasm can be an example of release brought on by big energy. This can also happen when intensity becomes so big that something shifts. Breaking into laughter during a fight. Sudden
- Hysterical Laughing
- Surge of Energy
- Warm or Hot Flush
- Shaking Hands (looks like trying to get water off of hands)
- Sudden Calmness or Clarity
There are a wide range of other ways our bodies can indicate that we are having a reaction. Any of the above or below can happen in any combination.
- Racing Heart
- Rush of Adrenaline
- Muscle Tension
- Numbness – Physical or Emotional
- Stimming / Repeated Motions
- Chills & Flu Like Symptoms
- Rapid Blinking
- Rapid Breathing
- Hyper ventilating / Can’t catch breath
- Holding Breath
- Cracking Voice