I’m A Runner And Not The Good Kind.

Amy worked in a bar in Exeter
I went back to her house and I slept beside her
She woke up screaming in the middle of the night
Terrified of her own insides
Dreams of pirate ships and Patty Hearst
Breaking through a life over rehearsed
She can’t remember which came first
The house the home or the terrible thirst
She keeps having dreams”

When I was in graduate school a professor noted that when topics became stressful, my eyes went towards the door. This perceptive professor was correct. I am a runner. When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or scared I look for a literal way out. I think it’s important for all of us to know what our brain/body tends towards when we are triggered and sent into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

“And on the worst days
When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tons
She’s got her cowboy boots and car keys on the bed stand
So she can always run
She can get up, shower in half an hour
She’d be gone”

Fight: push people away, act aggressively, physically act out, and verbally act out.

Flight: leave the situation, disconnect, shut down, and isolate

Freeze: disconnect emotionally, disassociate, go limp, and shut down

Fawn: people pleasing, smoother, devalues their own needs, makes other people happy at the expense of themselves, and present in codependent relationships

For example, if I’m in conflict (even perceived conflict as opposed to actual threats) I will likely try to leave the situation as soon as possible. This is not always healthy because if you don’t stick around, you can’t sort out the problem. I’m also likely to get quiet or shut down and go inside myself as a way of escape when there is no out. I’ve had to learn how to calm myself during times when I feel like I need to run. Running is of no benefit to me unless I am in a life or death situation.

Because “fight” is my least preferred of the three (it scares me), It is hard for me to partner or friend well with people for whom this is their default (or I perceive that it is their default). I arrived at this self-awareness only recently and when I reflect back on my life, it makes complete sense that those relationships suffered. It is not that there is anything wrong with the fight default. I’m not sure that we get to choose between fight, flight, or freeze as to which is our preferred default. Depending on the situation, your brain’s preferred survival mode might change.

“And on the worst days
When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tons
I sleep with my passport
One eye on the back door
So I can always run
I can get up, shower in half an hour
I’d be gone”

In fact, recent research related to sexual assault demonstrates that victims are likely to freeze. This is why some people will say “Why didn’t you fight back or run?” It’s because once you are in survival mode you do not get to direct your body as to a preferred way to survive. Many survivors will freeze when they are triggered and reminded of the assault later. This makes testifying and interviewing challenging for some victims. “For example, sexual assault survivors frequently disclose “losing the ability to move and/or call out” during the attack which has sometimes been referred to as “rape-induced paralysis” (Marx, et al., 2008, p. 78).”

If you notice that you experience these threat responses regularly, please talk to your friends, family,  and/or seek professional support. Ask the people you love what they think. We’re not wired to sort through this stuff alone.



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