Our fears often hold us back from achieving what we want, both in business and in life. In the video and transcript below, I’ll share my version of the 4 Fear Responses diagram that has been extremely popular over the years.
Why I Created This Diagram
Hello, I’m Grace LaConte with LaConte Consulting. I just wanted to share some information that has been really useful to my clients and also to people who have found this image that I created a few years ago.
There are 4 different responses to fear. All of us know about the fight-flight response, but there are actually two other responses that happen, whether or not we’re aware of it, and we have the choice about how we can enter into a situation that’s scary.
As a business owner or a leader, you may be facing these fears in your business that keep you from growing in a way that would be useful and healthy. So it’s really helpful to understand how you’re entering into situations that could ultimately hold you back and what you can do instead.
Who Developed the Fight-or-Flight Concept?
This image has been shared many thousands of times around the world, and people continue to ask for my permission to use it in their publications and in presentations. I’m really honored that so many folks have found it useful. It really started because I couldn’t find any graphics that explained the best way to approach fear using the fight-or-flight concept. So this image was my way of interpreting a concept that’s been around for a very long time, the fight-flight response which was developed by Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Walter Bradford Cannon. His initial research in 1915 was on the traumatic shock response of WWI soldiers who returned from battle.
For more about traumatic growth, check out What a US Marine Combat Veteran Taught Me About Post-Traumatic Growth
Most of us know about the Fight or Flight response. Of course, we also have a Freeze response, which some people also refer to as Fawn (F-A-W-N, like a young deer).
Let me just explain real quick how this works. We have a choice to either engage in something that scares us, or to disengage and kind of separate away from it. We also can be repelled by the fear itself, where the situation makes us not want to be around it. Or we are attracted to the situation that is causing us fear.
So there are 4 different forces, and this graph basically shows the quadrants that come from those forces:
The Fight Response
In the Fight response, we’re basically engaging in a situation where the fear is happening. We’re scared of something and trying to enter into the space where it is happening, and yet we’re repelling the option to learn from it.
So we’re pushing against it and getting in a situation where we are attacking, but we’re not necessarily open to learning from that experience. So what we do instead is we might insult or blame other people, or even mistreat ourselves in the process of trying to get beyond this problem that causes us to feel afraid. We’re trying to make it go away. So that’s a Fight response.
The Flight Response
Then we have Flight. This happens when we’re fleeing or escaping, disengaging from the situation, but we’re still repelled by it. We may not want to really learn from it, and we’re avoiding bad results, so we might hide and deny our own feelings about what is happening.
In the Flight response, we omit information that might be useful to overcome the situation that caused the fear in the first place. This information could be helpful, and we sabotage ourselves because it’s like an ostrich that puts its head in the sand. But by ignoring information that would be helpful to overcome that problem, it doesn’t allow for healthy growth and security.
The Freeze Response
On the other side of the graph, let’s move on to Freeze. This is another really negative outcome of a fear response. Freezing means that we’re basically shutting down our emotions. When we’re in a situation, we’re being attracted to the situation itself but not repelling it. You’re basically in the midst of chaos and drama and frustration, but you aren’t able to resolve it. So this causes us to not really learn from the situation. It causes us to disengage from an outcome that would be more helpful, yet we’re also being pulled into it.
Freezing is the most dangerous response to fear, because you’re in the midst of that whirlwind but not learning from it, and also not protecting yourself from it. This can ultimately lead to trauma. The long-term consequences of a prolonged Freeze response are dangerous because you’re not fighting it, you’re also not escaping it; instead, you’re staying in the middle of the danger.
The Freeze responses can turn into what some people call Fawn, F- A- W- N, which is where you might subconsciously appreciate or embrace a dangerous situation, also called Stockholm Syndrome, where a captive who is being abused will emotionally connect with their abuser and maybe even seem to enjoy what that person is doing, even if it’s harmful to them. They may defend that person and choose not to leave, even if they have the option.
Even in business, this Freeze response can be really damaging because it can keep you in a situation that’s very dangerous. We might comply and give into what we know is a bad situation; we might shut down emotionally and justify terrible behavior: “, “Oh, it’s gonna be fine. This isn’t really a problem.” But in reality, instead of facing the situation and expecting change, we rationalize and excuse what’s happening: “This is totally normal. It’s fine that I’m being ignored or punished. These terrible outcomes must have been because I deserve them.” Unfortunately, this type of justification is common in business settings, and it allows abusive attitudes and behavior to continue unchecked.
The Face Response
The most useful response to fear takes guts.
It takes courage.
And when we step into a situation that could be dangerous, with mental strength and fortitude to get through the problem and learn from it, adapt, and overcome that problem. Facing fear means that you are certain that you have the tools, knowledge, and support system to overcome this issue that’s causing you to have fear.
The action that is most prominent in a Face response is that we can defend. I really like the idea that, as a business owner, you can see yourself as providing help to your customers on their journey, as the Hero’s Journey concept (ClearBrand shared a great article that explains how it works).
I really like this concept. Your customer is on a journey, and they’re facing some challenge or problem, and you can provide the tools or the support for them to get to their destination. You can do the same thing for your business. There are problems and challenges that you’re facing as a business owner or as a leader, and you can be the hero in that situation by looking for the tools, and the way to creatively overcome obstacles. You can learn from the experience rather than fighting against the very thing that you need to learn from (Fight), or trying to escape it (Flight), or getting stuck in a situation where you don’t really know what to do (Freeze).
Facing fear is extremely difficult, but it’s so rewarding. Because you can connect to your own emotions about what is causing you to escape, fight against it, or feel stuck. You can connect to what would be most useful in overcoming it.
Fear often holds us back. It causes us to ask,
- What is really going on?
- Why do I continue to run away from this great opportunity?
- Why am I so scared to do something that could benefit my business?
To learn from your reaction, here are some questions to ask:
- How can I best face and move beyond this fear?
- Which tools do I need to overcome it?
- How can this experience allow me to better understand my reaction?
- What is this experience trying to teach me?
Let’s say that you have the chance to land a dream client, or expand into a new market, or partner with a great business. If you’re so nervous that your reaction is actually driving away the opportunity, or causing you to run away from it, or to freeze so you don’t take the initiative and nothing happens — then the chance to have something wonderful happen could evaporate.
By stepping into the discomfort of the situation directly, you can benefit from growth and improving your situation. The outcomes of facing fear include the ability to preserve what’s important and to mitigate risk, which means that you can assess the risk and overcome achieve an outcome that’s better than when you started.
Read more: The 5 Areas Where Your Company is Most at Risk [Podcast]
A Willingness to Understand
As a risk manager in the past, I found it helpful to consider what is possible and how we can get the best outcome. In order to do that, we first look at what is going wrong.
Facing fear requires us to take a look at the reality of our current situation. It means being really be honest with yourself about what is not working, and then deciding that you’re going to step into the discomfort. You’re willing to understanding why it happened, and you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to fix it. Once you do that, you can overcome those fears and step into more situations that you were not able to before.
By understanding your own response to what makes you afraid, you gain the incredibly powerful ability to overcome any challenge.
I hope this helps. If you want more information about this, check out more on my website, laconteconsulting.com.