Fight, flight or freeze in therapy

Early on in therapy I will usually make a diagnosis as to the persons basic temperament. The basic way this person will respond to relationships and the world


Fight has the best prognosis because the person naturally fights and therefore if managed correctly they can use that fight response to fight their script. And if that happens then there can be no stopping them.

However it is also a risky one because the client can start to fight the therapy and then the prognosis is not so good.

This type of temperament often ends up in therapy because therapy is about fighting for survival. Sometimes these people can have an aversion to using medications because it is seen by them as a weak, kind of giving in type of response. This can be to their detriment if medications could be helpful in some cases.

These people can do what is technically known as “non compliance to medical /therapeutic instructions”. Which is a problem if those instructions are crucial for their well being. The concept of the contract is useful here. If they feel like they are responsible (at least in part) for the therapy goals then they are much less likely to fight against it. So contracting in terms of the ego states, transactions, games, stroking patterns and so forth is useful as most clients can understand that readily and thus they feel like they are a significant player in the therapy in this way.


The person who flees the scene of an accident or the hit and run driver has the flight response. “It is essential for me to get physical distance from the problem” is their basic view of the world. In their early family this is how they survived it, remove self for the arguments, danger and so forth. They run and hide under the bed. The child that runs away from home is using this response. Usually a child who runs away from home is not actually running to somewhere, but they are just running away from….    Sometimes you hear clients say, “When I was a child I spent most of my time at the neighbours house”. Again the flight response probably.

Run away

These people are less likely to end up in therapy because their basic response is to run from the problem. Having said that they do often present in treatment as well. But their contracts are usually less about tackling the problem head on.

They may present a change others contract

“I want my husband to love me” contract 

or a

 I want to know why contract 

“I want to understand why my husband does not love me”

Which is not about tackling the problem but about gaining understanding of the problem which is safer for the flight person.

or a

Get rid of contract

“I want to get rid of my (depression, anxiety, my inner child)”. It is not about addressing the problem but about removing it from self which is a backwards flight response. I can’t run away from it so I will get it to ‘run away’ from me.

A waiting for something to happen contract. 

Therapy is about finding what is the thing that can happen that will make my problem go away such as in the list below. (Another backwards flight response)

Waiting for an event Jpeg copy

This can be the client who makes another appointment, then never turns up and you never hear from them again. Or they make another appointment, then cancel saying they will get back to you and then never do. There is a flight from therapy, their natural response.

A no run (from therapy) contract can be useful for this person. This contract stops their natural desire to run away. If they address this contract seriously then they are forced to take the script on and more significant changes may occur.


This is the most problematic and psychologically unsatisfactory response to adversity. It is the ‘playing dead’ response. The mouse that is caught by a cat plays dead. The cat bumps the mouse, throws it, bites it in the hope of getting a response. The mouse plays dead and does nothing so eventually the cat gets bored and walks off.

Some children do this when they are being physically or psychologically abused. They freeze in a state of incapacitation and therefore sit and take the abuse as long as the other wants to do it. 


Not running and not fighting


With the fighter the parent has to fight with the child and that requires extra work on their behalf. With the ‘freeze’ child there is no such work and hence it is easier to carry it on for longer and do it more frequently.

Furthermore with the fighter that indicates a level of self respect. “I don’t deserve to be treated like this and I am going to say so by fighting”. The freeze child does not have this and hence the sense of self worth can be effected, “I don’t even stand up for myself”. The freeze response if typical of the true victim position in the psychological dynamics of the bully – victim relationship. 


It’s not uncommon for these people to end up in therapy. Their basic temperament is one of incapacitation which as we know is the fourth type of passive behaviour. And the goal of passive behaviour is to form a symbiosis with some one. Many would see therapy and a therapist as a readily made person to form a symbiosis with.

Share it if you like it...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someoneShare on StumbleUponBuffer this pageDigg thisShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Flattr the author

Leave A Comment...