Relationships Can Help Us Grow: Changing Our Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response

We've learned that most people go into "fight, flight, or freeze" to protect themselves against painful feelings that are difficult or impossible to experience at the time they are happening. But, the problem is many people get stuck in this mode.

These "fight, flight, or freeze" defense mechanisms are useful sometimes in our lives but if you want to begin the healing process and create close, connected, alive relationships, you have to be willing to explore what you are feeling and have the courage to change this reaction. We think that the goal is to be so conscious and aware of what we are feeling that when we get triggered by what someone says or does, we are able to simply express what we are feeling without fear, judgment or blame and without jumping into past patterns.

What Fight, Flight or Freeze Can Look Like

Fight, Flight or Freeze can manifest in a number of different ways. All three of these reactions stem from the fear that your wants and needs won't be met. For example, fighting doesn't necessarily mean putting on the gloves and throwing things at each other.

1. Fighting can mean anything from holding on to the need to be right, staying stuck in your anger, holding on to the desire for validation and to be understood, or yelling, screaming and what you think of as fighting. Fighting is holding your ground with your "rightness" no matter what.

2. Fleeing (flight) doesn't only mean running away physically. It most often manifests as withdrawing emotionally to protect yourself so you won't have to speak or feel painful feelings and emotions. Fleeing can be turning on the television, eating or going to visit a friend instead of dealing with the situation. When you flee or run from what's going on emotionally or physically, the issues are there and won't go away until you come back and deal with them.

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3. Freezing means getting stuck and not being able to move from the impasse of the situation. Very often we freeze because we don't know what to do next, don't have the confidence in our abilities or in ourselves, or have the belief that our life situation will be different beyond this moment.

Many people who are frozen and are feeling stuck in their situations have adopted the belief that it's better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don't know. Because of this, they stay stuck right where they are in situations they are unhappy with and which do not serve them.

How To Move From The Fight, Flight or Freeze Reactions

To move from the fight, flight or freeze reactions, we suggest that you learn to tune in to what you are feeling in each moment and embrace those feelings, whatever they are. When you focus on your feelings, you are not pointing fingers at someone in your past or your current relationship. You are just looking at the situation as it is and when you do this, you quit pointing fingers and the healing process can begin.

When you find yourself reacting in one of those three ways with the people in your life, stop your normal pattern and reaction, recognize what it is you're thinking and feeling and begin the process of healing the conflict between the two of you. No matter how much fighting, fleeing, or freezing seems to be serving you in the moment, the undeniable truth is that when you are stuck in any of these patterns, it is impossible to begin creating close, connecting, alive relationships with the person you are now with, or with someone else, as long as you remain stuck.

It's important to learn from the past but it's equally as important to not stay stuck in it. Whether you have decided to stay or go, you have to move forward as if you are starting fresh with a brand new relationship.

No Such Thing as Failure

Often it's the seed of a current or past "failure" that fuels you to the very success that you've always dreamed of. It sounds trite, but there's always something you can learn from every experience.

Past relationships give you a clearer picture of what you want and what you don't want in a relationship if you take the time to examine them. It's the power of contrast that living in an unfulfilling relationship may give you.

A woman we'll call Connie brought her intimate relationship to an end after several years of turmoil with her partner. After the break-up, she realized what this relationship had taught her and that it wasn't a "failure." This relationship had helped her to define the type of partner she would really resonate with -- someone who was on a similar spiritual path, someone she could have a deep connection with, and someone who loved to be with groups of people.

This partner who she left wanted to always be alone with her and she liked to be with people. They also did not have the same spiritual interests, which created distance between them. She learned to bless the relationship and let it go to make room for the type of partner she wanted to be with and to free her previous partner to find a more appropriate mate. She learned that her relationship wasn't a "failure" because of what it taught her about herself and her life -- what she wanted and what she didn't want in a relationship.

People come and go in our lives. Some people are with us for a brief instant, for five days or for fifty or more years. The impact of these relationships on our lives can all be great. Sometimes we don't understand why we are involved with someone in a particular relationship or why someone has such a hold on us. We don't understand why someone comes into our life for a brief time and then leaves.

The Purpose of All Relationships Is To Help Us To Grow

What we've learned is that if a relationship isn't working out, it is not a bad thing or a failure as our society likes to label it. It just may be that you have learned what it is that you were supposed to learn by being in a relationship with that other person and it's time to move on to other "lessons."

We're not suggesting that you take your relationships lightly and throw them away at the first sign of conflict -- quite the contrary. What we are saying is that the purpose of all relationships is to help us to grow -- personally and spiritually. Even the relationships that are the most troubling to us can be gifts in learning more about ourselves. Those people who really get under our skin can be our best teachers. We suggest that you look at all of your relationships as growth experiences and move forward consciously by learning from them.

So instead of looking at a relationship that didn't work out the way you had hoped as a failure, look at it as growth experiences and move forward consciously by learning from them.

Reprinted with permission of the authors.
©2003. Published by Conscious Heart Publishing.

Article Source:

Should You Stay -- Should You Go? Compelling Questions and Insights to Help You Make that Difficult Relationship Decision
by Susie and Otto Collins.

Should You Stay -- Should You Go? by Susie and Otto Collins. If you're trying to decide whether to stay in or leave a relationship, "Should you stay or should you go?" is a simple, step by step guide that will help you make the best decision possible. This book contains an experiential process of questions, stories and insights that will help you take a thorough, heartfelt examination of your relationship. It will also help you to clarify your next logical steps?whether those are to formulate ways to make the relationship better or to devise a plan to leave the relationship with grace.

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About the Authors

Susie and Otto Collins

Susie and Otto Collins are spiritual and Life partners who teach others how to create outstanding relationships of all kinds. Susie and Otto regularly write and present workshops on Spiritual Partnership: The new model for relationships that really work. Their message comes straight from the heart, their own experiences and from an intense study of other teachers and writers on relationships. Visit their web site at and sign up for a FREE newsletter filled with tools, tips and ideas on creating outstanding relationships and ideas to help you on your spiritual path.

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