How To Be A Human Episode 005 – How to Understand Flight, Fright, Freeze…and Fawn

“Because fear is a major hold back for a lot of us in our lives. And it is also a major purpose server, that is to say it serves a tremendous purpose in our lives.”

Come join me for today’s conversation about what your fears are trying to communicate to you, and how to tap into yourself and grow through your fears by feeling them, & then healing them! We are also talking about how to recognize your fears, the different ways it can present itself in our lives, and so much more!

Hit the play button above to listen now, of continue scrolling to read the full transcription!

Grab some tacos and let’s dive in!

EPISODE 005 – How to Understand Flight, Fight, Freeze…and Fawn

Well, hello, welcome back to How to be a Human with Leisse Wilcox. That’s me. I am a conscious relationship coach. And I am fascinated by and hell bent on finding truth and beauty in the relationships we have with ourselves and with others, I am passionate about changing the global conversation on emotional health and self love. And I’m a keen observer of the human experience. I think that I will never not be fascinated by the fact that we are all having the same emotional experience. Even when it looks or feels differently or appears differently in our own unique lives and circumstances. The emotional experience remains the same. And when you apply this to the context of relationships, be that in your business, your personal life, your family life, your intimate or love life, there are recurring patterns that pop up over and over again. And in my practice, as a master success coach, I see this literally every single day, every single day of my working life, I witnessed this. And it is fascinating. When we have a limiting belief or a limiting decision, an old narrative, something that holds us back, a block, a feeling of stuckness when one of those icky or uncomfortable things pops up in our work relationships, I can guarantee that within about three questions, I can scratch back the surface. And we can start to detect and decode together, where that exact same limiting belief decision, old story, whatever you want to call it, where it appears in your family lineage, or where it has appeared. Usually, it’s traced back across generations, like sit on that for a minute. And we can trace that or trace that back or carry it over to your friendships, to your intimate partnerships, the relationship patterns that we have, as human beings tend to be the same. And they just start to look a little different across each of those contexts. Which is to say, if we’re feeling that stuckness, and we do a little bit of work, especially at the subconscious level, which is where lasting change actually takes place, despite what most of the personal growth industry would like to sell you or have you believe, when we actually do that deep, subconscious work, we loosen up those blocks, we clear out those decisions, those old and limiting decisions that usually don’t even come from you, they’re kind of passed down to you. This remarkably magic thing happens, we start to watch as that old pattern that does not serve you that does not get you what you want, it starts to dissolve in your work, in your personal life, in your intimate life. And in your family dynamics. It is like, I get so nerdy when I talk about this stuff. Because it’s like, Guys, I think I cracked the code. I think, I think I really cracked the code on this, then you know, to really look at how our relationships are incredibly simple. And they are incredibly complex. I just get so jazzed about that. And that’s why we’re here. 


So today, I want to talk about fear. Because fear is fear is a major hold back in a lot of for a lot of us in our lives. And it is also a major purpose server, that is to say it serves a tremendous purpose in our lives. So again, When, what is the number like 90% of the self help industry or personal growth industry is like, face that fear and do it anyway, just push on through, don’t let fear hold you back. Maybe that’s well intentioned. I would argue it’s incredibly misguided, because it doesn’t address the holistic view of who you are as a living, breathing human. It takes a very linear and incredibly ill informed and out of date approach to this very masculine energy of like do achieve to achieve do achieve. If you want something better, you just have to work harder. It’s like, sometimes there’s a place for that. And most other times, you have to take a more holistic or like this 360 degree view of what is really happening not only in your physical body, but in your emotional body, in your spiritual body. What is this fear communicating to you? I would be willing to bet you’ve heard me say before, our feelings are just feedback. And that feedback is constantly giving us valuable information as to what still needs to be healed. So we don’t push through sadness. We don’t push through jealousy, we don’t push through rage, we fucking feel it. If you actually want to experience healing, you have to go deep and feel it right. You’ve got to feel it, to heal it. And fear is the same thing. It’s even more next level, because fear serves not only as emotional feedback, but as physiological and physical feedback. 


So again, you’ve probably heard me say this before, and it bears repeating. Because I think that we, you know, we don’t get this kind of an education unless you consciously choose to listen to podcasts like this, or work with me one on one, whatever, like, you have to make that decision for you. It’s not somebody’s not teaching this as a curriculum. So the way that our mind works is that we create patterns very early in our childhood. And the analogy that I love to use is this freshly fallen sheet of snow. And we’re just running around in the backyard, making tracks, making trails, it’s totally effortless. And at about age six, or seven. It’s as if there’s a flash freeze, and those trails, those pathways, those footprints that we’ve made, it’s like they’re frozen in place. You and I both know, unless you’re like listening to this in Texas, or we’re one of the Carolinas, maybe you don’t know this yet. But if so, please come to Canada, and I will show you this as living proof. You can take me to your very warm climate and show me the opposite to be true. I’m sorry, I went on a Texas diatribe there for a second. As you may or may not know to be true, when those little footprints are frozen into place, of course, you can create a new pathway, of course you can, but it takes a lot more effort. You know, it’s harder, you get sweaty, it’s uncomfortable, it’s uncharted territory. And the brain does not like that. The brain likes things the way it’s always been, the brain wants to have a status quo. And here’s this really interesting, maybe kind of like a flaw in our own circuitry, or our wiring and the design of our mind that because the brain likes things the way it likes them, like it wants things to be the way it’s always been, it must preserve status quo. When we have one of those pathways frozen into place, that becomes the baseline in our neurology. So not only does that one pattern that we’ve created, establish a sense of emotional safety. It establishes a sense of neurological safety. So think about this, most of us and you know, sorry, if this sounds negative, or if it’s like a wild hyperbole, most of us grow up in pretty dysfunctional households, like welcome to the human experience. In that dysfunction, because we are by our very nature, animals and we are social animals at that, our very survival depends on love from our family, right? As a species, humans have like the longest period of infancy and childhood and adolescence, like if you look to nature, prove me wrong, but I don’t think there’s another mammal that stays with its parents for like 19 years minimum. Everybody else in nature is like great, you know, giraffes are born walking. It’s like great, you can walk off you go. Frogs, like they’re not mammals, but frogs when frog eggs are our hatch, like the parents don’t even stick around. It’s like I’ve done my job. I brought you into this world, I gave you life, see you never. Humans, we have this extended period. And in that extended period of being with our parents, we tend to experience a lot of damage. Some of us and I hope my children are included in this with me. Some of us have really amazing parents. Most of us do not. The reason being we are all humans and we’re all figuring it out. There is no rulebook, there’s no guidebook, we are all flawed, that is part of the process, this constant healing and constant growth and constant learning lessons. So if we take a closer look at that, though, if you think that our very survival depends on love from our parents. If our parents cannot get their shit together for one reason or another, maybe it’s their own patterning, it’s their own mental health, their own emotional health, whatever it is, if they established for us  unhealthy, or toxic patterns in our childhood, we have no filter for that. We’re just a sheet of freshly fallen snow, we’re just going to do whatever it takes to earn and keep their love. So if we are shown really healthy, unconditional love, we establish these beautiful neural pathways and those neural pathways, that becomes like the baseline for what is safe, what is loving, that means we not only embed that neurologically into our wiring, but into our emotional body that our baseline feeling of safety and security is loving and tender and healthy. And that does happen. And it is a beautiful thing. I would argue for many more of us/most of us, that’s not the case, that initial patterning from our parents is conditional, you know, if you sleep through the night, I will love you, if you’re a baby who doesn’t cry, I will love you, you know, if you don’t cramp my social life, and I can still take you wherever I want to go on my terms. I will love you, you know, and that’s just like cursory examples. But there’s obviously a lot more toxic and deeper, typically abusive patterns of play. And as a child, as an infant, as a baby, it doesn’t matter like we just have to do what it takes to feel loved. And when we have, when we are in the presence of toxic, unhealthy or conditionally loving patterns of behavior, that is what we embed into our neurology, it means that at a neurological level, what feels safe to us is actually toxic, unhealthy, and otherwise, not serving or purposeful in our feelings of being a grounded, complete, whole worthy valued human being. 


So where this gets really sticky, is that we have this subconscious mind whose prime objective is to keep us safe. And part of the way in which it keeps us safe. It’s like, it’s like it’s sweeping our environment for signs of danger. And again, I know you’ve heard me say this before, if our brain, you know, we’re out in the woodlands say in our brain perceives the feeling that there is a bear present. It’s our subconscious mind that is like, Oh, shit, there is a bear here. And it triggers a fear response, right? That is a really, really good thing. It’s that fear, response, fight, flight, or freeze, that tells you to get the fuck out of there, or at the very least play dead. It’s that subconscious security system that alerts a signal of danger to your brain. And your brain responds with a physiological reaction in your body. That’s very, very, very good. That’s how evolution is possible. Like we can respond to those fears or those safety and fear cues, right. However, there isn’t a great or finely tuned filter on the subconscious mind. So as it’s sweeping or scanning the environment, for signs of danger, if it perceives something to be emotionally dangerous, which is anything other than the status quo from what we’ve already experienced, it triggers the same physiological response. So all of a sudden, you know, let’s say you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse as a child, or your parents were just really neglectful. And that became your baseline, your baseline experience of what is safe, even if it’s not healthy, even if it’s not purposeful or even good, if that’s what has been experienced as the baseline safety. That’s what gets embedded into your neurology. So what feels good, quote unquote, to your brain is that toxic pattern, that unhealthy pattern. So, all of a sudden, when you attract in or call in or in the presence of somebody who is loving, who is giving, who is supportive, your brain freaks out, and your brain is like a Mayday Mayday there is danger here. This is totally against whatever we have experienced in the past. You need to get the fuck out. And it triggers that same fear response fight or flight.


Now what’s so fascinating to me is that there is actually a force, there is a force response pattern. So people are pretty comfortable with, you know, fight, flight freeze. And again, what that means is that when I, my brain scans my environment, and perceives something to be dangerous, it triggers that red flag, and my brain is like, got it. Thanks for the red flag. Now I’m going to send my body into a response. Sometimes that physiological response is flight, which means get the hell out, like, Whatever it takes, you just, you get so much adrenaline you just run away, right? That happens emotionally, too. You can just check out you can like emotionally leave your body. And I bet if you don’t have familiarity with yourself doing that, I bet you can identify a person in your life who does that, and you can watch them, you’re in a difficult conversation, you’re in some kind of emotional pain. And it’s like they physically leave the room, spiritually, even though their body remains in place. It’s crazy to witness. But that’s the flight response. The fight response is the opposite. It’s like you can feel your chest puffed up, you’re like, you get grounded in your feet, you get into that almost like a Runner’s stance pose. And you’re just, it’s like, your body tells you to just bring it, it’s like, you know what, I can take you I’m not running away from this, I’m gonna fight it head on. And I’m gonna do whatever it takes. When you hear stories, I don’t even know if this is a real story. But I’m going to use the trope, when you hear stories of like, children getting stuck under cars and mothers find this like superhuman strength. That’s it. That’s the fight response that it’s like, you transcend the physical limits of your body, because you’re in such a state of fight that like something beyond you just kicks in, and enables some crazy, wild, powerful behavior. The third response is freeze. And I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this in your life, I personally have often where something feels so overwhelming or so scary, that you actually can’t react. It’s like your body triggers this freeze response. And you get that almost like deer in a headlights stance where it’s like, you go numb. You can’t talk. You can’t react, you feel like you can barely breathe. You’re just doing what you can to stay physically alive. And that’s, that’s it. That’s all you can do. That’s the freeze response. I knew somebody who for a lot of years, she had said, you know if anybody ever broke into my house, I just feel like I would confront them. Like I would yell at them, I would scare them away. And then one day she was vacuuming. And one of her kids came home after school and she didn’t hear them because the vacuum is so loud. And she turned around and there was like a teenage boy there. But all she saw were like boots and jeans and didn’t even like, her brain didn’t process that it was somebody in her family. And she fainted. Like, there’s a great example of the freeze response with like, I can’t cope with this. I’m checking out, I’m just frozen. Interestingly, the fourth response that I think is just starting to come to our pop cultural lexicon right now is fawn. So fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. And fawn, I think is going to resonate really beautifully. For so many of you listening, because fawn, or fawning is the tendency to experience those fear cues or those fears signals. And the physiological response is to fawn over the people who are making it feel scary. We call this people pleasing. And if you are empathic, if you are highly sensitive, if you are in your emotional body, that is to say you have a high emotional intelligence level, fawning is going to resonate really, really well for you. Because in the presence of perceived danger, or fear, our reaction is not to fight it, not to get out, not to freeze, but to do whatever the hell it takes to minimize the emotional pain that we’re in. And if you are somebody who’s highly sensitive, highly sensitive, or who does have a high EQ, you know, that when you step into an environment, you feel the energy of the room, like you can read the energy of the room, but really, you feel it. So when somebody is being phenomenally difficult, or emotionally verbally mentally abusive. Not only do you perceive that on an emotional level, but you tend to embody it as physical pain. That is to say, when there is discomfort emotionally, I feel it painfully in my body. And my response to that, because that is so overwhelmingly hard. My response is, okay, and this is all at a subconscious level, by the way, the response is to do whatever it takes to manage the emotions of the people around us. 


So let’s say for example, that’s you, that you grew up in narcissistic abuse, or even just like one of those brick wall families, you know, that like, kind of old school style of parenting that’s like, you know, I speak you listen, you make a decision, I judge it, like my way is the right way. When there’s not a lot of room for open discourse, there’s not a lot of room for dissenting opinions, there’s not a lot of room for conscious relationships. Because control, anger, fear, it’s all dominating the family dynamic. Let’s say you grew up in that environment. And if you did, let me be the first, not the last, to tell you that you’re not alone. This is a really sadly, common environment to grow up in. And even people who say, you know, like, our generation has become this, like super woke quote, unquote, generation. I’m here to tell you that like an overextension of niceness and kindness on the surface, usually is a sign that at home, some pretty fucked up shit is happening, like it’s scratch, scratch behind the curtains, and all of a sudden, you see what’s actually happening. So it doesn’t mean that you have to be raised by really grumpy parents, people who tend to be over kind, or like bananas over the top nice. It’s usually a flag that there’s something happening behind the scenes that they don’t want anybody to know about. Like, I’ll just throw that out there. So a lot of us are raised in these environments, these like brick wall environments, or the converse is this like jellyfish environment, really, oh, yeah, man, anything goes until all of a sudden it doesn’t. And then that parent changes and reacts in totally a different way. And it feels just as brick wall or just as controlling or explosive and volatile as the other style. So let’s say that becomes your baseline, let’s say in your earliest years, you learn that in order for you to feel grounded, safe, peaceful, and whole, you must please everybody around you, you must do the emotional work, you must manage the emotions for everyone around you, it’s your responsibility to mitigate that. As you grow up, now that this pattern, this feeling of safety, because that is what feels safe, if that’s what we’ve known to be true. That is what feels safe. Because remember, your subconscious has a job to alert your brain to anything that isn’t status quo, that now feels dangerous. It’s kind of bizarre, but it is the way that it is until you consciously decide to do the subconscious work to heal it. I really hope this is making sense so far. Let’s say that is your pattern that your baseline safety of neurological and emotional safety is to feel on edge. Like you’re walking on eggshells, like, all you have to do is give more and do more. And, you know, man, if I can be an endless giver or an endless doer even better, because then I’m really feeling safe. That follows you because it’s a part of you. So if you have learned this pattern from generations past, and you grew up in that pattern, in your own physical experience, then you’re really, you’re really embodying this at a deep neurological, emotional, subconscious level. So as you grow up, suddenly, you might start to notice that you’re constantly underpaid, that you’re constantly undervalued, that you might have a good idea at work, but you really can’t speak up. You cannot. You can’t voice it. If somebody else claims your idea, you can use it as their own. You can’t speak up against it. You basically can’t speak up for yourself in general, if there’s something going wrong, you’re going to take the blame for it, you’re going to find a way of falling on your sword, martyrdom becomes present, and your friendships, your friendships after a while start to feel incredibly draining. Because you notice you’re always the one giving, you’re always the one people are coming to tell you their problems. But interestingly, there’s not a lot of space held for you when you need to come to the table and have your experience be witnessed. Those friendships start to feel very tenuous or very conditional because as soon as you do speak up, or voice your opinion about something you do or don’t want to do, it’s met with a lot of rejection. In your family relationships. Same thing as you get older. It’s like that pattern doesn’t change it. Just becomes more embedded right? So you start to get hives. When you think about going home for the holidays, you have to put a very tight time limit on how much time you can spend with your family in order to preserve your own emotional health and well being. And then almost like the most painfully, in your intimate partnerships, be it through dating, or companionship or marriage long term partnership, you might notice that you attract those people for whom you can never do enough. And no matter what you do, it will never be good enough, you tend to attract that same kind of narcissistic style behavior in which they are an endless sinkhole of needs, who cannot take responsibility for their actions, who cannot come to the table and make a proper apology, who cannot see the world in its many shades of gray, but rather see it only in black and white. And if you don’t adhere to their version of black and white, you will be judged and emotionally punished for that. That one behavior pattern that gets embedded into our neurology and our emotional body is what tells us it’s safe. So that spawning pattern becomes the pattern to keep us safe. And as I say, once you get into maybe you have an opportunity where somebody is going to, I don’t know you’re gonna, you have an excellent entrepreneurial idea. And you know, it’s gonna net you a lot of money. And it’s like, but I can’t, or you meet somebody who’s so wonderful. And you’re like, Oh, my God, that like, everything just feels too easy. This can’t be real, therefore, I’m out. Or you’re in a friendship, same thing where it just feels low key and lovely to be in this person’s presence. So much so that you don’t trust it. It’s your brain, we call that self sabotage kind of flippantly. But it’s so real, because what is actually happening in that moment of self sabotage, is your subconscious mind is telling you this is dangerous, even though even though you’re dipping your toe in the waters of healthy, loving relationships that value and respect you, as a whole person, your brain is like, nope, this is not what we know to be true. This does not feel good. This feels incredibly dangerous. And then when you meet somebody in work, life, love whatever, who then realigns with the toxic, unhealthy, destructive or damaging patterns of your past. It’s as if you can feel your body relax, like this deep internal level. It’s like, Oh, yeah, there it is. 


With my clients, I compare that to like, when you have a toothache, and you know, you can feel there’s like this pain in your tooth. And you push it with your tongue and you’re like, Oh, my God, that hurts so much, but I can’t stop doing it. Right. It’s like, that’s what it feels like. It’s like, yeah, this hurts, but it also feels so comfortable. So if that is really speaking to you, knowing that our feelings are just feedback, you’re not doing anything wrong. There’s no room for shame or judgment here. It’s an invitation to go deeper with that, because it’s an insight that there’s something much deeper, that needs to be healed, right? So when we’re thinking about fear, and we’re talking about fear, and we’re looking at our big picture, the big picture of our life or the context of our lives, and we’re like, Man, this feels scary to me, saying to yourself, I’m just gonna push through, or I’m just gonna face that fear and do it anyway. It’s like, it’s so stupid, because you’re neglecting every other emotional experience. Every other neurological experience that needs to be witnessed that is telling you what has been true for your entire life. So if you want to bypass that fear, you’re kind of out of luck. If you want to experience what that fear is like, and go deeper and be like, what is this fear telling me? What is the story I’m telling myself here? What is the story behind that story that I’m telling myself? And is that story true? Now we’re making traction. Because now, where I was, I was thinking of this analogy as, there’s a big family table in your brain and each of your emotions is present. Again, there is a push and largely masculine energy dominated, push in the personal growth industry to be like, tell your fear to fuck off and like tell your fear to shut the hell up and it’s like no fear. is a part of our emotional family. Fear is also welcome here. Fear is not, however, welcome to dominate the conversation. So imagine there’s this big family table, joy is present, fear is present, warmth is present, pride is present, there are all these feelings that are present. And everybody gets a turn to speak. And you at the head of the table can say to fear like, thank you so much. Thank you so much for voicing those concerns, we’re going to take that into consideration. And I’ll invite you to sit down now, this is like the icing on the cake, there is a lot more healing work to be done that we absolutely get into. And we work well together one on one either in a breakthrough day or in an extended mentorship, privately. But that’s like a great takeaway that you can use is, what is the story I’m telling myself? What is the story behind that story that I’m telling myself? And is that story true? And if that story feels true or not, then you start to get a sense of what is that fear telling you. What is that fear needing you to witness? And look to heal at a deeper level. And chances are it has something to do with your own patterns and how you respond to fear, be it fight, flight, freeze, or fun. How does that feel? I’m hoping that lights some bells and sparks some fires to go deeper with your own experience, to shed new light and insights on your own experience. 

The point of all of this, you know, Plato said in what like 200 BC, I don’t know, a long time ago, Plato said, Know thyself. That’s what this human experience is all about. It’s about coming to know who you are. It’s about coming home to yourself. And literally every relationship we have, in our business, in our personal life and our friendship, our family dynamics, or in our love lives through intimate, intimate partnerships. Each and every one of those relationships is built on the foundation of the relationship you have with yourself. So the more time you take, by listening to podcasts like this, my book is another great resource to be very honest, it’s like a self love manifesto, the more time and energy you take, to come home to you, and to know unequivocally who you are not you, the mother, not you, the boss, not you, the employee, or the friend or the sister or the wife or the husband or not any of the roles that you play, but simply who you are at your core, the more you invest, and coming to know and love and accept yourself. I pinky swear. Literally every other relationship in your life across every single venue possible, will improve. Because you’ve started to cultivate a conscious relationship with yourself. And that is a bell you can’t unring, it naturally breeds conscious relationships in every other aspect of your life. Does it mean they’re perfect? Nope. Perfection is a myth. There is no such thing we are constantly a work of work in progress, which is what makes us a work of art. We are constantly messing up and learning and growing. That is the way anybody else who tries to tell you that like there is a moment of arrival, or a period of perfection is lying to you. And more than likely they’re trying to sell you something. There is no such thing as perfection, there is only progress and learning and growth comes from making mistakes. And trying again, we’re all just figuring it out. So the more you figure out yourself, the better the quality of relationships you foster and cultivate in your own life. 


If you want to know more about that, I would invite you to go to my website. It’s I don’t know when we’re airing this episode, but it’s like so close to being finished. And we’ve done a huge rebrand and a really beautiful redesign. It feels like an art project and I just love it, I’d invite you to explore the different ways you can work with me to actually go deep on your healing, you know, a 45 minute podcast is a great start. It’s a great inspiration. It is not the work. It’s better than nothing, but it is not the actual work. And often when people come to me, there’s some reticence of like I don’t even think it’s possible for me to feel differently and I’m here to tell you again with this sanctity of a pinky swear. Oh yes, there is. There absolutely is. If that fear is rearing its ugly head and telling you what is or is not possible. Let’s listen to that fear. Let’s explore that fear. Let’s figure out what it’s telling you needs to be witnessed. What needs your love and tender attention at a subconscious level that we can address together and start to heal forward. It legit feels like actionable therapy, and it’s so special. I just like, I just want to talk about it all day. I just want to do the work with people, because I’ve seen firsthand the impact that it has on their lives and it’s frankly just really special. 

Anyway, My book is there too for you. And as I said, it is a self love manifesto. It’s like the, the Coles notes version on Oh my god, how to come home to yourself. And it’s a really beautiful and best selling book. So check that out, too. More than anything, I want to thank you for your time and really being here. spending this time getting your fires lit. You know, taking that time to invest in what makes you feel good and learning how to check in and, and listen to what your emotional body is telling you. So thank you, and we’ll chat soon as well. 

There is no magic formula, except knowing that the magic formula is that we are all figuring this out and that there is no real end point. Each and every one of us is in a process of self creation. What if there is no right way? What if there is no wrong way? What if there’s just your way? How freeing would it be to know that every decision you make is the right decision for you? Can you love yourself enough to detach from outcome or from judging that things are good or bad and accepting that they just are? Yeah, you fucking can.


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