Birds Of A Feather
In a 2021 LinkedIn blog post, Samantha Stern suggested adding “Flock” to the list of stress responses, which are typically thought of as Fight – Flight – Freeze. In her post, Samantha Stern says that beyond simply flocking together for social purposes, the Flock response to stress empowers us to feel safe enough to move from our emotional brain focusing on survival to our thinking brain where we can work through the issues and problems that created the stress we feel.
In addition to the concept of Flocking, Fawning is another term that describes how trauma survivors take on the guilt and shame associated that are present in most stressful situations for the trauma survivor. Sherry Gaba, writing in the August, 2020 issue of Psychology Today, explains how children who are abused learn to apologize even for things they did not do. Appeasement is another tool of the fawning person, giving the abuser what they want and more in an effort to avoid the abuse.
Taken as a whole, the responses to stress can be conceptualized in the following way, based on my history of supporting people with trauma histories for over 40 years. It also aligns with the Polyvagal Nerve Theory developed by Stephen Porges. The order of the responses will change based on trauma history, meaning that this model is descriptive and not prescriptive. As professionals supporting people on their journey of recovery from trauma, we must observe and describe the behaviour of the person and then determine which of these five stress responses most accurately fit the situation, and choose the appropriate response to support the person coping with their stresses.
The responses, in their general order of usefulness, are:
By identifying where in this model the person’s behaviour best fits, we an then develop both preventative interactions and responses which empower the person to effectively and efficiently not only cope with their stress, but respond in a way that enhances their own quality of life.
The most effective behaviours to teach, and then reinforce, are Flocking and Fleeing (Fight). Many of the people I have supported during my 40+ years of providing supports do not have the skills to interact with others in a flocking response. Teaching people how to interact in small and large groups, modelling for people how to behave in group settings are transferable skills that will help people not only during times of stress, but in many other social settings as well.
Flight behaviours can be appropriate responses if the person is taught how to run away with respect. As odd as this sounds, if we are able to disengage from a situation in a way that shows respect for others, even the person wo holds the power and may be disrespectful or even abusive, then we can not only survive an encounter but build up a reservoir of trust and respect with others who may be observing our behaviour, and even the person who his the source of stress.
In order to learn these skills, we must have, at the very least, the following needs met from the Matrix of Needs:
When these needs are met we will be better able to learn and utilise new skills as we respond to stress.