The Four F’s and How Awareness can Lead to Growth – Part 1

When the body recognizes either a physical or emotional danger that could be perceived as harmful – hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released to elicit quick reactions in preparation to gravitate to safety. These innate and instinctive responses are patterns that are formed in childhood and then remain locked in during adulthood.

Unfortunately, these survival moments may severely hamper our ability to respond CONSCIOUSLY to situations. 

Exploring our trauma history and taking ownership of our personal values is challenging but releasing these old coping tools and truly leaning into our feelings is incredibly transformative. However, it is a destabilizing process as we are essentially asking our brains to be comfortable giving up something that kept us safe!

When our clients are in pain they are looking for a safe connection but sometimes they are so invested in their stories that it is valuable to be aware of their projections, not take their behaviour personally and maintain composure when they are in attack mode.

How we show up in that moment is based on our values and our ability to check in with ourselves when conflict arises. This in turn, can shine the light on whether we are in alignment with them or not, and if not, whether is it possible to bring ourselves back.

In this blog, I will briefly share the 4 basic types of responses but my focus will be on the one that holds true to me, and fundamentally, by its very nature, has the potential to be unconsciously reinforced in the care industry.  It is not only common but Universal – a response we default to when losing our job is more terrifying than losing our authentic voice. 

So here they are…

Fight Response: unconsciously alienate others because of the belief that power and control can create safety, and avoid abandonment 

Example: being angry with numerous false alarm ‘toilet runs’

Solution: empathy response – how does it feel to be the client 

Flight Response: is the desire to escape emotional turmoil, by being perpetually busy and industrious to avoid potentially triggering situations

Example: overdoing the housekeeping chores

Solution: slow down, breathe, and be open to discomfort

Freeze Response: this is a stalling tactic, an avoidance of risky social interactions.             A classical dissociation from reality

Example: mentally checking out when a client transitions

Solution: take time to formulate a direct route to safety

Then last, but not least, the response that I wrestle with daily is essentially a maladaptive way of creating safety in our connections with others by essentially mirroring the imagined expectations and desires of other people. Probably need to read that again…

This inevitably can result in the death of the individual self as we unconsciously detach from our own sense of identity. 

Fawning is such a powerful codependent defence mechanism that it is deserving of a blog all on its own but here are the basics…

Fawn Response: suppressing authenticity by hiding behind a helpful persona – over eliciting or overdoing for the other

Example: constantly appeasing a client in hope of avoiding criticism or negative feedback 

Solution: a transitory withdrawal so that the brain has a chance to reconstitute its sense of safety back to its inborn genetic level of calm.

This codependent defence mechanism was first coined by Pete Walker in his book ‘Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving’

Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries

Typically, people-pleasing is used to diffuse conflict and one becomes a compliant servant for exploitative purposes. A defence mechanism that ultimately diminishes us. Sound familiar? 

In our profession, we have the tendency to repeat behaviours that keep us safe and stable in our work and it takes an enormous amount of courage to be vulnerable when our livelihood is on the line.

But we have to trust that we live in an abundant world and our needs will always be met in accordance with the growth that each experience provides. If we approach our work with that attitude we can start to surrender to the old conditioning and usher in a new way of life – it certainly is worth it!

Part 2 to follow…


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