Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn and Autism and PDA

It’s been one week since I made a post. I missed a self-imposed schedule of weekly postings about autism during the month of April, Autism Awareness-Acceptance-Appreciation Month. Since autism is an issue that is personal and important to me, you’d think that I’d be super motivated to make those posts and there wouldn’t be a problem doing it. This is a political psychology blog, two topics that are both very important to me, and it’s been a week of extraordinary political events that are begging for psychological analysis and explanation. The Tucker Carlson firing alone should’ve gotten a WTF is wrong with him type post, right?

So, WTF is wrong with me that I can’t manage it?

Autism and pathological demand avoidance are fickle motherfuckers. That’s what happens.

Autism, PDA, and Anxiety

When you are motivated to do something, there is an increase in anxiety. Anxiety is natures way of kicking you in the ass to get you over the hump of inertia and do something. Or, it could be viewed the other way around, especially when the something is external to you, like a social or work obligation. Anxiety increases when there’s an obligation, which motivates you to do it so the anxiety is removed. Probably, we’re all familiar with the way this works. Probably, right?

Autism makes it difficult to interact with your environment, especially socially. Auties are much more internally focused. There is a blunted awareness of events, especially social activity, happening in the environment, so they are often blissfully unaware of social and environmental obligations. I say often because every autie is different and some of us are aware of environmental obligations and cope with them quite well. Most of us, however, I’d venture to say, don’t.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn

When anxiety spikes or reaches a threshold, it triggers the reaction widely known as fight or flight, but updated to be fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, and, herein lies the key to understanding my erratic and irregular posting schedule as well as most of the other difficulties in my life.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Fight, flight, or freeze describes our natural response to danger. It is well known. When danger presents itself, hormones are dumped into the bloodstream preparing the body to save itself by one or a combination of one of these:

  • FIGHT is to, well, enter into mortal combat with something. You probably don’t realize it, but most animals in the natural world avoid combat at almost all costs, even predators. That’s why they look for the weak to eat. There are too many unknowns in fighting, and it is too easy to receive an injury that can cost you later down the line. Fight should be a last resort.
  • FLIGHT is to run away. It is a reasonable rational reaction to mortal danger. If you pour all of your bodily resources into fleeing, you just might pull it off. Despite its portrayal in action movies, it is one of the safer bets.
  • FREEZE is the ability to go all deer-in-headlights mode. If you stand stock still in the face of danger, it just might pass you by and give fleeing a better chance of working. There’s a reason why deer and other animals use it. It works.

However, in our fascinating modern world, it don’t work that way. Most of our dangers aren’t mortal in nature. In fact, most of them are contrived and induce huge amounts of stress and anxiety that trigger this response. You may have noticed that in our fascinating modern world, none of the above is actually appropriate unless you’re a Second Amendment nutter, then shooting someone is the right way to go. As long as it is the ubiquitous action flick “bad guy,” which makes the shooter the rogue hero that is the only one who can see the truth and will go to any lengths to protect what is right and good in this world. You know, according to those Second Amendment types the world is neatly and clearly divided into John McClanes and Hans Grubers.


Somehow or other we have to work FAWN into the mix, so it might as well be here. Fawning is the tendency to seek favor from others by using flattery or being overly servile. You try to convince your aggressor not beat the shit out of you and, perhaps, kill you this time by doing what they want. The stereotype and reality is the person in an abusive relationship.

Freeze on Steroids

Mental health diagnoses are the common behaviors and cognitive processes run amok so that they no longer functional and coping but dysfunctional and harming. The same is true of autism and pathological demand avoidance.

PDA is the freeze response on steroids. It is the go to move when feeling stressed. It might work reasonably well when lions and cougars are involved, but it works less well when it is the electric bill and a self-imposed deadline. Freezing under those circumstances doesn’t really help. In fact, it hurts. Believe me, I know, I’ve not paid my electric bill often enough to know that sitting in your house for three days without power is harmful in the extreme, and it is more expensive to get the juice flowing again.

In this go around of the never ending ignore it and it won’t hurt you disastrous coping mechanism, work and home life got stressful, like they commonly do, so I do what I usually do and stop doing anything. Here are the common symptoms of freezing:

  • Numbing behaviors like substance abuse or sex addiction
  • Lots o’ time on the socialist medias
  • Binge watching all of the streaming services even when your liking system is sated, but the reward system is still saying, Just one more!
  • All of the time wasting procrastinating things we do really is a symptom of freezing in the face of anxiety and stress.

If we review my week, we find I binge watched a lot of the TV and drank a lot of Coke Zero. I did the bare minimum for household duties, had fun with La Petite Fille, and actually accomplished a few things at work. Oh, and I overate.

So, yeah, that’s the freeze.

Freezing in the face of stress isn’t exclusive to autism or PDA, but PDA is the freeze response run amok.

Fight or Flight and Autism

Interestingly, the fight or flight response explains a lot of other autie behavior.

  • MELTDOWNS? Fight
  • STIMMING? Flight

Not every sign or symptom can be categorized as fight, flight, or freeze. Almost none can be categorized as fawn because autism, know what I mean? If not, let me know in the comments, I’ll explain.

Having autism in a non-autistic world makes life challenging. Having PDA can make it pert near impossible. Luckily, I married well and my autism has helped me cope more effectively with PDA, which is a whole other blog post.

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Image Attribution

Image found using the WordPress AI illustrator app. It is licensed however WordPress has licensed it, which they haven’t made easily accessible, but it is on the list of block option on their block editor, so it must be okay for me to use it. Is it okay for you to use it? I don’t know.

a cartoon image of a fawn in an ice cube
a cartoon image of a fawn in an ice cube

7 replies »

    • But it sure feels like a little voice, doesn’t it. That voice is an interesting point of study in psychology trying to figure out how exactly it gets formed.



  1. I’m thinking about the vast range of ways we have now to enact those responses in essentially illusory ways. There’s binge watching whatever (flight/freeze), ranting on social media (lets us think we are fighting), and so much more. And so much that feels like taking action about a threat when often neither the threat nor the action is real. It’s kind of a wonder that anybody gets anything real done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Except when they shoot someone. When you’re wired for fight or flight, and there’s a gun available, too often fight becomes the option. Part of what we’re seeing play out in the US: the permission to fight with guns over taking flight. The stand your ground laws permit you to use deadly force even if retreat was an option. Before stand your ground, we had encoded into law fight or flight. Now we’ve encoded fight.

      It may also explain what used to be called flame wars and trolling, though, too.

      I’m always amazed that we get anything done. Why wouldn’t we sit around playing on the Internet all day?


      Liked by 1 person

      • Lately, I begin to think that the “stand your ground” rhetoric and the loosening of gun laws in some states goes beyond permission to shoot, to the suggestion of a duty, that the right thinking and godly have a duty to shoot whatever “bad guys” they encounter, acting as a militia of the whole (POC, woke traitors, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ need not apply for membership).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          I have begun to think that we are entering a new era of gun violence. It used to be gun violence fell into several categories: suicide, crime, mass shootings, and quarrels among friends and family usually involving alcohol. Now, we’re seeing a rash of shootings that have little to no provocation. Shootings in response to innocent mistakes and reasonable requests. The factor that probably links all of the shooters is poor executive functioning. They can’t control their emotions very easily, they have a gun close at hand, they act on an angry impulse, and they’ve been primed to shoot first. The only missing ingredient to making this a bigger phenomenon is a public praising of these shooters by some prominent personality, like Tucker Carlson, who is now officially a loose cannon, but probably less useful now for whoever was paying him to be so outrageous on air.



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