Know Yourself: Are You a Freezer, Flyer, or Fighter?
How avoidance coping manifests for you will depend on what your dominant response type is when you’re facing something you’d rather avoid. There are three possible responses: freezing, fleeing, or fighting. We’ve evolved these reactions because they’re useful for encounters with predators. Like other animals, when we encounter a predator, we’re wired to freeze to avoid provoking attention, run away, or fight.
Most people are prone to one of the three responses more so than the other two. Therefore, you can think of yourself as having a “type,” like a personality type. Identify your type using the descriptions in the paragraphs that follow. Bear in mind that your type is just your most dominant pattern. Sometimes you’ll respond in one of the other two ways.
Freezers virtually freeze when they don’t want to do something. They don’t move forward or backward; they just stop in their tracks. If a coworker or loved one nags a freezer to do something the freezer doesn’t want to do, the freezer will tend not to answer. Freezers may be prone to stonewalling in relationships, which is a term used to describe when people flat-out refuse to discuss certain topics that their partner wants to talk about, such as a decision to have another baby or move to a new home.
Flyers are people who are prone to fleeing when they don’t want to do something. They might physically leave the house if a relationship argument gets too tense and they’d rather not continue the discussion. Flyers can be prone to serial relationships because they’d rather escape than work through tricky issues. When flyers want to avoid doing something, they tend to busy themselves with too much activity as a way to justify their avoidance. For example, instead of dealing with their own issues, flyers may overfill their children’s schedules so that they’re always on the run, taking their kids from activity to activity.
Fighters tend to respond to anxiety by working harder. Fighters are the anxiety type that is least prone to avoidance coping: however, they still do it in their own way. When fighters have something that they’d rather not deal with, they will often work themselves into the ground but avoid dealing with the crux of the problem. When a strategy isn’t working, fighters don’t like to admit it and will keep hammering away. They tend to avoid getting the outside input they need to move forward. They may avoid acting on others’ advice if doing so is anxiety provoking, even when deep down they know that taking the advice is necessary. Instead, they will keep trying things their own way.
A person’s dominant anxiety type—freezer, flyer, or fighter—will often be consistent for both work and personal relationships, but not always.
Experiment: Once you’ve identified your type, think about a situation you’re facing currently in which you’re acting to type. What’s an alternative coping strategy you could try? For example, your spouse is nagging you to do a task involving the computer. You feel anxious about it due to your general lack of confidence with all things computer related. If you’re a freezer, you’d normally just avoid answering when asked when you’re going to do the task. How could you change your reaction?
Alice Boyes (The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points)