Lifestyle · Mental Health

Vulnerability: Do You Run, Fight, Or Freeze?

We’ve all heard of the Fight or Flight response, where in dangerous or scary situations, we either run or fight due to the adrenaline arming our bodies against the stimuli. But there’s a third option that’s often left out: Freeze.

So, when the going gets tough; when you’re vulnerable, afraid, on display, and in danger, what do you do? Run, fight, or freeze?


Defining Vulnerability

Before I get into each point, I wanted to briefly define vulnerability. Vulnerability is “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Brené Brown says vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”

So, we feel vulnerable in tough, scary, uncertain, or emotion-triggering situations.

*Check out my post on the power of Vulnerability for more.



I see this one as burying your head in the sand. Like with ostriches, who apparently bury their head in the sand to hide from danger.

Ostrich Syndromea person who attempts to ignore unpleasant facts or situations.”

People who face vulnerable situations and run are those who will sooner ignore or suppress emotions that they’re uncomfortable with. They will deny, lie, and hide to avoid feeling these hard emotions.

Some people are not good with emotions. Either they lack emotional intelligence, emotional agility, or emotional resilience. They don’t know their emotions, they don’t know what they do for them, they don’t know how to process them or use them, and so they hide from them instead.

Running in the face of vulnerability is no good. It means you won’t face your fears. It means you won’t overcome hardships. It means you won’t learn lessons about yourself or life or the world. It means you won’t make real, lasting connections of love and belonging and trust.

Suppressed emotions don’t go away. Instead, they fester. They grow and get restless and manifest in other more harmful ways.

If you recognise that you run in the face of vulnerability, then you need to start to witness and process your emotions in a healthier way.



I think I’m a fighter. This can be good and bad! Firstly, in the face of adversity or vulnerability, these people will confront the situation or problem or emotion head-on. This can be good because, of course, we need to deal with things in life to get past them and take their power away.

However, sometimes these people are too quick to fight. They make rash decisions or actions in the hope of defeating a problem, but end up making it worse.

These people can also become naturals at arming themselves against problems. Always ready for battle even when there is nothing to fight. They get defensive. They are always in attack mode.

These people can be brave enough to face tough emotions or situations one minute, but high-strung and anxious the next. Their natural instinct to fight makes them on-edge and defensive. They find problems to fix where there aren’t any. They snap or are irritable with people because they are always vigilant and feel like threats are everywhere.

If you are like me and you’re this kind of person in the face of vulnerability, ensure you’re using your battle skills for the right reasons. Ensure you confront what needs confronting, instead of creating battles for the sake of fighting.



Lastly, there’s those who freeze. These people do nothing. They panic, choke up and end up being paralysed by fear. They are victims of inaction and indecision.

These people remind me of a possum! They see a potential threat and they freeze up and play dead until it’s gone!

This is not good, either. In a difficult situation, you can’t freeze up. You can’t just seize up and hope it’ll pass.

Now, I know that people don’t mean to do this. I know that with anxiety (or other) you can panic and become indecisive and frozen. But ideally, this can’t just be ignored. If you know that you do this even in smaller situations of vulnerability, then you need to work on it.


Working On Our Responses

As you can see, there are good and bad in all of these responses to difficult or uncomfortable situations.  You can’t hide all the time, you can’t fight all the time, you can’t freeze all the time.

Instead, here’s some advice to help you handle vulnerable situations better:

Embrace vulnerability

Firstly, we must accept that in life, we will feel vulnerable. To avoid vulnerability is to avoid living life. To avoid newness or taking chances or finding real love. And so, if we can change our attitudes and relationships with vulnerable situations, maybe we won’t react so poorly to them.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable!


Work on insecurities

Those of us who have really bad reactions in vulnerable situations are those with unrecognised or deep-rooted insecurities.

What’s going on inside of you?

What are you afraid of?

What makes you uncomfortable?

What are your shame triggers? 

Knowing what causes a reaction in you is the first sign of insecurities, fears, trauma, or emotional problem areas (see post) that you need to work on.


Be self-aware

In order to figure out the deeper stuff, you simply must be more actively self-aware. Self-awareness to me is the single most important part of any self-improvement, intentional living, health or happiness.

Self-awareness means you catch yourself in bad behaviours. It means you know yourself. It means you can make decisions better. It means you understand yourself, your emotions, and what happens in vulnerability, so that you can then analyse and fix where necessary.


Breaths and Intentions

No amount of knowing yourself or embracing or preparation will make you immune to the ickiness or downright hard parts of vulnerable situations.

When someone makes us feel ashamed, that’s hard to deal with. When we love someone and we’re saying it for the first time, it’s hard to face the possibility of rejection. When you’re chasing your dreams with uncertainty, you know that you’ll fail and fall and struggle, but knowing that doesn’t take away the pain when it happens.

And so, when there’s nothing else to be done, just breathe.

Breathe through it. Breath intentionally and witness the breath to calm yourself.

And then once you’re calm, get some perspective: What’s really happening? What can I do? What does this mean? Am I thinking about this in the best way?

From there, be intentional with your actions. Not reactive, not proactive, but be in the present moment with the emotions and trust yourself to take action from an intentional place.

Breathe – Feel – Process – Act

Vulnerability is a wonderful thing. It’s so difficult yet so informative, powerful, and life-changing when you don’t avoid it. Knowing how you respond to vulnerable situations can be insightful and help you to better cope.

Good luck.


If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.

If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!


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