“Fight, Flight, Freeze” to “Survival Mode” and “Reflexes and Habits”

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75 Minutes

Originally Aired
April 19, 2022

Jim Hopper
James W. Hopper, Ph.D.
Clinical psychologist and independent consultant, Teaching Associate in Psychology, Harvard Medical School, and nationally recognized expert on psychological trauma.

The phrase “fight or flight” is still commonly used to describe how people react while being sexually assaulted, yet it fails and harms many sexual assault survivors on a daily basis. In reality, many victims of sexual assault don’t fight or flee. Adding “freeze” as a third possible response, which has become common, doesn’t fix the problem, for two reasons: First, any phrase that starts with “fight or flight” doesn’t reflect the reality for many survivors and leaves them feeling like their response was abnormal or wrong. Second, many survivor behaviors during sexual assault don’t fit under “fight,” “flight” or “freeze” because they’re habit-based behaviors, in which they aren’t “frozen” but rather behaving politely and submissively. Using the term “fawn” doesn’t fix it either, because many polite and passive habit behaviors don’t involve fawning, and because “fight” and “flight” still come first and leave people feeling judged by others and themselves.

In this plenary, Dr. Hopper will explain how we got into this mess and propose a way out: replacing “fight, flight, freeze” with “survival mode” and “habits and reflexes” – language that reflects the realities of victim behavior and the neurobiology of trauma, and that much better supports survivors of sexual assault in their pursuits of healing and justice.


As a result of this webinar, participants will be better able to:

  • Explain why “fight or flight,” “fight, flight, freeze,” and other variants of that language do not reflect reality.
  • Recognize why “fight or flight” and its variants are harmful to many survivors of sexual assault.
  • Describe the historical origins of “fight or flight” and how the usage of that phrase reflects a misunderstanding of the scientist who is credited for coining the phrase and the misapplication of his research.
  • Identify why “survival mode” is a much better phrase for describing the neurobiological state and why “reflexes and habits” is a much better phrase for describing the behaviors associated with that state, including in the contexts of victim advocacy, investigation, and prosecution.


EVAWI is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing to provide Continuing Education contact hours for nurses (Provider #15641). 

Registered Nurses may purchase 1.25 contact hours after completing this webinar.

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