Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Monday, 6 December 2010


I’ve been having a chat with a friend who is neurologically minded. We’ve concurred that most people don’t understand our basic responses to a threat. In fact, even though I’ve trawled through hundreds of academic papers and studied numerous courses it is still hard to get definitive answers as to what happens, and why. So here’s a very brief breakdown, not complete, and just a generalisation, to give you a better understanding.

The freeze is the first reaction we have to a stimulus which may be perceived as a threat. Adrenaline is released throughout the brain which closes down unnecessary activity. The areas of the brain which stay alert are those based on orienting and focusing, like a spotlight on the stimulus. This provides unconscious attention – arousal, orientation and focus. Our attention is focused and orientated on the source of the stimulus to discover if it is a threat

If the threat is perceived, and then increases, we move onto the flight and fight response. Firstly we respond by flight, moving directly away from the source of the threat. As an extreme example this is where people can go into a blind panic, turn and run straight into a wall. If this doesn’t work we escalate through to fight, where we respond to fight off the perceived threat.

If this still isn’t perceived as protecting us from the threat we move to fear. This is a different kind of freeze than earlier, one where fear or terror grips us as we internalise in our minds, our bodies frozen. The emotions you can read on the face are quite different between freeze and fear.

And if fear still doesn’t release the threat then we faint, shutting down all but our life support systems. We drop to the floor.

So in summary we escalate our responses to a perceived threat. Working first from freeze, then to the fight and flight response, before fear, and lastly fainting. Our brain and body activities are different in each of the responses, and work in order.

If you take the time, like I have, to study each of these responses you can apply the knowledge to so many areas of daily life and work. For security, you will be able to perceive if a threat is imminent from a person. For negotiations you can identify whether you are inducing stress or providing relief in the person(s) you are negotiating with. For interrogation or police work you are better placed to identify if a subject is lying. And for fighters like me you can induce these responses in your opponents to exploit them for your own gain.


  1. Great article Gary, my question is how do we train for the area's outside the norm? How do we train to control the emotional responses such as fear or freeze? Without that level of control does it negate all the other physical training undertaken?

  2. Hi Dean, I believe and my research (into other people's research) as well as training my fighters that this process will always happen.

    However, by recognising what is happening or about to happen, future pacing and expecting what is likely to happen, and having responses all planned, we won't fall into the stress response.

  3. Hi Gary

    Great article. Would you be able to reference to some research articles or notable text books on this subject please for directed reading.

  4. Expect the unexpected

  5. Wow what timing to find this article!

    Today in therapy... I went through exactly this chain in therapy while remembering a past traumatic childhood experience.

    The last step (faint): I had dissociated and had a depersonalization reaction - "watching the events from outside of my body"