Beyond Fight, Flight and Freeze Mode in Response to a Narcissist

Jousting – The Fight Response

You feel an immediate desire to fight back when you feel ignored or verbally attacked by a narcissist. Your inner dialogue says, “I’ll show you!” This typically results in you being worn out and the narcissist being energized.

To modify this approach:

Fighters need to give up the fight. You only need to stand up for yourself, not attack back, which will leave you feeling guilty for letting the narc take you to that place. Change your inner dialogue from “I’ll show you” to “I have rights also. My feelings are important”.

Communicate the following:

Although this is probably not your intention, I feel very devalued by the way you’re speaking to me. I will not tolerated being treated so disrespectfully. If you are uncomfortable with me, you can tell me without putting me down or ignoring me.

Escape (Flight response):

You are prone to running away when things get difficult. You inner dialogue says, “See ya later!” The more you avoid however, the narcissist pursues, demands and persists. You end up feeling cornered, incapacitated and abandoned by your own voice.

To modify this approach:
If you feel the need for distance from arguments, that’s okay. In order to resolve conflict, you need to eventually return. Your inner dialogue may change from “See ya later!” to “I need a time-out”.

I know this issue is very important to you. It is also very important to me, but I am feeling flooded and overwhelmed right now. I need some time alone to regroup and gather my thoughts so our conversation can be productive.

Surrender (Freeze Response):
You are prone to becoming immobilized when interactions with a narcissist feel threatening. Your only means of releasing yourself from the opponents sticky grip is to give in, take the blame and agree. You inner dialogue says, “You’re right. It’s ALL my fault.” Unfortunately, this often results in further criticism and your own frustration.

To modify this approach:

You might find a rehearsed script helpful. Your inner dialogue can go from “It’s all my fault” to ” I may not be perfect, but it’s not ALL my fault.”


Your new approach might sound like this: “It seems that you are upset with me, and when I sense that, I have a tendency to give up and give in. I know that this upsets you further which is not my intention. I become triggered by these exchanges, but Im working to strengthen my voice. I would appreciate it, if you could be more thoughtful too.”


Posted on October 6, 2013, in Narcissism. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. “Your new approach might sound like this: “It seems that you are upset with me, and when I sense that, I have a tendency to give up and give in. I know that this upsets you further which is not my intention. I become triggered by these exchanges, but I’m working to strengthen my voice. I would appreciate it, if you could be more thoughtful too.”

    –Not effective.

    All the narc hears is, ‘ah, I have won by upsetting you, and now I know another weak spot, and since you invited me to stick around while you “work on your strength” [thanks for admitting another spot for me to target], I will take the time to make sure and come back and throw your short-coming in your face and use it against you, even quoting and twisting your own words. Thank you very much for helping me out with this. See you later! Guaranteed!’

    Feed them, and they will stay. Starve them, and they go away.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dorothy (Doro) Reeves

    Petra, your ex-husband’s addiction to porn and online sites sounds all too familiar. A first cousin I’d been close to for many years, who married my best friend, turned out to be way more addicted to porn than I ever fully realized. (Perhaps I was in denial; in retrospect, the evidence was apparent enough.) His marriage to my girlfriend lasted only four months. I later learned he was plugged into THIRTY porn sites! Pathetic.
    I used to think this cousin was the “brother I never had”. That bubble’s been popped for the LAST time.
    Those of us who grew up in toxic environments spend so much of our lives playing catch-up, learning self esteem, learning how to choose healthy relationships, how to maintain appropriate boundaries and so on. But it is never too late and it is SO worth the effort. – Doro


  3. Dorothy (Doro) Reeves

    Mourning Rose, you sound like someone who’s been to hell and back. Your story is heart wrenching. It must be so hard to pick up the pieces and move on after all those years spent in such a dysfunctional marriage. I wish you all the best in your new life. – Doro


  4. Survivors unite and let’s heal together!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I want to thank ANA for this forum. God bless you help make sense out of Narcononsense which is truly an insidious cancer that is more prevalent than I and I’m sure so many ever believed is so rampant in our society/world. BTW… don’t ever do what I did and give reading materials on Narcs to your Narc as they will only glean more 411 and intensify their sick and evil campaign and games. There is no fixing, repairing or rehabbing a NARC. It’s what feeds their very existence, their life’s blood. The advice provided is SPOT ON! I determined to change the game plan early in the learning process and it caused my Narco to seethe. I would silently hope for relief in the way of a heart attack but hear tell, karma is visiting him in the most torturous manner likened to a slow burn. God’s way is always better. He’s in control and promises to defeat the enemy in His time. I’m in the process of preparing to relocate far enough away that I don’t have to run into any of his followers and have to hear the reports.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I knew our marriage was wrong two weeks in and two weeks before should’ve paid heed to the warning sign by his Narco mother. Religious upbringing reminded me I was not permitted to leave, divorce. Three kids and 32 years married (36 year relationship) to be thrown out like garbage. I lost my usefulness. No longer the trophy-wife he would trade me and our youngest daughter in for the most notorious town whore (7 marriages and 3 children by 3 dif fathers). He was steeped in and obsessed with porn and he too use to engage in drugs saying they helped him sleep. I believe they only added to the problem chemically speaking (I never indulged). Told him maybe if you cleaned the conscience closet out you could sleep. Write a book on what a classic Narc he is. I’m glad he is gone, no love left but hate seeps in if I allow it for what he did those last 3 years and the untold damage to our 3 children. The youngest told him the last time he walked “you are not a husband, a dad, a Christian, but a man-whore (never heard that one before) and you’re dead. He drug her through the court system for 2 years but she held her ground. She has grown into a remarkable woman (her siblings have shared they wish he had left long ago) yet they were drug in and participated in his campaign to get rid of the youngest and I. Just like him. I put the loser through law school, obtain our first mortgage, furnish our homes, the list goes on. I feel used, and tired. How do you forget close to 40 years of memories (a lifetime). Put one foot in front of the other and move ever so slowly forward with a ball and chain attached. It is what it is… amnesia would be a welcome relief sometimes I think.


  7. I tried many times to walk away, cried many nights and even just said, Telling him you are right it is all my fault…We went to counseling once and he took it over.

    He is a program supervisor at a VA drug program yet was always doing drugs. When several of his co-workers got fired (supervisors dont get random testing) I asked how that made him feel.when in fact he has smoked crack and weed. Wrong question! All hell broke loose.

    He had a major addiction to porn and online sites. He was always so secretive. Yet loved to portray us as the happy couple in public.

    He was not only emotionally abusive but physically abusive. The one advantage I had was I was in counseling for Sexual Trauma/Abuse. Even when he pushed for me to stop I never did.

    I knew within 6 months of our marriage it wasnt going to last. Finally at our 2nd anniversary when he jumped me for the final time. I left. My daughter and I along with friends and family, packed our stuff and left.

    I changed my number and filed for divorce. I ceased all communication except where I had to talk to him via email only regarding legal matters.

    I was wife number 4. After I left I talked to wife 3..She had it worse than I did. Thankfully we both are survivors. We both not only survived but are thriving because he taught us both a valuable lesson. We deserve better.

    And you are right, he immediately went online and is searching. I am not hurt nor jealous but pity the next woman. He harbors a deep hatred for his mother for lying to him about who his father was and his real father for abandoning him.

    When things get rough he would be gone overnight and finally yes I learned he was doing crack. When we met he told me he was a “recovered” crackhead and thief. Yet his ex-wife said he was doing it with her within a year before he and I met.

    As you say…They will never admit they have anger issues or loss of control of their feelings. Thy will forever hurt others because they hurt inside.

    I am not sad I left. He never loved me. He only loved the status I provided…Married




  9. oh i like that word Kim… Malignant add to mine, Covert Socio Psychopathic Passive Aggressive Narc.


  10. Absolutely true in my case Linda. 3 years of therapy and study my new approach of crooking my finger and stating in a whisper ‘you’ll have to excuse me’ would enlist the same controlled angry response, “something wrong?” and my returning with ‘why yes, you seem to be suffering from STM (short-term memory) issues again. I will no longer counter your persistent attempts to engage me in your narcononsense. What part of this do YOU NOT COMPREHEND?’ I would then leave the room. Sometimes he would follow. This is when I learned to bring a book or my journal and lock the door for however long it would take for the perp to leave me alone until the urge to repeat the process overcame him again. SICK and above all else these whackjobs are the epitome of PURE EVIL.


  11. I suppose this might work with certain types of Narcissists, but what about malignant narcissists who don’t have the capacity for empathy or self-reflection? Is this for Narcs in the workplace or social circles? Or, are these suggestions mainly to maintain the self-respect of the victim?


  12. Even what you’ve suggested doesn’t work with a Narcissist. I tried that MANY times, I assure you. They hate you even more for it, cos they’re envious that you have self-control in the face of so much aggression or passive aggression from them. What does work, however, is going no contact for life.


  13. this results in you being worn out and the narcissist being energized…. this comment is fab. So true, makes so much sense. I find these tactics and approaches helpful but probably in a more normal relationship. I believe myself to be a good communicator, and nothing I tried worked. In my experience, after trying all of these responses, you still can’t win, the narc cleverly trumps you every time. Eventually the only way of regaining your sanity, is to just remove yourself.


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