Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Responses to the Supreme Court

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. Please “follow” me to never miss an article.

Now that the Supreme Court has made the dreadful decision invalidating a woman’s rights to an Abortion by overturning Roe Versus Wade, the responses follow along the familiar pattern of Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Indeed, Fight, Flight, or Freeze are typical reactions to virtually all high stress situations.

Fight does not necessarily mean fighting physically, but verbally and in terms of political action. The trouble of course is that in today’s world, it has all-too-readily assumed the form of actual physical violence. Flight typically means leaving a threatening situation both physically and emotionally. And Freeze literally means being unable to move and thereby do anything.

In the present situation, Fight is typified by the feeling that one will not let Conservatives win the upcoming Mid-Term Elections thereby allowing them to pass a new Federal Law outlawing Abortions in all 50 States. It’s also typified by extreme towards Democrats in not doing more, saying declaring a Public Health Emergency.

Flight is typified by the feeling that one will travel if need be to other States where it’s still possible to have an Abortion. In the extreme, it means leaving the U.S. altogether for more Abortion friendly countries. And Freeze is characterized by the feeling that even if one is given the financial resources to travel to another State, it’s still not enough for one can’t leave one’s job or abandon one’s children.

As is typically the case, Fight, Flight, or Freeze are not distributed equally among the population at large. The more well-to-do members of society are more likely to stay and thus be able Fight. Indeed, they have the necessary financial and emotional resources that allow them to be able to do so.

One also needs the right financial and emotional resources to be able to Flight. And those who can neither Fight nor Flight, and are thereby trapped into a state of being Frozen, are thoroughly demoralized. They need others to carry the Fight for them.

Most important of all, it’s vital to realize that the three conditions are not fixed for all time. Those who able to Fight at one point time may not be in others. The same with Flight or Freeze. More than ever, the better off need to support those less fortunate. For this reason alone, I’m committed to the Fight for the rest of my life.


Fight, Flight, and Freeze do not of course exhaust all of the possible responses to major calamities. As one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management (CM), I learned early on that three roles emerge invariably in the early stages of a major crisis: Victim, Villain, or Rescuer. That is, one is either the Victim of a crisis; the Villain or the cause of it; or, the Rescuer who comes to the aid of the Victims.

If one is in favor of Abortion, then a woman who for whatever reason does not want to bear a child but is prohibited from having an Abortion is the clear Victim. The Villain is the Anti-Abortion Movement plus those States that prohibit Abortions. The Rescuer is the law itself — i.e., Roe Versus Wade — and Abortion-friendly States.

Of course, for those opposed to Abortions, the unborn fetus is the True Victim; Abortionists are the Villains; and they are the Rescuers.

Notice how Fight, Flight, and Freeze work together. Thus, one is a Rescuer if one Fights for the Victims, whomever they are. Unsupported, Victims often have no recourse but to take Flight, if not Freeze altogether.

The point is that all these and more are part of every important Social Issue. The trick is knowing which ones to enact in which situations. The even bigger trick is developing the necessary skills and temperament to be able enact each and every one as the situation demands.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store