There's lots of info on the fight or flight impulse we experience when faced with sudden danger, and there seems to be more talk nowadays about the freeze as well. If you aren't familiar with it, we often freeze first before fighting or running away - and sometimes the freeze itself can be our instinctive first-line defense, and we stay there.
People don't want to admit to themselves that they freeze, because they think it makes them look like scaredy-cats. Actually there seems to be a lot of shame attached to both the freeze and the flight impulse, as if they are strictly acts of cowardice. I suppose sometimes they are, but sometimes they are also the best way to stay alive. What are you supposed to do if a bee lands on you? Freeze! A lot of the animal kingdom survives by doing just that.
But the saddest thing I've ever heard was when a rape victim told me she couldn't forgive herself because she "let him do it". No, she froze, and survived. I also had a student run away during a scenario drill where you're walking in a sketchy area with your friend and are afraid you might be attacked. They were attacked (of course) and one girl panicked and ran while the other fought. The one who ran cried because she thought she was a coward. I told her she was a survivor, but she didn't buy it. In our society the only impulse response we value is "fight".
I think what matters is that we're having the right response at the right time.
I will admit that I've done all three. I move in toward danger & fight at work if I have to because sometimes my job requires it, and since it is a natural as well as a trained response for me it has gone well.
I've also run away like my butt was on fire once when I thought I was about to be attacked by a homeless person while walking my dog in the woods. (No, I did not leave my dog behind, duh!)
And recently I froze - and got stuck there. I was able to observe it while it was happening because of my training, which was so cool. But I was still stuck!
I was in a parking garage when I heard two shots fired. Holy shit! I was just about to open the door to my car when I heard it & it was like in the movies when everyone but the star freezes in place. I wasn't the star, so I froze in place. So here's what went through my head, and quickly, "two shots fired…where is it coming from? (only my eyes moved to look around)…it could be an accidental discharge, I am at a law enforcement conference after all, everyone's armed…(listening for screams, the sound of running feet or a car speeding away…nothing)…oh, I should be throwing myself on the ground if someone's shooting, I need to hide & see if I can see a shooter…I should call 911...I'm not moving, shit, I must be frozen…well, I'm not dead yet, I think I'll just stay here…get down, stupid…this is my first real freeze, the next time I probably won't react this way…"
Turns out it wasn't shots fired, just two big fast loud bangs that had no danger attached. And I probably won't freeze like that the next time two sudden bangs happen out of nowhere, because the first is the worst. But pretending like I didn't do it this time won't help!
So please know that any and all of them can happen to you and try not to judge yourself too harshly when they do. But if you find you have the wrong impulse at the wrong time, work on that. Train. You can educate your body in how to react under stress.