top of page

Five domains that activate threat response in our brain.

In this article, we explore the SCARF Model to understand the reason we get triggered and explain how you can use it to work with people more effectively.

The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 by David Rock, in his paper "SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others." SCARF stands for the five key "domains" that influence our behavior in social situations. These are:

Status – our relative importance to others.This is key in creating psychologically safe environments, whether it be in the workplace or at home. This allows people to ask questions, learn, contribute, and challenge without losing status. itis about feeling important or socially respected.

Certainty – our ability to predict the future. We are living in a time with increased unpredictability and uncertainty, so don’t leave your people guessing. When we are in a familiar situation our brains run on a kind of automatic pilot, which enables us to conserve valuable brain energy. Our brains continuously judge if we are in a familiar situation where the pattern of what is likely to happen next is known. This familiarity frees us to do more than one thing at the same time, for example, drive and talk.

When an uncertain situation arises our brains register it as an error, gap, or tension: something that must be corrected before we can return to our automatic pilot. Uncertainty can trigger the threat circuitry in our brain causing increased anxiety and our fight-flight-or-freeze response.

Autonomy – our sense of control over events. People want to feel independent and competent, regardless of age. Micromanaging does not help but will simply frustrate the individual and can leave them feeling incompetent or with a sense of failure. Creating an atmosphere where you allow others to contribute, take the initiative, and have responsibility can help foster that feeling of autonomy. A lack of autonomy produces a threat response. Most people are happier and less stressed when they have control over their lives.

Relatedness – how safe we feel with others. We work better when we feel we have something in common with others. This can help boost engagement and sense of belonging. a desire to be connected socially with 'people like us'. Positive social connection is a fundamental need, we tend to collect with people who have similar interests or attitudes.

Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be. Fairness speaks to the equity piece; being treated equally within all environments, professionally and personally. it is about authenticity and transparency.

The model is based on neuroscience research that implies that these five social domains activate the same threat and reward responses in our brains that we rely on for physical survival. If we feel any of them under attack we feel unsafe we Fight, fight, freeze, and fawn. Fight, flight, or freeze are the three most basic stress responses. They reflect how your body will react to danger. Fawn is the fourth stress response that was identified later. so let's understand why we respond in these four domains. In triggered moments we don’t function as capable and wise adults, we revert to hurt child inside and turn to coping mechanisms that we learned in childhood to keep us safe. we feel scared and hurt and turn to that child within who is already hurt.

FIGHT Response - When the body perceives a threat and believes it can overcome it, it responds with the fight mode. This is accompanied by the brain releasing signals to prepare the body for the physical demands of combat.

Signs of the fight response include a tight jaw, grinding of teeth, an urge to punch something or someone, an intense feeling of anger, a need to stomp or kick, crying in anger, a burning or knotted sensation in the stomach, and a tendency to attack the source of danger.

In addition to the flight response, the freeze and fawn responses are also stress reactions that do not involve decisive actions.

The freeze response causes a feeling of being stuck in place, occurring when the body does not believe it can fight or flee. Signs of the freeze response include a sense of dread, pale skin, feeling stiff, heavy, cold, and numb, a loud, pounding heart, and a decreasing heart rate.

On the other hand, the fawn response is utilized after an unsuccessful fight, flight, or freeze attempt. It is primarily observed in individuals who have grown up in abusive families or situations. Signs of a fawn response include over-agreement, trying to be overly helpful, and having a primary concern with making someone else happy. we try to please other person so they like us and they don’t harm us .

Furthermore, the flight response is characterized by various signs including excessive exercising, feeling fidgety, tense, or trapped, constantly moving the legs, feet, and arms, experiencing a restless body, feeling numbness in the arms and legs, and having dilated, darting eyes. These responses illustrate the diverse ways in which the body reacts to perceived threats and stress.

This "primitive" reaction helps to explain the sometimes strong emotional reactions that we can have to social situations – and why it's often hard to control them. It's instinct, and unfortunately we can't just "turn it off."

For example, when we are left out of an activity, we might perceive it as a threat to our status and relatedness. Research has shown that this response can stimulate the same region of the brain as physical pain. In other words, our brain is sending out the signal that we're in danger.

Furthermore, when we feel threatened – either physically or socially – the release of cortisol (the "stress hormone") affects our creativity and productivity. We literally can't think straight, and this increases the feeling of being threatened.

On the flip side, when we feel rewarded (for instance, when we receive praise for our work) our brains release dopamine – the "happy hormone." And, of course, we want more! So we seek out ways to be rewarded again.

At your service.

with love and Gratitude


12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Cultivating Coherence to heal from PTSD

Dr. Daniel Siegel discusses the significance of "coherence" as a key component to healing from a traumatic childhood. Coherence refers to having a life story that makes sense, even if the events thems


bottom of page