Trauma Responses

Hey Soul Family,

We’re going to get in deep today when it comes to trauma responses and what they are. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms such as nausea or headaches. These feelings are completely normal. Today we’re going to go over and discuss the 4 different types of trauma responses that could have been developed during your childhood or adolescence. There is a very good chance that you fall within at least one of these categories, although it is common to fall within at least two categories. The four categories that we will discuss are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. There are two other categories that you may also find- friend or flop but I find that these are extensions or branches of fawn and freeze respectively. Understanding our trauma responses and learning more effective ways to cope with and deal with stress will also be beneficial to healing your inner child.

FIGHT Response: “The Bully”: Confront the threat

Unconsciously they believe that power and control creates safety. Their ingrained defense survival pattern is to pursue this power and control. They may believe that if they attack the threat before it attacks them, they may weaken it and avoid being attacked again in the future. Their approach to relating and connecting with others is through control, and they connect by attempting to control those in their life. Their approach to a threat is to take action by attacking. When they feel threatened, they attack or are confrontational. Some common characteristics is monologuing, being critical, and raging. When it comes to making decisions, they tend to be impulsive. They avoid isolation and being alone. In relation to perfection, they demand it. They can fall into the same category as narcissists, sociopaths, or people with conduct disorders.

The fight response forms within childhood when a child is spoiled and becomes entitled due to insufficient limits being set. This often allows them to imitate a narcissistic parent. They will often talk back to adults, storm out of a room, or show aggression towards themselves or others. There can be extreme anger outburst or explosive behaviors that come with this. They usually are defiant when it comes to authority figures. They also tend to shift the blame to others. Their common thought  is, “It’s all your fault”. The most common feelings are anger or rage. This response triggers the sympathetic nervous system.

FLIGHT Response: “The Workaholic”: Run away from the threat

Unconsciously they believe that perfection and achievement will make them safe and lovable. Their ingrained defense survival pattern is to escape into thought (obsession) and action (compulsion). They may believe that if they can quickly get far enough away from the threat, that they can escape and avoid interacting with it entirely. Avoidance and choosing to stay away from confrontation is how they deal with people in general. Their approach to a threat is to take action by achieving through performance. Their approach to connection is to withdraw and stay focused on their own personal achievements instead though. When they relate to others, they tend to try to micromanage them, but this is really rooted in control to some degree. Some common characteristics is chronic worrying, suffering from anxiety or panic, perfectionism, being an overachiever, having performance anxiety, or being an adrenaline junkie. When it comes to decision making, they tend to be overanalytical. In relation to perfection, they are compelled by it and are often driven to perform. They avoid inaction. People who fall within this category can end up being addicts as well, such as overeating. They can fall within the same category or be mislabeled as people with OCD, mood disorders (like bipolar disorder), and ADHD.

The flight response forms in childhood due to a hyperactive response to familial trauma. This response can come from a range of children. On one side there is the child who is a highly driven overachiever, on the other side is someone who chooses to freely run around and be unbound by social structures. This response can manifest in different ways depending on the child. They can space out, leave a classroom unexpectedly, miss class, exhibit obsessive/compulsive behaviors, be a workaholic, have the inability to sit still, or be intentionally or unintentionally distracted. Whenever they feel anxious or overwhelmed, they have the urge to flee and leave. Their most common thought is, “I’ve got to get out of here”. Their most common feelings are anxiety, panic, avoidance, perfectionism, and a constant feeling of fear. This response triggers the sympathetic nervous system.

FREEZE Response: “The Coach Potato”: Shut down/Block out threat

Unconsciously they believe that people are synonymous with danger. Their ingrained defense survival pattern is to avoid human contact. They may believe that if they can close their body up or down and not move, they can keep the threat from noticing them or being interested in them. Another aspect of this trauma response is to “Flop” or collapse. People who go this route may believe that if their mind disconnects from their body by flopping or fainting, that they may be able to avoid feeling any pain or discomfort. People who fall into the freeze category may be scared stiff and shut down or dissociate. People who fall into the flop category may surrender for safety, faint, go limp, immobile, or experience loss of physical control. Their approach to threats is inaction through avoidance and withdrawal.

Their approach to connection is to withdraw by avoiding people altogether. In relation to others, they tend to be detached. Some common hibernating, over sleeping, daydreaming, and being distracted by external sources such as TV, games, and social media. When it comes to decision making, they tend to struggle. In relation to perfection, they are achievement phobic. People who fall within this category may also experience emotional numbness, depression, shame, stagnation, and low energy. They fall within the same categories or can be mislabeled as people with DID, ADD, schizophrenia, or depression.

The freeze and flop response forms in childhood due to the child being scapegoated. The most profoundly abandoned child who was not allowed to employ any of the other trauma responses, will usually develop the freeze or flop response. The most common thought for freezers is, “I can’t”. The most common aspects of freezers are they give up quickly, they seem not to listen when spoken to, or exhibit signs that they are overwhelmed. They feel panicked and overwhelmed which usually leads to them numbing out. The most common thoughts for floppers are, “It’s all my fault” or “It’s not worth it”. The most common aspects for floppers are to appear disengaged, and to show little to no emotions. They feel sad, depressed, hopeless, and apathetic. This response triggers the dorsal vagal.

FAWN Response: “The People Pleaser”: Appease the threat

Unconsciously they believe that the price of any relationship is to forfeit all their needs, rights, and boundaries. Their ingrained defense survival pattern is to people please. This response also have 2 categories with in- the fawn response and the friend response. Their approach to connection is to connect by merging with people. When they relate to others, they tend to allow others to exploit them. Some common characteristics of this response is avoiding conflicts, being an entertainer, a yes man, “nice”, being concerned with fitting in or being accepted, being codependent, having lack of boundaries, attaching to people for safety, represses wants, needs, and voice, and is always flattering others. When it comes to decision making, they tend to defer decisions to others and go with what others want. In relation to perfectionism, they are all about social perfectionism. They can fall within the same categories as codependent, domestic violence victims, or a parentified child.

The fawn response forms in childhood due to being the child of a narcissistic parent. The child learns early on that safety and love is earned through performance, being compliant, or a servant to their parents. People with a fawn response tend to prioritize the needs of others over their own. They can lack identity and feel taken advantage of due to their inability to set boundaries or say no. The most common thought for the friend response is, “Please help me, I can’t do it”. The most common emotions they feel are being helpless, powerless, and having low confidence. This can lead to one not wanting to take responsibility for themselves and always looking for others to help solve their problems. These two responses while they come from the same place are like 2 sides of the same coin. The fawn response is all about helping others, while the friend response is about helping yourself- either way these responses are rooted in searching external to yourself for your needs to be fulfilled. 

What can you do to help regulate your nervous system and help you step out of these trauma responses?

Learning positive ways to cope with your stressors is important to help shift and pivot you out of your learned responses. This will take time and patience in order to achieve. Many of us were not given positive coping skills to deal with our emotions or circumstances and as a result, we find ourselves triggered into trauma response cycles. Identifying which cycles are yours is the first step, the next step will be self-awareness and mindfulness. In order for you to change aspects of yourself, you will have to become mindful and self-aware. You will also have to choose new tools to use in response to trauma or your emotions. I find that most people are triggered into these responses as an adult when it comes to dealing with their emotions, over actual trauma. Many of us stopped dealing with that level of trauma once we left our parents house, but we carry those emotional coping skills with us well into adulthood. This is important to address because these coping mechanisms will be employed in all situations that make you feel emotional. If you have not developed positive coping skills, and have no idea where to start, take a look at these slides.

Well Soul Fam, I hope that this information has helped you with connecting some dots. Until next time… Sending mucho luz + amor always!

Luna Estrellas

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published