Understanding Trauma Responses

by Feb 19, 2024

From terrible events like accidents or violence to the quieter traumas of neglect or emotional abuse, distressing experiences can shape our beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. They can alter our self-perception and change how we view the world around us. But not everyone reacts the same. Some might feel numb or shut down. Others might feel constantly on edge, ready to avoid danger at a moment’s notice. Others may even turn to people-pleasing tendencies.

Let’s learn more about trauma responses and how our bodies and brains respond to distressing situations.

What Is a Trauma Response?

A trauma response is how your body and brain react to a distressing event. This is an innate survival mechanism that helps people cope with and adapt to overwhelming or threatening situations. Trauma responses can vary widely depending on factors such as the nature of the trauma and a person’s past experiences. It’s important to note that trauma responses are normal reactions to abnormal events.

Unfortunately, trauma isn’t something that just goes away on its own, though. While trauma responses protect us in the short term, they can also cause long-term problems if left unresolved. A lot of the time, trauma is carried with us for months or even years after the trauma occurred.

Exploring Different Trauma Responses

When faced with a threat, we all have primal responses designed to protect us known as: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses are often activated in response to trauma, and they can stick around for long after the traumatic event as occurred.

The Fight Response

The fight response is one of the most well-known types of trauma responses. This is a response to trauma that involves fighting back or standing up for oneself. Someone experiencing a fight response may react in a physical manner, like kicking or punching when attacked. They may also instigate physical fights on their own if they feel threatened. Or, the fight response may present as confrontational, defensive, or angry behavior toward perceived threats like criticism or feelings of vulnerability.

The Flight Response

When someone feels like they may not be able to fight back or successfully win a fight against a perceived threat, a flight response may happen instead. This type of response involves literally running away or trying to avoid the threat. A flight response could also include behavioral changes like isolating oneself or turning towards unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or other substances.

The Freeze Response

When a threat feels too overwhelming or unescapable, a freeze response may occur instead. The freeze response is initiated when the fight or flight response is put on hold. It often involves taking the time to assess a situation, which could mean stopping what you’re doing, looking around, and listening to what’s going on around you. People experiencing a freeze response may dissociate or withdraw emotionally and mentally.

The Fawn Response

The last, and lesser known, trauma response is the fawn response. A fawn response is when a person attempts to appease or please the threat or aggressor. They may be compliant or display submissive behaviors in order to meet the needs of others, even at their own expense. This response serves to lower the risk of harm while maintaining a sense of safety and connection.

How to Heal

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs or symptoms of trauma, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. There are treatment options that can help you work through all of those different emotions and feelings that you have. We’re here to help you navigate this time in your life when you’re ready. Reach out to us today to set up an intake appointment. 

Click here for more information on trauma therapy.