What are Trauma Responses?
Trauma responses are natural reactions that occur when someone experiences, witnesses, or is reminded of a traumatic event. These responses can manifest physically, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally. Traumatic events can range from one-time incidents to ongoing situations such as physical or emotional abuse.
Physical responses to trauma may include increased heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, and sweating. Other physical reactions may include fatigue, headaches, and stomach issues. These responses are a result of the body's natural fight or flight response when faced with danger.
Emotional trauma responses can vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals may experience intense fear, anxiety, or anger while others may feel numbness or detachment. It is common for individuals to have difficulty processing and expressing their emotions after a traumatic event.
Cognitive responses to trauma can include difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and changes in thought patterns. This can lead to negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself and the world. Some individuals may also experience flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event.
Behaviors that may result from trauma responses include avoidance, isolation, and changes in daily routines. Some individuals may also turn to harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or self-harm to cope with their trauma.
The Four F's of Trauma
You may be familiar with the commonly known trauma responses "fight or flight", but did you know there are actually four different trauma responses people can experience when triggered? We all experience trauma in different ways, and our responses to it can vary greatly. Some people may immediately confront their feelings and seek help, while others may try to push it away and cope on their own. These varying reactions to trauma are known as the four trauma responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. Also known as, The Four F's. Let's take a look at each one.
The fight response is characterized by an intense urge to physically or verbally fight back or defend oneself when faced with a traumatic event or something that reminds them of past trauma. This may manifest as anger, aggression, and even violence towards others. Those in a fight response commonly refer to the experience as "seeing red" and seemingly have a hard time refraining from lashing out on their surroundings.
The flight response is the desire to escape or avoid the trauma at all costs. The nervous system gets triggered by what it feels is possible danger, and the response is to run and hide. Someone experiencing this response may withdraw from relationships and isolate themselves, or engage in self-destructive behaviors such as substance use. This response is often associated with anxiety and panic attacks, as the person tries to flee from the overwhelming emotions triggered by the trauma.
The freeze response is characterized by a feeling of being stuck or unable to move when faced with a traumatic event or something that reminds us of past trauma. It is an instinctual survival mechanism that causes us to shut down in order to protect ourselves from harm. Animals use this survival mechanism in the wild to trick predators that are hunting them in to skipping over them; shutting their bodies down is also a way for them to not feel pain and fear while being hunted. Someone experiencing this response may feel emotionally numb or disconnected from their body, and may have difficulty processing and expressing their emotions. This can often be seen as dissociation, with severe cases causing immobility and temporary paralysis during the response.
Finally, the fawn response involves people pleasing behaviors, such as trying to appease the aggressor or denying one's own needs in order to maintain a sense of safety. Fawn response is the act of trying to please or appease others in order to avoid further harm. People who experience this response may become overly compliant, apologize excessively, or try to make excuses for the abuser's behavior. Those who have trauma involving abandonment or abuse are common to exhibit this trauma response.
Have you noticed you or your loved ones experience these trauma responses?
Coping with Trauma Responses
Now that we have a better understanding of the different trauma responses, it's important to recognize that everyone copes differently and there is no right or wrong way to cope with trauma. However, here are some general coping strategies that may be helpful:
Seek professional help: Talking to a therapist or counselor can provide support and guidance in processing traumatic events and managing trauma responses.
Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being is crucial in coping with trauma. This may include getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, exercising, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
Connect with others: Building a support system of friends and loved ones can provide a sense of safety and comfort. Communicating your experiences and emotions to others will help everyone be able to navigate challenging scenarios.
How To Help
It's important to remember that these responses are not a choice, but rather an automatic and instinctual reaction to trauma. Each one serves as a means of self-protection and survival in the face of danger.
It's also worth noting that individuals may experience multiple trauma responses at different times or even simultaneously. Understanding these responses can help us better support ourselves and others who have experienced trauma, as well as de-stigmatize certain behaviors that may be seen as "abnormal" or "wrong". Let's continue to educate ourselves and have empathy for those who have been affected by trauma in any form. So the next time you encounter someone who seems to be responding to a traumatic event in an unexpected way, remember that they are likely just trying to cope with their experiences in the best way they know how. Let's continue to create a safe and understanding space for those who are on their journey of healing from trauma. Let's be mindful of our own reactions and support those around us as we all navigate through difficult experiences. Remember, we are all in this together. We can learn from each other and overcome our trauma responses together.