4 Types of Trauma Responses

If you’ve lived through a traumatic event, you might struggle to cope with difficult situations or scenarios that remind you of your trauma. For example, maybe you’ve shown up to an event hoping to meet new people, only to be overcome by a wave of anxiety that led to you searching frantically for the nearest exit. Or perhaps you want to stand up for yourself when you’re being mistreated, but instead, you fawn over toxic people to avoid conflict.

There are several different types of trauma responses that people may engage in when they feel unsafe. Understanding these trauma responses is an important step along the path to healing. Here are the four primary trauma responses and the behaviors that characterize them.

1. Fight

Sometimes, engaging in a “fight” response to a dangerous situation is healthy. It can be a way to assert boundaries and protect yourself physically. However, if you’re not in a situation where you’re actually being threatened, responding to perceived harm by trying to fight can indicate an unhealthy trauma response.

A fight response could involve:

  • Physically trying to hurt someone.

  • Throwing or damaging objects.

  • Simply taking an aggressive stance, like balling up your fists.

You might even start shouting or crying. To counter this, try taking deep breaths, which will soothe your nervous system and allow you to calm down again.

2. Flight

Occasionally, everyone needs to employ a “flight” response. If you accurately determine that you’re in a dangerous situation, you must leave or disengage as soon as possible. But what if you feel this flight response kicking in when everything is fine? This is when it becomes detrimental. For instance, trauma could leave you with social anxiety, prompting you to leave events and gatherings shortly after arriving. You could end up isolating yourself from people and activities you used to like.

Chances are, you tense up when your mind is telling you to flee. Try to relax your muscles to avoid engaging in a flight response when you’re not in danger. Simply relaxing your body can signal to your mind that you’re safe and have nothing to fear.

3. Freeze

Have you ever been in a dangerous situation and suddenly felt like you couldn’t move? At times, the “freeze” response is essential for survival. In fact, if you’ve ever seen an animal “play dead,” you know how this response functions in the wild and its evolutionary purpose. The freeze evolved as a mechanism for throwing off predators.

But the freeze response can also be detrimental. Many trauma survivors engage in this response when faced with a potentially frightening situation. You might feel like you’re dissociating or like you’ve become disconnected from your body. It may even feel like your body is just shutting down. Even if you wanted to move, you couldn’t bring yourself to do so.

Sometimes, grounding yourself in your environment with your senses can help you overcome the freeze response. Notice what you can touch, taste, see, hear, and smell. You might feel yourself coming back to life.

4. Fawn

No one gets through life without a little people-pleasing, and there are times when it’s simply necessary, like during a job interview. But if you’re constantly focused on pleasing other people, it could be a warning sign of the “fawn” response. Fawning refers to putting other people’s needs and wants before your own to avoid conflict, no matter the cost.

To avoid fawning, be extra compassionate towards yourself. Which emotions are yours, and which belong to other people? Remember, you have every right to set boundaries.

Are you struggling to overcome a particular trauma response? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session in therapy for women.