So if you're new to this whole healing thing, let me first explain to you what a trauma response is .
Trauma responses are our emotional responses to a horrible event that has occurred in our lives. This can be due to verbal or physical abuse, rape, car accidents, natural disasters, deaths, severe illness, severe injury, or even witnessing an act of violence amongst many other things. Immediately after the traumatic event, shock and denial are very common. Long term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms such as headaches, migraines, stomach aches, and nausea.
The most common responses to trauma are Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Although , there is a fourth possible response, known as Fawn. Flight includes running or fleeing the situation. Fight is to become aggressive , freeze is to literally become unable to move or make a choice, and fawn is to avoid conflict at all costs. Either way, a trauma response is the reflexive use of over- adaptive coping mechanisms.
Let's get into detail , and yes, this entry might be lengthy so if you enjoy reading, grab a snack.
The fight response :
When healthy and healing , the fight trauma response will allow you to assert yourself and create and stick your solid boundaries . When unhealthy, you move reactively toward conflict with anger and aggression. It's being in a state of fear where you feel you the threat and you then feel the need to assert yourself, or fight back. How can you tell if you have a fight trauma response? Well , this would mean that you fight back so that you can gain control and navigate the situation. It would mean that you believe that if you're able to gain power over this, you will gain full control. This can include physically fighting, screaming, aggression, throwing things, damaging property , etc. Although it can also include balling your fists, crying, arguing aggressively , tightening your jaw, clenching your teeth , etc
It may feel good to "take control" of a situation, but its at the expense of others. It comes at the cost of connection, healthy communication, and others feeling safe or secure around you.
The flight response:
When faced with danger, you're initial reaction is to run away, become avoidant, or isolate yourself completely. When healthy, you're able to use your discernment during times of stress and disengage within limits, instead of isolating yourself completely. An example of this would be; Someone expresses to you something that makes you uncomfortable, and you hang up the phone and become unresponsive completely. During these times, we believe that if we completely remove ourselves from the situation , we are safe. And this comes at the costs of never truly resolving the issue at hand.
The freeze response:
When healthy, the freeze response can help you slow down and assess a situation carefully to determine what your next steps to take should be. When unhealthy, the freeze response becomes dissociation or immobilization . When this is enacted, it results in literally feeling unable to move or you find yourself in a haze or completely detached from reality. You're mentally checked out, yet it makes you feel safe because, well, "you're not really here ".
A freeze response is when parts of your sympathetic nervous system reaches a point of overwhelm causing a neurological shut down. (think of a possum playing dead when they feel threatened ) This may include a loss for words, retreating into your own mind, sleeping, spacing out or going emotionally "numb". Its disconnecting with your body to prevent further stress.
The fawn response:
Fawn responses are about people pleasing or engaging in pacifying behaviors. Its by prioritizing others and doing whatever they want to diffuse conflict. It seems like this might be the "nice thing to do " but its at the cost of losing yourself. You are abandoning yourself and your needs. Most likely, you don't feel seen by others.
Now, can you have all four trauma responses? Well , it depends. Sometimes trauma responses are "paired up" because you can identify with multiple things from each of the four categories. You might rely on one more than the other, depending on your situation . Another contributing factor is are the responses real? or as these perceived consequences by our actions? For example, if you're arguing with a loved one, one day you may hang up the phone on them and avoid it all together. The next day you can (fawn) and tell them they are right, only to keep the peace .
The good part:
Once we acknowledge and are aware of our trauma responses, we can work on healing or adjusting them as necessary . And, There are a variety of tools to work on these issues (where there is a will, there is a way). Some of these tools are very simple to use and just require practice and consistency. What I feel is one of the most important is having a support group, whether therapy, family or friends. Lean on people to help you process, and help you stabilize in that current moment. You can also breathe deeply and slowly, there are certain breath work techniques that help us completely regulate our nervous systems. A suggested rhythm is to inhale for four counts, hold for two and exhale for six to eight counts. By doing this you are activating the part of your nervous system that helps your body calm itself. This can help you to think clearly and return to the present moment. Validate your experience too. What you went through is real and it was hurtful . There is nothing wrong with you ! You are having a very normal response to an abnormal experience. Other simple tools you can use are, laughing, thinking positively for 12 seconds . It only takes 12 seconds for the creation of new neuron connections . So think about something positive for 12 seconds, sit and really FEEL what your thinking. Feel the positivity running through your body, FEEL the love energy flowing. You can also focus on your five senses .
Start with five different things you see , hear , sense with your skin ,taste , and smell. Then notice four of each, then three of each, and so on. Be as specific about these items as you can to make you really concentrate on external factors and to get out of your head. Pay attention to things like shape, scent, texture and color. You will probably be back to the present moment before you even realize it.
Another couple examples of trauma responses:
Flight: You are a workaholic, an over thinker, have anxiety, panic or OCD. Difficulty standing still, or perfectionist tendencies.
Fight : Anger outburst, controlling, the "bully", narcissistic, explosive behavior.
Freeze: Difficulty making decisions, feeling stuck, dissociation, isolating.
Fawn : People pleaser, lack of identity, no boundaries, overwhelmed and codependent.
The bottom line :
The bottom line is that we're all on this healing journey together right? If you identify with any of these trauma responses just know that you are not alone. Love yourself, love your journey, be compassionate with yourself, trust your journey, figure out to to deal with these situations better so that you can move forward toward recovery . You have been doing what is needed to survive so it'll take time to unlearn these behaviors. But if you've read til the end, it means you're interested in getting help and thats the first step to healing. Awareness and willingness. Congratulations. I believe in you. .
Vany the Bruja