Health Briefs trauma

Published on August 31st, 2022 | by Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp.


Five Responses to Trauma

Traditionally, trauma invokes one of three responses: fight, flight or freeze. Recent discoveries show two more responses to trauma—fawn and flop. Four responses are attempts to find safety in dangerous situations.

Fight: We can fight to achieve safety. By combatting the threat, our cortisol and adrenaline hormones are engaged, in addition to our sympathetic nervous system. Our muscles tighten and our jaw clenches in preparation to fight the danger. We believe an offense will bring safety. To focus and fight, our eyes may narrow and our bodies may be tense and rigid. Rage may well up within us. If we acknowledge our anger, we are less likely to attack. Taking deep breaths can shift us to a calmer, less aggressive state.

Flight: Fleeing to find safety means physically removing ourselves from the danger or threat. Fleeing invokes the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamus, resulting in more energy. Anxious and hypervigilant, we scan the horizon knowing danger is there. To be safe, we need to find the danger before it finds us. Often, we need to flee emotions or memories we can’t deal with. Fleeing the physical reality may also mean overeating, stuffing emotions, distracting ourselves, staying busy, being perfectionistic and taking on addictive behaviors. We overwork, overeat and even over-exercise to avoid confronting the issue. Addictive behavior helps us flee dangerous situations.

Freeze: A freeze response results when we’re so terrified we can’t fight or flee. We’re physically frozen in time and space. We’re not able to think clearly or respond verbally. Our mind may experience dissociative paralysis. We may shut down, as with stage fright.

Fawn: Fawning to find safety is people pleasing. Avoiding danger and pain is key. A fawn response is common in trauma-bonded relationships with abusers and narcissists, especially if the abuse involves rage, sexual trauma or violence. We become compliant and helpful to avoid conflict. We acquiesce readily and disregard, repress or silence ourselves and our needs. We’ve lost ourselves.

Becoming attached is a primary goal. We accommodate the other person, and may attach to our abuser and develop co-dependency. Our heightened emotions are out of control. We need someone else to normalize our emotions. We submit ourselves, go along with and stay in unhealthy relationships. We are unable to stand up for ourselves. We become invisible and silence our voice, while repressing our needs or wants. We feel inferior and unworthy. Detached from ourselves, we need to attach to someone else.

Flop: We can flop, or play possum, to find safety. Overwhelmed by stress, we become physically weak, limp, disoriented and lose muscle and/or bodily control. It’s surrendering. We may even faint. Like feigning death before a predator, the flop response is used when there’s little chance of fighting or fleeing successfully.

To contact Dr. Anne Deatly for a complimentary Ultimate Breakthrough Session, call 201-925-1046 or email Anne.Deatly@gmail.com.

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