Trauma Response

Beyond Fight or Flight –The Four F’s of Trauma Response

As nice as it may sound, it is impossible to say that no trauma will ever enter your life. Sooner or later, you are struck with some form of trauma that permanently alters your mind, behavior, and personality. However, understanding how your brain reacts under stressful and traumatic conditions can be a great tool for your mental health. In this blog, we will discuss the four main F’s of Trauma Response.

What is Trauma Response?

Trauma is a form of mental injury that you experience when you go through a stressful situation. Traumas can quite literally shape our personalities. This is because when we are in a stressful situation, our brain presents us with options and our choices define who we are.

Different types of traumas can trigger unique reactions in the same person. Initially, people were aware of only two types of trauma responses: Flight or Fight, which are focused on the autonomic nervous system. However, Freeze was later observed as a trauma response when a bunch of lab rats were examined under stressful situations.

The Four F’s of Trauma Response

Sometimes, emotional traumas are so strong that even years of therapy cannot undo their impact. However, understanding different types of trauma responses will help you comprehend how your brain works under traumatic conditions.

Here are four main time or trauma responses and how it affects your brain:

1.    The Fight Response

The easiest trauma response to understand is the Fight response. When you are met with an attack, be it physical or emotional, your mind triggers a squirt of cortisol –a stress hormone that diverts all your cognitive and psychological processes to prepare for a fight. It happens out of instinct, just like in the primordial days when the choice was to either have lunch with your family or become a tiger’s lunch.

The fight response doesn’t necessarily mean that you will throw hands (although it can), it can also be verbal and augmentative. Choosing to fight against a traumatic event means that you want to protect yourself not only physically but also emotionally. For instance, if someone bullies you or humiliates you, the fight response in your brain will immediately tell you to insult them back and make yourself feel better.

However, the fight response could also quite literally mean fighting off the attacker in case of a physical assault or robbery. At a primal level, when an animal notices a threat, it may choose to fight back in order to protect itself. However, if the threat is not manageable, it may abandon the situation and resort to flight.

2.    The Flight Response

Now, a similar brain function is responsible for flight response to stress. The trigger of stress hormone diverts your body –just in the opposite. This is a non-confrontational way to deal with trauma. If your mind tells you that this threat cannot be fought off or easily managed, your brain tells you to simply run for it.

One of the most common examples of flight response is running away from an assailant on the street. However, just like an emotional fight, there is also an emotional flight. This means your body will simply avoid all the situations that impose a threat to your feelings. Emotional flight can result in different behaviors and coping mechanisms like:

  • Silent treatment
  • Not acknowledging the situation
  • Avoidance
  • Non-confrontational behavior
  • Emotional detachment

The reason why a lot of people stop talking or paying attention to what’s bothering them is because their mind has decided to flee the situation instead of dealing with it.

3.    The Freeze Response

While flight and fight are considered two main types of trauma responses, the most common way victims respond to traumatic situations is freezing. In contrast to the fight and flight response, the freeze response is triggered due to decreased heart rate.

Your body freezes over when a trauma is so sudden and drastic that your body simply doesn’t have enough time to process it. As a result, your body goes into a temporary paralysis. The Freeze response to stress can also trigger delayed reaction meaning that whenever you experience something emotionally traumatic, your brain momentarily freezes for a few seconds/hours/days. As a result, all the emotions bottle up inside of you to come bursting out later.

4.    The Fawn Response

The fawn response to trauma is not that popular, however, it is also quite common. In this type of response, the victim tries to appease the traumatic stimuli.

For instance, a wife agrees to do all the housework in order to appease her husband. While this type of response can create a relatively safer environment, it is not permanent. It can feed into abusive and traumatic behavior making the situation worse in the long run.

This fawn response can also trigger disorders like Stockholm syndrome and other attachment as well as over-dependency issues.

How to Heal Trauma?

Healing traumas, be it accidental or childhood, can be extremely difficult. However, if you are suffering from your past traumas, it is best to seek professional help. Therapy can help survivors of trauma and work towards healing it.

A professional will be able to analyze how deep the trauma is and employ effective methods to relieve the mental discomfort caused by it. Alongside therapy, you can also try some other things like talking to friends, journaling, and letting out the bottled emotions.

To heal trauma completely, it is imperative to understand your trauma. Instead of running away from it, you should be able to face it. We know that it is easier said than done, but this is a crucial step to prevent it from defining you. You can only completely let go of it by peeling off all the layers one by one and facing what has been hurting you internally.

Always remember that you are never alone in this! If you feel like you are crippled by some emotional trauma that is holding you back, seek professional help and talk to people you trust.

Learn more: Dealing with Grief After Loss: 5 Tips to Help You Move Forward.