Understanding Trauma Responses

Trauma is a deeply distressing experience that can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In response to trauma, our minds and bodies often develop coping mechanisms to protect us from further harm. These are known as trauma responses, and understanding them is crucial for both individuals who have experienced trauma and those who support them on their healing journey.

Trauma responses are the ways in which our bodies and minds react to traumatic experiences. These responses are often involuntary and serve as protective mechanisms that help us survive during and after the traumatic event. They are typically categorized into four main types:

  1. Fight: The “fight” response is marked by heightened arousal and an instinct to confront and resist the threat. People with this response may become aggressive, argumentative, or engage in risky behaviors as a way to regain control.
  2. Flight: The “flight” response is characterized by a strong desire to escape the situation. Individuals may avoid reminders of the trauma, isolate themselves, or engage in compulsive behaviors, such as excessive exercise or working excessively, to distance themselves from the painful memories.
  3. Freeze: The “freeze” response involves a state of immobility and detachment. This response can manifest as emotional numbness, dissociation, or a feeling of being “shut down.” Freeze responses can make it challenging to express emotions or connect with others.
  4. Fawn: The “fawn” response is a pattern of seeking safety and approval from others. Individuals with this response may become excessively accommodating, people-pleasing, or submissive, often at the expense of their own needs and boundaries.

It’s important to note that these responses are not mutually exclusive, and individuals may experience a combination of these reactions in response to trauma.

Understanding trauma responses is crucial because they have a profound impact on an individual’s daily life. While these responses initially serve as survival mechanisms, they can become maladaptive when they persist long after the traumatic event has ended. The consequences of unaddressed trauma responses can include physical health issues, mental health challenges, and relationship struggles.

Healing from trauma is often complex and can look different for different people. There are two main approaches to healing trauma: top-down and bottom-up approaches. You can read more about each of those here. Nonviolent Communication is a top-down approach, and while trauma is complex, and healing it takes time, NVC is one way to mitigate trauma responses. It helps individuals gain greater awareness of not only their feelings and needs in a moment, but also of how they respond internally to external stimuli.