Have you ever wondered why you act or respond the way you do during stressful situations?
This is something I ponder a lot, then one day, while I was attending a training, it hit me: most of us are just reacting to being triggered by trauma!
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and is something we all deal with regularly, regardless of where we are currently in our lives. Trauma at its core is something you perceive to be a negative past or present experience. Trauma causes a knee-jerk reaction in our nervous system that ultimately decides how we respond to the situation.
However, it may surprise you to find out that there are five different trauma responses, not just these two choices.
Before diving into each of these responses, it’s essential first to understand why these automatic physiologic reactions occur at all when we perceive stress.
In the case of our hiker analogy, when the hiker hears or sees the bear, their prefrontal cortex doesn’t have enough time to interpret, process, and analyze the situation. Instead, it interprets and then immediately reacts.
Our emotional trauma responses are similar to this mechanism. Whether the trauma happened five seconds ago or five years ago, our brains are wired to have instinctive reactions.
My hope with this blog post is to provide you with an understanding of each of the five different trauma responses. Comprehending each of their signs and tendencies allows us to illuminate our negative behaviors and unhealthy coping habits.
Fight: When experiencing the “fight” trauma response, individuals develop a need for control and become combative and vigilant. Maybe you will notice you’ve become more argumentative with a loved one than usual. Or that you have become more mistrustful or judgmental than you had been in the past. This response can lead to self-destructive or self-sabotaging tendencies.
Flight: With the “flight” trauma response, individuals will find themselves doing anything possible to avoid or escape a situation. Whether it’s distancing yourself from friends, refusing to commit to plans, or consuming social media rather than creating your own life experiences, this trauma response can be just as harmful to our mental health as any other.
Freeze: When someone is in the “freeze” trauma response, they are consumed by fear and will only see the bad in situations. Generally, people will be overwhelmed with anxiety and the desire to fly under the radar and be more passive in social settings.
Submit: The “submit” trauma response is precisely what it sounds like: the person has submitted themselves to defeat or shame from the situation. Often those experiencing this will have an attitude of “why bother, I know I have lost” to whatever stressors present themselves to them. This manifests into self-hatred and causes them to stop working toward personal goals.
Attach: Those who experience the “attach” trauma response will do anything to help themselves feel connected. Whether it’s remaining in a toxic relationship or having promiscuous sex, this trauma response is fueled by a fear of abandonment. Many will feel like they need a connection with another human to help them navigate them through the day.
These trauma responses will ebb and flow throughout our lives depending on the situation. Our bodies rely on them to protect ourselves from traumatic experiences.
I encourage you to give compassion when you check in with your body during stressful situations and understand that these trauma responses are normal!