The 5 main trauma responses and how they affect our day-to-day life


In the ancient past, it was useful for our ancestors to respond quickly to danger, or predators and escape with a quick action (a trauma response).

The 5 main trauma responses are:

FightFlight, Freeze, Friend (Fawn), Flop

When confronted with a threat, an animal’s brain automatically switches to ‘survival’ mode. The trauma response depends on the situation. The main can quickly assess whether it is best to fight back (if we have a ‘fighting’ chance); to run (when we haven’t a fighting chance); to literally freeze and ‘play dead’ (many predators only kill have they have hunted their prey), to friend (find help in a ‘friend’ or ‘safe’ person), or to flop (when all other trauma responses haven’t worked, the brain and body can literally shut down, and go into a floppy state, complying with a predator, to try to stay alive. The brain’s last bid attempt at survival.

In modern day society, however, it is unlikely that we will be faced with fleeing a wooly mammoth. But the same trauma responses have stayed with us, to ensure our survival.  The difference between us and other animals, is that when the danger has subsided, other mammals can ‘shake’ their trauma response off.

In humans, brain chemicals and hormones can become ‘stuck’ leaving the survivor in a permanent ‘reactive’ state. ‘Survival mode’. And this is where problems can arise in our day to day functioning.

Each of us will usually default to one or two of the trauma responses. How someone responds (and/or processes trauma) is subjective to each individual and their history.

So for example, a daughter who is unloved by an absent, neglectful, or abusive parent, and only receives ‘love’ or attention conditionally, will learn how to keep herself safe by ‘fawning’ (people-pleasing, hiding her true emotions and feelings, and parts of herself that aren’t accepted by her parents). She may develop an inner part that is overly angry and defensive (fight) in an attempt to protect herself. These will then become her two default trauma responses, in an unconscious bid to survive, and evolve to develop a core part of her personality.

A lack of safety and security in the crucial developmental stages of life can create destructive, insecure attachment styles as adults. The afore mentioned ‘daughter’ will go on to unconsciously attempt to resolve the ‘stuck’ trauma, by attracting emotionally unavailable/ abusive partners, beginning again the cycle of fighting and fawning that is so familiar to her.

An example of the ‘flight’ trauma response may be if someone finds themselves faced with (perceived) confrontation, and instead of having the ability to calmly face the (actual) circumstances, will literally storm out, and run away.

A freeze trauma response looks like when someone has a loss for words. If they perceive others as a ‘threat’ , they may put their head down, try to disappear and look invisible, literally frozen to the spot, unable to think logically and clearly.

If someone experiences ‘flop’ trauma response, similar to ‘freeze’ but with the body too, completely shutting down, it can come in the form of ‘giving up’ one life. Or dissociation.  It can last for hours, or months/years. You may have gaps in your life where you can’t remember anything that happened (common in abuse survivors), feeling like you are disconnected from the world or everything around you is unreal, or that you are watching yourself in a film, or from the outside.

Addictions become default coping mechanisms of someone who has unresolved trauma. Substance abuse, alcohol, work, exercise. Anything to distract. Sometimes leading to suicide ideation. People living with unprocessed trauma can often feel as though they are waiting for the next life-changing event or attack to occur. Trauma can cause anxiety, depression and physical illnesses.

So what can we do about it? Practices such as yoga, breath work, meditation, and mindfulness impact the amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for trauma responses) and can calm our nervous system. Therapy provides a safe, soothing and confidential space to discuss and explore your own trauma and how it is affecting you in your day to day life.


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