Common Trauma Responses


Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. I am a trauma survivor. If you need help, please seek the services of a licensed professional (see my Resources Page for suggestions). The contents of this website are for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. Information on this page might not be accurate or up-to-date. Accordingly, this page should not be used as a diagnosis of any medical illness, mental or physical. This page is also not a substitute for professional counseling, therapy, or any other type of medical advice.  Some topics discussed on this website could be upsetting. If you are triggered by this website’s content you should seek the services of a trained and licensed professional.

Trauma responses are the body and mind’s way of coping with overwhelming stress. These responses can manifest immediately during and after a traumatic event and may persist long-term, affecting behavior and overall functioning.

1. Fight Response

During Trauma:

  • Behavior: Confrontational, aggressive, and defensive actions.
  • Physiological Signs: Increased heart rate, adrenaline surge, muscle tension.

Long-term Behaviors:

  • Anger and Irritability: Easily angered and prone to outbursts.
  • Control Issues: A strong need to control situations and people.
  • Hyperactivity: Constantly on the move, unable to relax.
  • Perfectionism: Setting unrealistically high standards and being overly critical of oneself and others.

2. Flight Response

During Trauma:

  • Behavior: Attempts to escape or avoid the traumatic situation.
  • Physiological Signs: Rapid breathing, sweating, restlessness.

Long-term Behaviors:

  • Anxiety and Panic: Frequent feelings of anxiety, panic attacks.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors: Engaging in rituals or routines to feel safe.
  • Workaholism: Overworking to avoid dealing with emotions.
  • Avoidance: Staying away from places, people, or activities that may trigger trauma memories.

3. Freeze Response

During Trauma:

  • Behavior: Inability to move or react, feeling numb or detached.
  • Physiological Signs: Decreased heart rate, feeling cold, muscle immobility.

Long-term Behaviors:

  • Depression: Persistent sadness, lack of motivation.
  • Dissociation: Feeling disconnected from oneself or the environment.
  • Procrastination: Difficulty starting or completing tasks.
  • Isolation: Withdrawing from social interactions and activities.

4. Fawn Response

During Trauma:

  • Behavior: Trying to please or appease the perpetrator to avoid conflict or harm.
  • Physiological Signs: Lowered heart rate, submissive posture.

Long-term Behaviors:

  • People-Pleasing: Putting others’ needs before one’s own, difficulty saying no.
  • Codependency: Relying on others for validation and self-worth.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Belief that one’s value comes from serving others.
  • Boundary Issues: Difficulty setting and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Long-term Impact of Trauma Responses:

  1. Emotional Regulation Issues:
    • Mood Swings: Extreme fluctuations in mood.
    • Emotional Numbness: Difficulty feeling or expressing emotions.
  2. Cognitive Effects:
    • Intrusive Thoughts: Persistent, unwanted thoughts about the trauma.
    • Memory Problems: Difficulty remembering details or periods of time.
  3. Physical Symptoms:
    • Chronic Pain: Persistent physical pain without a clear medical cause.
    • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia, nightmares, difficulty staying asleep.
  4. Relational Difficulties:
    • Trust Issues: Difficulty trusting others, even close friends and family.
    • Attachment Problems: Struggles with forming healthy, secure attachments.
  5. Behavioral Patterns:
    • Substance Abuse: Using drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma symptoms.
    • Self-Harm: Engaging in behaviors that cause physical harm to oneself.
    • Risky Behaviors: Recklessness and thrill-seeking as a way to manage or escape emotional pain.

Coping Strategies and Healing:

  1. Therapeutic Support:
    • Therapy: Seeking professional help through therapy modalities like CBT, EMDR, or somatic experiencing.
    • Support Groups: Joining groups where individuals share experiences and coping strategies.
  2. Self-Care Practices:
    • Mindfulness and Meditation: Techniques to stay grounded and present.
    • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Regular exercise, balanced diet, and sufficient sleep.
  3. Building a Support System:
    • Connecting with Loved Ones: Strengthening relationships with trusted friends and family.
    • Setting Boundaries: Learning to establish and maintain healthy personal boundaries.
  4. Developing Resilience:
    • Skill-Building: Learning new coping skills and stress management techniques.
    • Positive Activities: Engaging in hobbies and activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Understanding trauma responses and their long-term impacts can help individuals and their loved ones recognize the signs of trauma, seek appropriate help, and develop effective coping strategies.