Trauma

A trauma survivor, Judy Crane, first defined trauma as “anything less than nurturing, that changes your vision of yourself and your place in the world”.

With that being said, ALL of us have suffered from trauma of some kind…”BIG T Traumas” (sexual violence, combat/first responder exposure, natural disasters, sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one, accidents, injury, life threatening illnesses, childhood sexual/ physical abuse, abuse) and “Little T Traumas” (divorce, loss of a relationship, loss of a pet, being yelled at, bullied or humiliated, witnessing family violence, a parents or siblings mental/physical illness).

Our response to trauma originates from a deep place inside our LIMBIC system called the AMYGDALA… Common stress responses are the following:

Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

The stress response occurs when the demands of the environment are greater than our perceived ability to cope with them.

The level of stress depends on the individual’s perception of the event and their perception of their ability to cope with the event. e.g. taking an exam might not be perceived as a stressor by someone who has had good results at their test (they feel they can cope) but might be seen as a stressor by another individual who has failed all their tests (they feel they can’t cope this leads to a stress response).

 

Fight:

When you feel in danger and believe you can overpower the threat, you are in fight mode. Your brain sends signals throughout your body to rapidly prepare for the physical demands of fighting.

Most signs to tell you are in fight response include:

  • Tight jaw or grinding of the teeth
  • Urge to punch someone or something
  • Feeling intense anger or killing someone, even yourself
  • Desire to stomp or kick
  • Crying
  • Glaring at people, conserving angrily
  • Upset stomach, feels like knots or burning
  • Attacking the source of the danger

 

Flight:

This is believing you can defeat the danger by running away. In some cases, running away is the best decision. Take a burning building as an example. Unless you are a firefighter, it is best to get out of there as fast as you can.

These emotional and physical responses signify you are in flight mode:

  • Excessively exercising
  • Feeling fidgety or tense or trapped
  • Constantly moving legs, feet, and arms
  • Restless body that will not stop moving
  • Sensation of numbness in extremities
  • Dilated eyes, darting eyes

 

Freeze:

When one feels neither like fighting nor flighting, freezing is an option. This list of responses let you know you are in freeze mode:

  • Pale skin
  • Sense of dread
  • Feeling stiff, heavy, cold, numb
  • Loud, pounding heart
  • Decreasing of heart rate
  • Sensing tolerated stress

 

Fawn:

One may use the fawn response after unsuccessfully trying fight, flight, and freeze. The fawn response is typically prominent in people who grew up in abusive families or situations.

If you are an abused child with narcissistic parents, the only hope of survival would probably be agreement and helpfulness.

Over time, you can recognize this by realizing that regardless of how poorly a person treats you, you are more concerned with making them happy than taking care of yourself.

The fight or flight or freeze or fawn response has been with us since the beginning of time and still plays a crucial role in coping with stress and threats in our environment.

By priming the body for action, one is more prepared to operate under pressure. In fact, the stress created by a circumstance can be important, making it more plausible that you will effectively deal with whatever is concerning you.

These triggers can help you perform better from your job or school, in a situation where one can use pressure to do well, to cases where your life is in danger, and you need to escape or defend your life.

However, while the fight or flight or freeze or fawn response happens automatically, sometimes it is activated with no real reason or danger; therefore, it is not always accurate.

Our therapists utilize an approach to counseling called EMDR that will help you reprocess traumatic events so that you no longer need to react to a current stressor as a life threatening situation.