Trauma comes in many forms. Some people may experience a traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster, physical or sexual assault, or the death of a loved one. Others may experience ongoing, repeated exposure to traumatic events, such as in cases of domestic violence or war. Trauma can also occur when a person’s sense of safety and security is violated in some way, such as through neglect or emotional abuse.
No matter what the cause, trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s life. Trauma can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, and physical health. It can lead to difficulties in relationships, work, and school. Trauma can also increase a person’s risk for developing psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These traumas can also create a trauma response. The most well-known of these are “fight” and “flight.” However, two others—the fawning trauma response and the freeze response—can have just as significant an impact in the moment and long after a traumatic event.
Fight or Flight
When faced with a threatening or dangerous situation, the body’s natural response is to either fight or flee. This response is known as the “fight or flight” response, and it is a result of the body’s sympathetic nervous system being activated.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response, and it is activated when the body is faced with a threat or danger. The sympathetic nervous system causes the body to release adrenaline and other hormones, which prepare the body to either fight or flee.
The “fight or flight” response can also have negative consequences. This response can cause the body to release large amounts of stress hormones, which can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and other problems.
People who have experienced complex trauma may develop a fawn trauma response. This is a coping mechanism where they develop people-pleasing behaviors in order to avoid conflict and establish a sense of safety. In other words, the fawn trauma response is a way for survivors of complex trauma to “appease” their abusers.
People who fawn generally have a difficult time setting boundaries and tend to put others’ needs before their own. They may feel like they have to please others in order to be liked or accepted. This can be a difficult way to live, as it can leave fawners feeling used and unappreciated.
If you find yourself constantly pleasing others and avoiding conflict, it may be indicative of a fawn trauma response. If you are uncomfortable with this way of living, there are steps you can take to begin setting boundaries and taking care of yourself. This includes recognizing your own needs and wants, and communicating these to others. It can be a difficult process, but it is possible to reclaim your life and live in a way that feels authentic to you.
The Freeze Response
The freeze response is a primitive, automatic survival mechanism that all mammals share. When confronted with a life-threatening situation, the brain initiates the freeze response in order to buy time to assess the situation and determine the best course of action.
The freeze response serves as a stalling tactic. You brain presses the “pause” button but remains hypervigilant, waiting and watching carefully until it can determine whether fleeing or fighting offers a better route to safety. The freeze response may also be activated when you feel overwhelmed or powerless, as a way to reduce the sensation of fear and buy time to come up with a plan.
The freeze response can be a very helpful survival mechanism, but it can also be harmful if it’s activated too often or in situations that are not actually life-threatening. When the freeze response is activated in response to non-threatening situations, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and powerlessness.
If you are dealing with ongoing trauma or symptoms of PTSD, take the first step towards feeling better by talking to a mental health professional.