Traumatic events are viewed as incidents or occurrences that involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to a person’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s understood that acute trauma results from a single incident, while chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged, for example in instances of domestic violence or abuse. Each has a different trauma response.
Complex trauma is defined as exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature.
4 Types of Trauma Response
In response to these three kinds of trauma, Christian Counselors note that there are four types of trauma response, that are referred to as the primary adaptive responses that people may show when faced with a traumatic situation.
These reactions have usually been learned as a means of survival in childhood or in threatening situations, and then reoccur as a default when the person faces anything they perceive as a threat.
The fight type of trauma response unleashes a flood of action aimed at self-preservation. The person exhibiting this reaction is not concerned about who gets hurt in the process, which is helpful if they are facing a tiger in the jungle or being spoken to in a condescending way.
Indeed, there are many ways in which a fight response is healthy, as it demonstrates assertiveness, can draw boundaries, and protect oneself and one’s loved ones if necessary.
However, if an individual is persistently exposed to trauma, the response can become toxic, as the person feels that they need to be on high alert all the time. This can give rise to controlling behaviors, narcissism, bullying, and feelings of entitlement.
They can also turn their feelings inward and feel extremely angry with themselves. By recognizing this unhelpful response, a person can work through it, and, through the counseling process, change behavioral patterns, even those that are deeply ingrained.
The flight type of trauma response is directly opposite to the fight one. In this instance, an individual will leave a situation where there is a perceived threat, immediately. This is helpful when there is a physically dangerous situation, as exiting promptly will ensure a good chance of survival. It is also healthy when disengaging from an unproductive or harmful conversation or leaving destructive relationships.
As with the fight response, there is a negative side too, when people with unresolved trauma perceive everything as a danger. They can then default to “escape” patterns such as needing to keep busy all the time, workaholism, perfectionism, panic, and obsessive and compulsive tendencies.
Most people are familiar with the notion of freezing in the face of danger, although it is less common than the fight or flight type of trauma response. In a “healthy freeze”, it can be seen as mindfulness or being fully present in the moment, as the individual presses pause instead of reacting immediately.
In an unhealthy context, freezing leads to shutting down and can cause brain fog, disassociation, isolation, difficulty making decisions, and a fear of achieving or trying new things. A counselor can help a person go through the process of “thawing out” and finding new ways to deal with stress and traumatic situations.
Perhaps the least known type of trauma response, fawning essentially involves people-pleasing in order to neutralize a threat. Individuals with this primary response are usually highly tuned in to the emotions of others and can empathize and offer support. If people have experienced abuse, this response may have been used to minimize potential harm and maintain safety.
While this works initially, it has many unhealthy repercussions, leading to emotional exhaustion, codependency, and a loss of personal agency, over time. Working with a counselor can help individuals see the pattern of this response with better clarity, and explore healthier strategies, including boundary setting and assertiveness.
The end goal is to strike a balance between being caring and compassionate, while still maintaining a sense of authenticity and not neglecting one’s own personal care.
Secular treatment options for the various types of trauma response include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy, sometimes used in conjunction with medication. A biblically trained counselors will incorporate these methods but also help individuals view their trauma response in light of their relationship with God.
While a trauma response is helpful in a situation requiring it, all too often these patterns have crept into daily life and interfere with normal functioning. If you recognize any of these reactions and would like to get support in overcoming them, do not hesitate to get in touch with San Diego Christian Counseling, so that you can be connected with a counselor.
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