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Why did I respond the way that I did to a traumatic event.

What's a trauma response?

When a person undergoes a traumatic event, their body and brain do something very specific, this is called the sympathetic nervous system and is what our body does in stressful moments to keep ourselves safe. This response is what people often call the 'Flight or Flight response'. When we perceive ourselves to be in danger our brain starts this response (It can actually happen before our eyes process the threat 1).

When this response happens you have 5 options that are available to you2. But these are not choices. Your body sets this response for you.

  1. Fight

  2. Flight

  3. Freeze

  4. Flop

  5. Friend (sometimes called Fawn)

Each of these responses is designed to keep you safe in their own way. The ones we commonly see in media are fight or flight, but the other responses are just as likely to occur. You don't have to fit nicely into a box you might have overlap in your response, or sometimes it might look a little differently.

But what do they each mean?


In the moment this is just like it sounds, you try and fight whatever it is that is causing your fear. This may be in a physical way, or an emotional way e.g., screaming and shouting is a way in which people fight. This can also be more subtle, displaying things that might indicate a desire to fight (Set jaws, balled fists, shallow breathing).

This could be considered an attempt to gain control of the situation, and to exert some of your own power in this attempt. People who have this within their trauma response may experience anger, (which may cover up fear in the moment).

Most of us have shouted at someone at some point, when we were scared or angry. That is a type of fight response, you could have walked away (flight), but in that moment we choose to shout, to fight for our point of view or feeling of safety.




Friend (Fawn)

All of these responses are valid responses to trauma, and are your brains way of keeping you safe.

If you're interested in more reading 3 4 5 6

What does it look like long term?

What does this mean going forward?

They all have healthy levels within people too, for example; - Setting boundaries in an assertive way could be considered a fight response. - Trying to understand a person's perspective could be a friend response. - Leaving when a situation is overwhelming you is a flight response. Stopping and taking it all in to decide how to react is a type of freezing.

Your trauma response no matter what it is, is on your side, it tried to keep you safe and continues to do so. It may not feel that it was successful in doing that sometimes, but if you can be more companionate to that part of yourself it can help you to remove yourself from self-judgement. You can work with your stress response to bring it into a healthier/more helpful alignment.

There is a lot of work associated with addressing a trauma and your response. Coming to terms with your response to an event like a trauma can be really difficult. Once you have done that you can start working on the things underneath that action.

Going to seek out professional help is also an option, you don't have to do this alone. Depending on your area will depend on your resources.

You can look for private counselling (This will be the most immediate option)

Look at mind on google.

RASASC is a charity for survivors of sexual abuse (Search it with your area).

Shout (Text 85258)

Samaritans 116 123 (they also have webchat)

NHS Services are also there most have some counselling options.

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