In my work as a therapist, I have come to believe that everyone I have encountered has experienced trauma in their lives. I believe also that most people in the world have experienced at least one trauma in their lives. Trauma can be anything that affects someone in a negative way that then causes them to form beliefs and responses as a result. All trauma is personal and what some might view as a minimal experience the person experiencing it can view it as something much greater – to them.
Trauma responses which are formed as protection, or assumed protection against further trauma, then become what people view as their “personality traits” for individuals and as “family traits” for families. However, they are in fact, responses to trauma which continue with each passing day that the trauma is unprocessed. These responses lead people to react and interact with others in a variety of ways depending on what their trauma assumed as protection.
The four main responses to trauma are fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses then lend themselves to a broader list of other protective responses that get incorporated into our lives and relationships.
In the unhealthy or unprocessed trauma version of fight, the assumed protection responses can be anger, aggressiveness, need for control, perfectionism, bullying others to get what is wanted, narcissism, taking energy and time from others without considering how they feel about it. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to control situations and people to feel safe or to push them away with anger and aggressive behavior to again feel safe.
In unhealthy or unprocessed versions of flight, the assumed protection responses can be escaping or avoiding, seeking avoidance in substances such as alcohol and drugs, avoiding responsibilities, avoiding being out of your comfort zone, escaping or avoiding relationships that are uncomfortable, moving from relationship to relationship. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to escape situations and people to feel safe.
In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of freeze, the assumed protection responses can be numbing our feelings and needs, being stuck, dissociation, detaching from everything around us, shutting down, not attaching emotionally to others, isolating, suppressing our feelings. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to not feel or think about how we feel.
In the unhealthy or unprocessed version of fawn, the assumed protection responses can be putting all our needs aside and focusing on the needs of others, co-dependent relationships, people pleasing, trying to fix others, having no boundaries, not saying no, being used by others. The underlying response will usually be driven by a need to please others.
If we can identify the responses we have assumed to protect ourselves from further trauma, we can acknowledge it, name it, and understand why we are continuing these repetitive patterns of behavior. In this process, however, we must start with the root of these responses which began where our trauma began. This will likely require an investment in individual therapy to process and move through the trauma so that we can reorient our responses and change them along with changing ourselves.
Until next time be well,