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Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. Traumatic situations that cause post-trauma symptoms vary quite dramatically from person to person. It is very subjective and it is important to bear in mind that it is defined more by its response than its trigger.

While trauma affects each person differently, depending on the type of trauma, age of the traumatized individual, how long ago the trauma happened or whether it’s an ongoing traumatic experience, and several other factors. There are still some common signs and symptoms of trauma that can help you recognize that trauma may be present in your loved one, family member, or friends. Some emotional symptoms of trauma are anxiety, depression, episodes of lost time or dissociation, hopelessness/despair, isolation from others, intense feeling of abandonment or loss, desire to inflict harm self-harm, loss of meaning to live/sense of purpose, distorted sense of self or body image, feeling alienated from others or emotional numbness, chronic fatigue, insomnia, lethargy, loss of interest in normal activities, chronic anger /resentment, poor impulse control, obsessive thoughts or worries of an unwanted nature, night terrors, flashbacks, nightmares, inability to organize, plan or make decisions.

Expecting or suggesting to a trauma survivor that he or she just get over it, that the feelings will pass is not helpful or effective. Although as time passes, it may blur some of the recurring memories, only professional trauma recovery can help the individual begin to heal from the effects of trauma. When substance abuse and/or a mental health disorder co-occur with the trauma or PTSD, the self-destructive spiral can only be reversed with a professional trauma recovery program.

It cannot be stressed enough that one of the most important parts of a trauma recovery program is that it provides a safe environment for healing to occur. One of the major hurdles for trauma patients is reducing shame and painful memories and perceptions as they explore and learn to cope with their traumatic issues.

We must recognize that the person affected by trauma will take some time to heal. Unrealistic expectations of a quick recovery, pushing the trauma survivor beyond his or her readiness and capability and badgering, over-protectiveness, ignoring or dismissing very real symptoms won’t help. What will help includes steadfast family support and encouragement during the healing process.

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As we come to a close on the different trauma responses, have you recognized any hidden trauma or triggers when we discussed fight, flight or freeze? If not, see if you find yourself in the last trauma response we will discuss today - fawn.

Fawning refers to consistently abandoning your own needs to serve others to avoid conflict, criticism, or disapproval. Fawning is also called the “please and appease” response and is associated with people-pleasing and codependency.

People with the fawn response usually exhibit the following behaviors:

  • A perpetual inability to say ‘no’ even when the request is an inconvenience

  • Having a difficult time standing up for yourself

  • Repressing your own needs for the sake of making everyone around you happy

  • Feeling responsible for the reactions of other people

  • Feeling as though you don’t have your own identity

  • Constantly looking to others to see how you’re supposed to feel in a relationship or a situation

  • Constant feelings of guilt

Those with the fawn trauma response try to get ahead of the problem by rushing to please the abuser in order to avoid conflict. That means they agree with everything that’s being said, do things they know will get approval and set aside their personal feelings in order to avoid abuse. Eventually, this can become a normal behavioral pattern that gets carried into adulthood.

Below are 4 ways to cope with the fawn trauma response:

1. Seek therapy. Going to a therapist is the fastest way to learn about behavioral patterns that you may not be aware of. A therapist can also help you with all the anxiety that comes with unlearning those old coping mechanisms you developed in childhood.

2. Set boundaries. One of the biggest issues for people with fawn trauma response is that they don’t really know how to set boundaries. When your default is to appease everyone around you, it can be hard to set a hard line without feeling guilty. So, it's a good suggestion to start small. Someone mispronounces your name? Correct them. Your friends are pressuring you to go to happy hour? Say no. Eventually, those small wins will give you the confidence to tackle bigger issues.

3. Stop overexplaining. When you are first learning to set boundaries for yourself, the natural inclination is to apologize and overcompensate in order to make sure everyone knows you aren't blowing them off. However, in the words of author Megan LeBoutillier, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” And you don’t need to explain yourself further than that.

4. Learn to delegate. Part of the fawn trauma response is feeling like you have to handle every task and spearhead every project in order to be a valuable player on the team. At family gatherings, you may also feel a lot of pressure to cater to everyone else’s needs (especially if this is what you’ve always done in the past). It's ok to let others carry some of the weight. I give you permission to DO LESS.


If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, help is available right now. If you’re in the United States, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for free, confidential service 24/7.

  • Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

  • Call the hotline for one-on-one help at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

  • Text “START” to 88788.

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We previously talked about the fight and flight trauma response in the previous weeks. Today we will talk about the freeze response.

The freeze response is more common for those that experience a large amount of fear in response to certain stressors. As children, the ability to protect or defend oneself is limited and mostly reliant upon the caregiver. Therefore, if one felt routinely unsafe or unprotected by their parent or guardian, they could have a tendency toward this response as adults. When a child isn’t able to fight or run from perceived danger, it incites a panic response, making one numb or immobile in the face of the stressor.

The freeze response involves a different physiological process than fight or flight. While the person who is “frozen” is extremely alert, they are also unable to move or take action against the danger. Freezing causes:

  • physical immobility

  • drop in heart rate, rather than an increase

  • muscle tension

Trauma as a child can be one of the most common causes of panic and fear. When a child is subjected to emotional or physical abuse by someone or something it cannot defend itself from, they are left feeling helpless, unable to tap into the biological systems designed to assist them in either fighting or fleeing.

Those who froze as a response often as children may develop a tendency towards disassociation, anxiety or panic disorders, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. As a response to triggering events that resemble childhood trauma, disassociation can be one of the most harmful ways one freezes.

Disassociation is where we check out of ourselves in order to avoid the stressor, and a person who struggles with it might regularly feel disconnected from their surroundings, zoned out and unable to respond, or even feeling detached from reality.

Many of the things that happen are an instinctive or biological response; for example, an increase of adrenaline when one is preparing to engage in the fight response. However, the best way to deal with an unwanted response in these situations is to engage in therapy which can help to call attention to and process the negative experiences that cause them.

Ultimately the best way to avoid a negative response is to heal the underlying trauma that necessitates it. This will help remove or lessen the trigger, helping to respond in a more stable and safe way to perceived threats.

Everyone recovers from frightening or stressful events at a different pace. If the effects of a stressful event do not improve on their own, it may help to speak with a therapist. Chronic activation of the stress response has a negative effect on the body and can contribute to chronic pain, digestive conditions, hormone imbalances, and difficulty conceiving. So, it is beneficial for mental and physical health to address frequent stress.

There are specific therapies that can help people who have experienced trauma or who have PTSD, as well as treatments for those with anxiety or high stress levels.

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