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Understanding the Five Fs of Trauma Responses

Trauma can leave a lasting impact on our lives, shaping the way we perceive and respond to the world. The most commonly recognized response is "fight-or-flight" – confronting the threat or escaping it. However, complex trauma (CTPSD - Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) , often arising from repeated exposure to adverse experiences in childhood, can trigger a wider range of responses.


This article explores these diverse coping mechanisms, venturing beyond the traditional fight-or-flight binary.



The Five Fs of Trauma Response

While fight-or-flight captures the essence of immediate danger responses, complex trauma can evoke a more nuanced set of reactions, often referred to as the "Five Fs."


  1. Fight: This response isn't limited to just physical confrontation. In complex trauma, it might manifest as anger outbursts, controlling behaviors, or even bullying tendencies.

  2. Flight: Escaping the threat can also be emotional. Someone in this mode might withdraw from social situations, isolate themselves, or experience difficulty making decisions due to a fear of potential consequences.

  3. Freeze:  This response involves a complete shutdown in the face of overwhelming danger. People in freeze mode may experience dissociation (feeling disconnected from oneself or surroundings), become over-thinkers, or struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

  4. Fawn:  This lesser-known response involves appeasing the threat to avoid further harm. People in fawn mode might become "people-pleasers," excessively agreeable, or codependent in their relationships. They may also struggle with forming a strong sense of self.

  5. Flop: This is a relatively new term describing a complete physical and emotional shutdown. It can manifest as fainting, collapsing, or feeling utterly defeated.

Understanding Your Response

It's important to remember that these responses are not conscious choices, but rather automatic survival mechanisms developed during traumatic experiences. However, in a safe and supportive environment, these responses can become maladaptive, hindering our ability to live fulfilling lives.


Moving from Trauma to Healing

If you suspect you or someone you know might be struggling with complex trauma and its associated responses, there is hope. Here are some initial steps towards healing:


  • Educate yourself:  Learning about complex trauma and trauma responses can be empowering. There are many resources available online and in libraries.

  • Seek professional help: A therapist specializing in trauma can provide valuable guidance and support on your journey to recovery. They can help you understand your triggers, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build resilience.

  • Practice self-compassion:  Healing takes time, so be patient with yourself. Celebrate your victories, big and small. You are not alone in this journey.

By understanding your trauma responses, you can begin to break free from their hold and move towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.



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