You’ve probably heard about ways the human body responds to threats in the environment, whether physical, emotional or even imagined. These responses are often referred to as the fight-or-flight reaction.
In recent years, researchers and therapists have expanded these reactions to include freeze or fawn (appeasement). All four of these are ways the body and mind try to protect you.
Importantly, how you respond (whether fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) can reveal a lot about what kind of trauma you’ve encountered, your personality, and how you’ve tried to adapt to “stay safe” over the years.
I will be exploring these four responses in a blog series involving four posts over the next month. We’ll begin by looking at the fight response to trauma.
Biological Roots of Trauma Responses
In times of stress, anxiety, fear, or danger, the brain is designed to take over and bypass higher-order thought processes. Fear, no matter its cause or reality, triggers the amygdala and the limbic system. These deep parts of the brain create automatic responses in the appropriately named autonomic nervous system. With the immediate need for protection at hand, the brain will do whatever it needs to stay safe.
Your Hormones Take Over
A flood of stress hormones is released into the body when the autonomic nervous system is alerted. They include epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Its job is to provoke the physiological changes needed for protection: increased heart rate, faster breathing, muscle tension, slowed digestion.
While these bodily reactions occur in all four trauma responses, it’s easy to see how they display themselves as anger and fighting.
Think of a time when you experienced great anger and frustration. How did your body feel? You probably noticed these changes, which can happen so fast you don’t even realize it. It’s not something you choose; these reactions just take over.
The Fight Response
Trauma is multi-faceted and can occur as a result of numerous situations, not only physically dangerous ones. Childhood neglect and emotional abuse or manipulation are also sources of trauma.
Now, think of the trauma you’ve experienced. How did you respond? How have you continued to respond when you encounter triggers?
If you revert to “fight mode” as a way to protect yourself, you may express that through anger, irritability, frustration, and control issues. Sometimes it is hard to see anger and control as a result of trauma. After all, if someone is angry and domineering, shouldn’t they be less fearful than someone quiet and passive? This response may seem counterintuitive.
But if you stop and examine the situation, you’ll find deeper reasons for the anger. Trauma often leaves a person feeling out of control and powerless. One way to avoid these uncomfortable feelings is to create a sense of control by intimidating others.
What If You’re a “Fighter”?
If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, digging deeper into your trauma and how your body and brain reacted is an excellent first step toward healing. You don’t have to continue to react as an angry, frustrated person when triggered.
Instead, you can learn techniques to manage your mood, understand your trauma triggers, and heal from your trauma. Likewise, you can learn to control your anger and frustration through awareness of its roots.
Often, therapy can help and support you in this endeavor. If you’re ready for a change, please call my office for a free 15-minute phone consultation or visit my Trauma and PTSD page to learn more about how I can help.