Trauma is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Real trauma is not just an idea or feeling like a victim, it is something that has a physical manifestation that affects how we interact with people and situations. In order to heal from it you must first recognise how it shows up for YOU. In this article, we will focus on the fight response to trauma.
We will go into what it is, how it manifests and how to break the cycle and find peace.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is any event or situation that overwhelms our ability to cope and causes us to feel helpless or scared.
It can be a one-time occurrence or a chronic condition.
Trauma can be caused not just by a one off event but also by everyday stressors that we have to deal with constantly without being able to avoid them. The latter is known as complex post trauma stress disorder (CPTSD).
How to Break the Cycle of the Fight Response to Trauma and Find Peace
Breaking the cycle of the fight response and finding peace is not easy but it is possible. It requires self awareness and compassion with yourself.
Here are some steps that can help…
Recognize your triggers:
Identify situations and people that trigger your fight response. You can do this by keeping a journal or using an app. By knowing your triggers, you will prepare yourself and avoid unnecessary stress or conflict.
Practice relaxation techniques:
Calm your body and mind when you feel the fight response coming on. Do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response and counteracts the effects of chronic stress.
Challenge your thoughts:
Challenge your negative thoughts that fuel your fight response. You can use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques such as identifying cognitive distortions, testing the evidence and reframing your thoughts. CBT can help you develop a more balanced and realistic perspective on yourself and others.
Express your emotions:
Express your emotions in healthy and constructive ways. Use emotional regulation skills such as naming your emotions and validating your feelings. You can also use creative outlets such as writing, drawing, music or dance to express yourself.
Set healthy boundaries with yourself and others early on, rather than letting the resentment build up. Also Learning to say no in a calm way.
Remember, the other person has a right to say no when you ask for something.
Seek support from people who understand and care about you. Reach out to friends, family or a support group. You can also seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in trauma. Support can help you feel less alone, more understood and empowered.
Manage Your Emotional Flashbacks and Inner Critic
Emotional flashbacks are feelings of being small and helpless that take us back to a time when we were vulnerable against the abuse. Manage these by understanding them, recognising them for what they are when they happen and changing your state to a positive one.
The inner critic is the voice in your head that is negative towards you. It is not your voice, but the internalised voice of the abuser. Your own voice is a compassionate voice, like that of a good friend. Recognise the inner critic, tell it shut up and speak to yourself in a fair and compassionate way. Even when you make mistakes. This will eventually change your inner script.
What is the Fight Response to Trauma?
The fight response involves a release of hormones (primarily cortisol and adrenaline) in the body that trigger a reaction to fight the threat. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the reactions that occur within the body when this happens.
This response to trauma can be helpful in certain situations where we need to defend ourselves or others from harm.
However, the fight trauma response can also be triggered by non-life-threatening situations, such as public speaking, taking a test or having an argument. In these cases, the physiological response can be overwhelming and interferes with our ability to react in proportion.
The fight response can also become a habitual pattern of behavior due to the trauma, causing physical and mental health problems. This trauma usually occurs when we have experienced repeated or prolonged exposure to abuse or neglect often in childhood but also as an adult. Because trauma like this has many causes over a long period of time it is known as complex ptsd.
In this case, we will learn to cope with potential threats by becoming aggressive and controlling.
The fight response can also be influenced by our attachment style. Our attachment style reflects how we bond with our primary caregivers in childhood and how we relate to others in adulthood.
If we had an insecure attachment style (such as anxious-preoccupied or fearful-avoidant), we may develop a fight response to trauma as a way of seeking attention and security from others.
How Does the Fight Response to Trauma Manifest?
The fight response can manifest in different ways depending on the situation and the person. Some common signs of the fight response are:
We may feel intense anger towards ourselves or others. We lash out verbally or physically at anyone who triggers or challenges us. We will have difficulty controlling our temper or expressing our emotions constructively.
We feel the need to control everything and everyone around us. We are likely to micromanage our relationships and other aspects of our life. We may have rigid rules or expectations for ourselves and others, making us resistant to change or compromise.
Someone with a fight trauma response will feel threatened by any feedback or criticism. They may deny mistakes or blame others for their problems. In short, they will rationalize their behavior and justify their actions.
We may set unrealistic standards for ourselves and others. And strive for excellence in everything we do because we fear failure and rejection. Although we act confident, we compare ourselves to others and feel inadequate.
A person with the fight response, may have an inflated sense of self-importance. They can lack empathy and compassion and will manipulate others for their own gain. They may not be a narcissist but display narcissistic traits.
These signs of the fight response can have negative consequences for our mental and physical health as well as our relationships and career. They can also prevent us from healing from trauma and finding peace within ourselves.
How the Fight Response to Trauma Affects Relationships and Communication
The fight response can have a negative impact on relationships and communication in several ways.
As people are hard wired to be sensitive to others moods, when someone has a fight response they will trigger a stress response in other people. Creating a cycle of negativity.
If you have the fight response, here are some ways it will affect your relationships:
You will become hostile towards others who trigger your trauma. You might snap at them, blame them, criticize them or insult them. You are likely to become defensive and argumentative when they disagree with you.
You have difficulty trusting others or feeling close to them because you fear being hurt and abandoned.
You will have difficulty expressing your feelings in a healthy way, bottling them up until they explode in an outburst. Or you might avoid talking about your feelings or problems altogether.
Lack of Empathy
Because you have difficulty listening to others and empathizing with them, you will interrupt them, dismiss them and invalidate them.
Black and White Thinking
Because you see things in black-and-white terms you refuse to budge from your position. This will lead you to having difficulty resolving conflicts through compromise. Again this can mean you resort to manipulation, intimidation and violence to get your way.
These behaviors can damage your relationships because they create distance and resentment between you and them.
Ironically, they will prevent you from getting the support, understanding and intimacy you crave.
The 4fs Trauma Responses at a Glance
Here is a summary of the four trauma responses:
Fight response: This is when someone protects themselves from threat through conflict, such as physical or verbal aggression. They may feel angry, defensive and controlling. This response can be effective if the danger can be overcome with strength, but it can also cause problems if the threat is not real or if the conflict escalates.
Flight response: This is when someone protects themselves from threat through escape, such as running away, avoiding and distracting themselves. They feel anxious and hyperactive. This response can be effective if the danger can be outrun, but it can also prevent them from facing their fears or resolving their issues.
Freeze response: This is when someone protects themselves from threat through dissociation, such as being still and silent. They feel detached and helpless. The freeze trauma response can be effective if the danger is temporary or unpredictable, but it can also impair their ability to act or communicate.
Fawn response: This is when someone protects themselves from threat through placation, such as pleasing and complying. They feel guilty, ashamed and dependent. This response can be effective if the danger can be pacified or avoided by being agreeable, but it can also compromise their sense of self or boundaries.
How Trauma Affects People
Although trauma affects everyone differently, there are common signs.
People may experience:
People may also experience physical symptoms, such as…
Trauma also affects how we respond to future threats or challenges. When we face a perceived danger, our body activates a natural survival mechanism called the fight or flight response. This trauma response prepares us to either fight back or run away from the threat.
However, sometimes this response can become stuck or overactive due to trauma. This means that we may react to non-threatening situations as if they were life-threatening.
Conclusion: The Fight Response to Trauma
The fight response to trauma is a natural survival mechanism that can help us in certain situations but can also harm us in others. It can become a habitual pattern that overrides our healthy stress responses.
Often it becomes chronic when people have suffered from childhood abuse which makes them unable to act appropriately when confronted by perceived threats. This can lead to mental health issues as well negative physical symptoms.
The fight response can manifest in different ways such as anger, control, defensiveness, perfectionism or narcissism.
Breaking the cycle of the fight response and finding peace requires awareness, compassion and support. We can do this by:
practicing relaxation techniques.
challenging our thoughts.
expressing our emotions.
managing emotional flashbacks and the inner critc
By doing these steps, we can heal from past trauma and find peace within ourselves.