Think about the last time you and your partner were in an argument. Perhaps, they said or did something pretty hurtful which triggered your emotional reaction.
You began to experience intense feelings of anger, anxiousness, and even sadness. The emotions and thoughts running through your mind made you feel out of control because it reminded you of how unsafe you felt in that moment. Whether you froze or when into fight mode, this was your body responding to what is known as a trauma response.
Trauma responses that show up in your romantic relationship are formed from a past event or experience that became too overwhelming for the brain to process. This particular situation may have left you feeling emotionally threatened and unable to properly cope. The amygdala, the fear center of the brain, is where you store those past memories and trauma responses. And, when you experience an unwarranted situation that is emotionally or physically threatening today, your brain and body recall those old emotions which put you back in a similar emotional state.
Your brain and body work together to protect you when something feels emotionally threatening or physically dangerous to your safety. To protect yourself you may have developed trauma responses as a form of survival from early childhood trauma, toxic relationships, or severe adulthood trauma.
With each type of trauma response, there is an unhealthy and healthy response. The unhealthy version is an emotional reaction to the perceived danger, whereas the healthy version is a logical and healing response to an experience that emulates the past.
Here are Four Types of Trauma Responses That May Show Up In Your Relationship:
1. Fight Trauma Response
The goal of this response is to fight by protecting yourself from conflict regardless of who you hurt in the process. You may want to lash out or become vindictive to hurt your partner in return. Not only are you being self-destructive to yourself, but also to the relationship. The positive side of fight mode, when handled in a healthy mode, is setting a boundary with your partner. This can deepen the emotional intimacy between you and your partner when experiencing discord.
What your responses make look like in fight mode:
Unhealthy response: You feel the need to immediately defend yourself and will often use bullying, demanding, or controlling communication along with aggressive outbursts. Willing to pick fights at the cost of destroying the relationship. You may also engage in self-destructive behavior, like becoming physical and injuring yourself or others.
Healthy response: You have the ability to establish a boundary, use assertive communication, advocate for yourself, and lead others to safety when feeling discomfort to keep the relationship intact.
2. Flight Trauma Response
The goal of this flight response is to leave the situation by escaping any burden or pain from your partner. Instead of addressing the issue, you completely escape into your own headspace or take off by getting far away from your partner to protect yourself. This can leave your partner feeling confused or abandoned thinking you aren’t committed to the relationship altogether. On the other hand, this response may better equip you to leave relationships that are unhealthy and not aligned with your relationship values.
What your response may look like in flight mode:
Unhealthy response: You are in a constant state of fear, panicking, worrying, and tend to micromanage every little detail. You may have tendencies of perfectionism, obsessive thinking, the need to stay busy at work or escape a situation altogether by avoiding it through traveling or moving. This prevents the relationship from growing.
Healthy response: You find yourself disengaging from unhealthy conversations, the ability to leave unhealthy relationships, and properly assess danger when situations are no longer in your best interest.
3. Freeze Trauma Response
The goal of freeze response is to self-preserve through dissociation so you don’t have to do anything in the moment by simply ignoring the relationship issue. This can cause you to detach from the situation by taking your partner for granted and not sticking together as a team. However, this can also help you pause and reflect on a solution before discussing the topic of conversation.
What your response may look like in freeze mode:
Unhealthy response: You find making decisions or taking actions difficult, tend to self-isolate, detach from the situation, and see by not doing nothing as low-risk. This can hinder your ability to engage in healthy conversations to maintain the connection.
Healthy response: You have the ability to take action by pausing in the present moment and thinking of a solution before responding. You use mindfulness, exhibit self-awareness, and logically determine the best plan of action in the relationship.
4. Fawn Trauma Response
The goal of fawn response is to appease your partner to dissolve any relationship issues, so your partner will not leave or abandon you. You are likely to stay with a partner who shows signs of emotional abuse because you are codependent on their affection and attention as a need for survival. On the flip side, you are very compassionate and honor the relationship in your life every day as a committed partner.
What your response may look like in fawn mode:
Unhealthy response: You tend to stay in unhealthy relationships and accept abusive behaviors at the cost of losing yourself. You lack personal boundaries and place other people’s needs above your own.
Healthy response: You actively listen and have compassion for others. You objectively try to find a solution that will make everyone happy by compromising and honoring the relationship.
After reading about the four types of trauma responses, do you recognize any of these behaviors in your relationship today? Whether it's you or your partner, talking about trauma is the first step to healing and creating more harmony in your connection. This builds deeper intimacy and helps you respond to emotional trauma in a healthy way. Learning how to respond in couples coaching together can strengthen your union while actively supporting each other and being a team. Contact here to learn more.