The 4F Trauma Responses

The author Pete Walker talks about 4 different trauma responses in his book and on his website. They are:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Fawn

Fight response is where the person uses anger and control in order to take their frustrations out on others, to feel more powerful and better than someone else in order to avoid the pain of feeling powerless. They believe that they can create a feeling of safety by having control over the people around them. A lot of narcissists and abusers are fight types. This is probably how a lot of kids turn into bullies.

Flight response people strive for perfection, because they hope that maybe one day if they are perfect, they’ll really be loved and safe. This might result in either lots of hyperactivity, or obsession about working really hard, only getting perfect grades, or some combination of those things. It’s like they’re always busy and can’t ever relax. If they try to relax, they worry about something they should be doing instead.

Freeze response is where the person basically just collapses and gives up and dissociates to try and avoid the pain. They escape reality by living in an internal fantasy world. That’s what I did a lot of in school and at home, and that’s what it looks like Jack did, too. They might believe that all people are dangerous, and that it’s safer to be alone.

Fawn is where the person learns to people-please as much as possible in order to avoid getting bad reactions from the abuser. They learn that the safest thing to do is to give up their own preferences and needs, and to just do whatever other people (their abusers, usually) decide instead. Having their own independent needs feels too dangerous, and they might not even realize that they have their own needs at all. I can just imagine some proud abusive parent pointing at their Fawn Response kid and going “Look how good and polite he is now! All those beatings were very effective!”

Most traumatized people are a combination of more than one of these responses.

Reading Pete’s book blew my world apart, because I could now see the trauma responses in literally everyone I know.

There was the perfectionist girl in my class who would write and erase words constantly if the letters weren’t shaped perfectly. (Flight type). She was nervous and fidgety all the time, and she’d have panic attacks before and after every test. She’d be really upset if she didn’t get an A. I visited her house often. Her mother had random fits of rage and her father wasn’t around. She and her little sister fought all the time too.

There was my one friend I met in college who always had to talk about how he was better than everyone else, and always had some complaint about someone. Actually, I had 3 friends who did that. (Fight types). And they complained to me about each other constantly, and it was actually really sad and kind of funny at the same time how they all confided their hatred of each other to me… because I was fawning, being nice to all of them, trying to get everyone’s approval.

I was proudly nice to everyone and wanted everyone to like me, and I was terrified of the idea that someone might actually not like me. I told people what I thought they wanted to hear, even if it wasn’t true.

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