Transformation Coaching

What is a Trauma Response?

Feb 27, 2024

There are many words used from therapy that people have come to understand on some level but have never gotten to the depth of the meaning of what is actually going on at all of the levels.

Because my aim is all about empowering people with information and tools, I thought I’d write a blog on the topic.

Trauma responses are more common that you could possibly imagine. So many of the choice we make each day are a trauma response. They are formed and guided by our childhood experiences.

First it will be helpful for us to understand what trauma is.

From Dr Peter Levine

“Years ago, trauma was defined more by external events rather than the responses human beings have to those events. Psychological trauma can happen to anyone when they perceive a situation as a threat and are unable to complete a satisfactory fight, flight or freeze response.

The nervous system is designed to keep us psychological intact when we perceive we cannot keep ourselves safe in a situation. However, if we do not address the way in which our nervous and memory system categorized the event, the aftermath can be quite devastating.”

In Family Constellations we are very aware that if we have an unmet need from childhood, this is also a trauma.

There are the big event traumas that you would expect a trauma response from. For example, if you were sexually abused as a child, then it would be very normal to have a trauma response around sexual encounters, even safe consensual encounters.

In this example a normal trauma response would be in safe consensual sexual encounters you may have flashbacks to the abuse from something your partner does in the moment that triggers the memory that is being held in your nervous system, or maybe you allow yourself to fully relax and open and the trauma comes to the surface to be healed. triggering memories from the abuse. This is an easy to understand trauma response.

Then there are trauma responses that happen that are more subtle, that are also very socially acceptable and can be interpreted as being a part of your personality instead of the trauma response that they are.

For example. If as a child you were told to stop talking and never felt like you were truly heard or listened to because your parents were busy and overwhelmed and couldn’t be present and instead of listening they put you down with comments like “What would you know?” for you as a child at that time.

That is an unmet need, that is also a type of trauma.

I would expect that this person, when grown, would be a wonderful listener, always making the person who is speaking feel validated and like they are not alone. I would think they would interrupt the speaker and give their own stories of how they can relate to what they are saying.

However, I also would expect this person to never feel like being truly listened to and heard, they never feel like their ability to listen and relate is reciprocated for them. They may always feel like they are unheard no matter who they are speaking to.

This is also a trauma response.

The trauma response is the desperate need to make the other person, when they are talking, to feel validated. The trauma response is that you cannot be truly present because your behaviour is being driven by your childhood experience of not having your need met.

This is what I mean earlier by a socially acceptable trauma response. It is a wonderful thing to be a great listener. You would make a wonderful friend. However your friends may not feel like you ever really open up to them. They feel like they are doing the vulnerability in the friendship because you are not feeling heard or safe enough to truly open up.

The one thing we know for sure is that when we have a trauma response we are not behaving from our present self. We are relating from our child self that experienced the trauma ain the first place.

The really important thing about trauma to understand, as Peter Levine says above is

Our present self is an adult, we have knowledge and wisdom and we know that we are no longer under threat. We have the ability to meet our own needs.

When we are triggered and having a trauma response, whether it be socially acceptable or not, it is the part of us that was “Psychological trauma can happen to anyone when they perceive a situation as a threat and are unable to complete a satisfactory fight, flight or freeze response.”

When we are unable to complete the satisfactory fight, flight or freeze response then that unfinished part of the response gets frozen, unresolved, and lives within our nervous system. In holistic counselling we would see that as a part of the psyche that breaks off and goes within us, and lives separate from us.

This means that when we are having a trauma response, the part of us that is “driving the bus” or “running the behaviour” is the part that froze and split off from our psyche back when the trauma happened. It is not our present day self who is controlling and choosing the response.

Healing trauma used to be about going back and remembering what happened to you, going deep into the psyche to relive the trauma.

Thankfully that no longer happens. There are many ways that you can work to release the trauma from the nervous system, to thaw that which was frozen and allow it to complete the fight, flight or freeze response so it can be released. This is where it is so important that you work with someone that is not only trauma informed but trauma trained and able to safely support you to navigate the completion of the response that was frozen all of those years ago.

While trauma healing is the thawing of that which was frozen, the way that this is done by each therapist can be very different. Trauma healing is an extensive field these days and there are many ways it can be done safely and effectively.

Which is a wonderful thing.

That means you can do your research, talk to a few people and see how they do it. Follow your body and intuition and find the person who uses the tools that you feel are best for you.

And if you try one method with someone and it isn’t for you then please don’t give up. There are plenty more to choose from.

You will find the one that suits you, just follow your body, it has a wisdom and loves to heal, it will show you the way.

If this is something that you wish to speak with me further about, then please reach out. You are not alone on this journey of self discovery and healing.

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