What is Trauma Response?

Jun 2, 2023

A trauma response is a natural reaction to a traumatic event, which can be anything from a serious accident to a natural disaster to personal assaults or ongoing emotional abuse. These responses are the way our body and mind try to protect themselves and cope with an extremely stressful situation. Understanding a trauma response, its causes, symptoms, and coping methods can significantly aid those affected in regaining control of their life. As a mental health expert in Canada, we offer Counselling in Vancouver to help you overcome this mental health issue and blow a new life into you.


Types of Trauma

The origins of trauma are vast and varied, including a range of experiences perceived as harmful and threatening. There are different types of trauma that one encounters throughout their lives. Traumas are not limited to physical events, but they can also be emotional or psychological in nature. Below are listed the three most common types of trauma.


  • Acute Trauma

Acute trauma refers to a single traumatic event that occurs within a relatively short period. People often experience acute trauma following tragic incidents such as accidents, natural disasters, physical assaults, or witnessing violent events. If not treated at the right time, acute trauma can result in long-term mental health problems such as:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Fear of recurrence
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety focused on flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma involves repeated exposure to distressing situations or events over an extended period. They have a cumulative effect on an individual’s well-being and are often associated with ongoing abuse, domestic violence, poverty, or living in high-crime areas. Some common forms of chronic trauma are:

  • Physical abuse: The use of physical force that causes bodily harm or pain, often resulting in injuries.
  • Sexual abuse: Involves any form of unwanted sexual activity, including molestation, rape, or exploitation.
  • Emotional abuse: Inflicting emotional pain or distress through manipulation, humiliation, threats, or constant criticism.
  • Domestic violence: A pattern of abusive behaviour within an intimate relationship, including physical, sexual, emotional, or financial abuse.
  • Poverty: Living in impoverished conditions, lacking basic needs, and experiencing ongoing stress and instability.


  • Complex Trauma

Complex trauma typically occurs during childhood and involves multiple and prolonged traumatic experiences, often within the caregiving system. It can include multiple and chronic physical or sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, or exposure to violence. In addition, complex trauma can significantly impact physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.


Common Causes of Trauma

The causes of trauma and its effect vary between people – trauma in one person may not have the same effect in another. Trauma responses underline the deeply personal nature of trauma and its responses.  The causes of trauma can be anywhere from childhood neglect, experiencing or witnessing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and the unexpected death of a loved one. Moreover, severe illness or injury, war or political violence, natural disasters, and other forms of violent, personal assaults are also some common causes of trauma. 


Symptoms of Trauma

Recognizing the symptoms of trauma is an essential step toward addressing the issue. These symptoms can be broadly divided into physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms.


Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms may manifest as chronic fatigue, disrupted sleep patterns, changes in appetite, physical aches and pains, or other unexplained physical ailments. These symptoms often result from the heightened stress response and the continuous release of stress hormones.


Emotional Symptoms

Individuals experiencing trauma may suffer from a range of emotional symptoms, such as intense fear or anxiety, sadness or depression, anger or irritability, feelings of guilt or shame, and feelings of disconnection or detachment from others. In some cases, individuals may experience emotional numbness, a state of not feeling anything at all.


Behavioral Symptoms

The behavioural symptoms may include withdrawal from social activities, changes in performance at work or school, engaging in self-harm, or exhibiting self-destructive or reckless behaviours. It may also lead to increased use of substances like alcohol or drugs to cope with the trauma.


Types of Trauma Responses

types of trauma response

Trauma responses are typically categorized into four main types, often called the Four F’s of Trauma Response: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn.



The trauma response of a fight happens when one has a sense of realization that they have to fight back to survive. The characteristics of those with fight trauma response include confrontational or aggressive behaviour in response to perceived threats. They fight for the safety and security that they wanted to feel in the past. They often showcase anger, irritability, and hostile behaviour.



The flight trauma response involves trying to escape and avoid threatening situations. One with this type of trauma wants to avoid uncomfortable conversations and make them feel that something is dangerous around them. They often deny the pain, suffering, and other distress they are going through.



The freeze response is when a person feels stuck or unable to act in response to a traumatic event. Those with freeze trauma respond can neither move backward nor move forward. Instead, they often feel a state of immobility or paralysis where they are unable to react. In these cases, the brain presses the “pause” button but remains hypervigilant.



The characteristics of those with fawn trauma response have a strong desire to please to avoid conflict, harm, or rejection. They please the person threatening them and keep them happy in order to escape harm.


Trauma Response in Children

Trauma can drastically alter the child’s world. Due to their developing brains and lack of life experience, children may respond to trauma differently than adults. They might exhibit changes in behaviour, such as aggression, withdrawal, or regression in developmental progress. They may also have difficulty at school, changes in sleep patterns or eating habits, and may express their feelings through play or drawings. Trauma response in children can result from a natural disaster or sustained stress such as domestic violence.

Child raising his hand and asking to stop

Impacts of Trauma Response on Children 

Children respond to trauma differently depending on their age and the nature of the traumatic event they have witnessed. Some may become withdrawn and quiet, while others exhibit aggressive or disruptive behaviours. Every child’s trauma response is unique and valid. However, any type of trauma response can deeply impact children’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.


Emotional Consequences

When we fail to recognize and address trauma responses in children, it can cause them to struggle with emotional regulation, self-esteem, and trust issues. They start feeling isolated, misunderstood, or unsupported. These can lead to a higher risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety in children.


Physical Consequences

Besides mental illness, children with trauma responses can also suffer physically. Unaddressed trauma responses in children can lead to stress-related conditions such as headaches, stomachaches, and even chronic conditions (heart disease and diabetes) later in life.


How to Identify and Cure Trauma Response in Children

When you see sudden changes in your children’s behaviour, mood, academic performance, and sleep patterns, they have a trauma response. Moreover, children with trauma responses often start avoiding certain places or people and have nightmares. A few sudden regressive behaviours, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking, could also help identify trauma responses in children.

When unsure if your kid has a trauma response, you can seek help from a mental health professional. Thrive Downtown provides a free consultation and can help identify trauma responses in your child.

There are many things you should consider to help your child overcome the mental health issue. But first, creating a safe and supportive space where your child can express their feelings is crucial.

However, the best way to help children with trauma responses is that you perform therapy. Besides providing mental health counselling, Thrive Downtown also offers a range of mental health therapies to help people, including children, overcome mental health conditions, and trauma response is not an exception.


The Impact of Trauma

The impact of trauma has wide-ranging and long-lasting effects -they often influence emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and neurobiological development aspects. Below are listed some common aspects of how trauma can impact individuals.


Emotional responses to trauma

Emotional responses to trauma are usually intense, varying significantly from one person to another. Trauma can lead to emotional responses such as intense fear, sadness, helplessness, and even numbness. Feelings of sadness come from a sense of loss, particularly when they involve physical harm or the death of loved ones. Guilt and shame often arise when individuals blame themselves for unfortunate events. Emotional responses can result in mood swings, anxiety disorders, and depression, disrupting one’s daily life and affecting their capacity to work. 


Physical responses to trauma

Physical responses to trauma can result in a range of bodily reactions and affect the health and well-being of an individual. When individuals enter into a fight-or-flight trauma response, it can result in symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and heightened senses. Physical responses typically lead to changes in one’s stress response system and cause symptoms like headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and other unexplained physical symptoms.


Cognitive responses to trauma

Cognitive responses to trauma primarily impact a person’s thoughts and memory. You often feel as though you are in a mental fog and find it difficult to decide independently. These responses also cause individuals to experience intrusive thoughts, distress or flashbacks about the traumatic event. Cognitive trauma response can affect memory, attention, and thinking processes and lead to difficulties in school or work and disrupt daily life.


Behavioral responses to trauma

Behavioural responses to trauma often serve as coping mechanisms. These trauma responses result in changes in behaviour, such as social withdrawal, where the individual isolates themselves from family and friends. In some cases, risky behaviours might increase in the individuals, including substance use, reckless driving, or self-harming behaviours. These behaviours might temporarily relieve distressing memories or feelings but can also contribute to long-term harm.


Social/Interpersonal responses to trauma

Trauma can also affect the social and interpersonal relationships of people. For example, an individual might have difficulty trusting others, particularly if the trauma involved betrayal or violation from a trusted individual or institution. Those with social/interpersonal responses struggle with feelings of detachment or disconnection from others, even close friends or family members. It can lead to withdrawal, isolation, or difficulty forming new relationships.


Neurobiological Development: Consequences of Early Childhood Trauma

Early childhood trauma can have severe consequences for neurobiological development. The early life of individuals is a critical period for brain development, and traumatic experiences during these days can cause significant disruptions. Early childhood trauma responses have profound effects on the developing brain – they can affect emotional regulation, response to stress, and even the brain’s physical structure. For instance, prolonged exposure to stress hormones harms the development of the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for memory and learning.


How trauma can lead to addiction?

Trauma can significantly increase the risk of individuals turning to alcohol and drugs. Trauma leads them to alcohol addiction/drug addiction as they help them numb their emotional pain, forget memories of the trauma, or feel more in control. They eventually depend on the substance to cope with their traumatic memories and emotions. However, it’s crucial to note that substance addiction always leads to long-term harm. Substance addiction potentially contributes to the development of substance use disorders and creates additional difficulty in treating trauma responses.

A woman using her laptop with one hand and touching her face with another hand in dark room.

Recognizing a Trauma Response

Recognizing a trauma response can be challenging, as responses can vary widely from person to person. According to National Library Center for Biotechnology Information, The initial trauma reactions can be exhaustion, sadness, anxiety, confusion, numbness, and dissociation. Trauma responses can occur in multiple stages, and it’s crucial to understand their signs and symptoms to decide on their cure.


Signs and symptoms of trauma response

Individuals often have feelings of sadness and confusion in the beginning. Trauma responses then lead to continuous distress and severe dissociation symptoms. After recognizing trauma responses, one should immediately seek the help of a mental health professional, as delayed responses to trauma can result in persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, and depression. We, Thrive Downtown, have a team of mental health experts who can help you with your medical responses. Connect now for an individual consultation.


Treatment options for trauma

Trauma can profoundly impact mental, emotional, and physical health, and addressing trauma responses often involves a combination of self-care techniques and professional help. Whether stemming from a single incident or a series of events, it feels overwhelming when it comes to dealing with trauma. However, there are various treatment options to aid in the recovery process, and below are listed the most effective ones.


Self-Care Techniques

The journey of trauma recovery often begins with self-care. Self-care techniques are vital for managing trauma responses. It’s about acknowledging your experiences and giving yourself grace and healing space. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, one should consider engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, ensuring adequate sleep, and practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques.


The impact of self-compassion on trauma recovery

Self-compassion encourages us to acknowledge our pain, forgive ourselves, and extend kindness toward our emotions. Self-compassion is the practice of treating oneself with kindness and understanding during difficult times, and it plays a key role in trauma recovery. It involves treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we would offer a close friend. Research suggests that cultivating a practice of self-compassion can significantly assist in trauma recovery.


Professional Help and Therapy

While self-care and self-compassion are vital components of trauma recovery, it’s equally important to seek professional help for mental health therapy, as mental health professionals are seasoned in addressing and treating trauma responses. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) can be particularly effective.


What Can I Expect from Therapy?

In mental health therapy, individuals can expect to work with a trained mental health therapist to understand and process their trauma. They learn about your trauma and work toward healing and recovery. Moreover, they provide expert guidance throughout your mental health treatment.



Understanding and addressing trauma responses is a complex process. However, you can effectively manage your trauma responses and move toward healing with the right support and resources. Thrive Downtown is committed to offering people with mental health conditions, including those with trauma response issues. We provide you with mental health therapies such as CBT therapy and EMDR therapy. We also utilize specialized techniques that cater to your individual needs and give you an opportunity to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. Contact us today for a free consultation for trauma response.


Trauma Response FAQs


1. Can you have more than one trauma response?

Yes, individuals can exhibit multiple trauma responses, which may change over time or in different situations.


2. Why is over-explaining a trauma response?

Over-explaining can be a trauma response, as it can be a way of seeking validation or understanding from others.


3. What is the difference between trauma and stress?

While trauma and stress can cause distress, trauma typically refers to reactions to severe or life-threatening events, while stress can result from everyday challenges or pressures.


4. Can trauma be passed down through generations?

Research suggests that trauma can affect subsequent generations through complex social and biological mechanisms, known as intergenerational trauma.


5. What is the most effective therapy for trauma?

Several therapies are effective for trauma, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). The most effective therapy often depends on the individual’s unique experiences and needs.


6. How long does it take to heal from trauma?

The healing process from trauma varies greatly between individuals and is influenced by the nature of the trauma, personal resilience, the support available, and the coping strategies employed.


7. Can you heal from trauma without therapy?

While some people can recover from trauma over time with the help of strong social support and healthy coping mechanisms, others may find therapy essential in their healing process.


8. How to maintain healthy relationships after trauma?

Maintaining healthy relationships after trauma involves open communication about one’s needs and boundaries, seeking professional help if necessary, and ensuring relationships offer mutual respect, understanding, and support.


9. Is social anxiety a trauma response?

Yes, social anxiety can be a response to trauma, especially when the trauma occurs in a social context.

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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