Updated: Sep 10
Jordan B. Peterson shared these touching words on an instagram post, "You tell people that you love, how to avoid the road to hell, and you don't do that because you're shaking your finger at them, or because you're a moral authority, you do it because you don't want them to burn. I think there is too much of the moral authority, and not enough of the love that helps people avoid." Trauma impacts everyone differently. There is a direct correlation between what we may view as dysfunction in people's lives, and the trauma they have survived. It is this trauma that leads one down the road to burn.
Trauma response has been narrowed down to five different outcomes of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and friend that impact both the autonomic nervous system, and the parasympathetic nervous system. When we experience stress we react in two different ways: the autonomic response to stress is hyperarousal, or startle response, and the parasympathetic response to stress is hypoarousal, described as dissociative response.
If a person tends to get stuck in unresolved trauma for too long, the symptoms of their trauma can cause toxicity in a relationship. These symptoms can evolve into more serious mental health concerns. Anyone can have a stress response that is considered either hyper, or hypo-arousal, however, we frequently see both in children and adults who are neuro-diverse with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, and with individuals that have sensory processing needs.
Autonomic responses to stress are termed fight, and flight. This hyper-aroused state impacts heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Children, and adults with a stress response of hyper-arousal tend to be sensory seeking. These individuals are looking to gain input to regulate. A person experiencing hyperarousal will feel overwhelmed by their environment. This can lead to feelings, behaviors, and dispositions that look like agitation, frustration, irritability, fidgeting, escapism, physical aggression, anger, risky behaviors, hypervigilance, inability to concentrate, inability to communicate needs, intrusion into others personal space with constant touch, sensory seeking with the use of sound, color, and fragrance, paranoid thinking, and risk taking. It's these behaviors that tell us a person is in a stress response. People experiencing this type of stress can help themselves by seeking peace, and solitude, as well as, deep pressure massage, low white noise, fidget toys, cold showers, ice packs, crunchy food, cold drinks, yoga ball, punching bag, deep belly breathing, deep drumming sounds, ripping paper, and large body movements of running, and jumping.
When the fight response is used in a healthy way it looks like healthy boundaries, great leadership ability, creativeness, assertion, and having great discernment to protect oneself and loved ones, on the other hand a stuck fight response may manifest behaviours that are controlling, narcissistic, demanding of perfectionism in others, bullying, conduct disordered, swept with pervasive feelings of entitlement, and angry explosive outbursts. For these people the threat has never subsided, they are always on high alert.
The second autonomic response of flight is used to assess danger properly. When this stress response is healthy it can help us end unhealthy conversations, and relationships. People with unresolved trauma may perceive everything as danger, which may lead to toxic behaviors like obsessive compulsive disorder, busy body tendencies, perfectionism, overthinking, constant fear, panic disorder, and workaholism.
Opposite to this is the freeze response referred to as "playing possum". This stress impacts sleep, eating habits, mood and energy levels. Symptoms and behaviours that indicate a person is in a hypo-aroused state are dissociation, feeling frozen, disconnected, numbed, daydreaming, brain fog, exhaustion, being quiet, and withdrawn, socially isolated, difficulty with decisions, poor concentrating, and reportedly having gaps in memories of an event. Individuals stressed in this way are reportedly seen as lazy, with a fear of achieving, or of trying new things. Children and adults whose nervous system is stressed in a hypo-aroused state don't tend to act out, but tend to be invisible, and isolated. They tend to avoid sensory input to decompress and to regulate. This may seem like they do not care, but in reality they are trying to reset the nervous system from a frozen state to a restful one.
One can help themselves out of a hypo-aroused state with light pressure massage, weighted blankets, strong smells and tastes (coffee in the AM), loud music, crunchy foods like chips, cold drinks with ice, jumping on a trampoline, socializing, bright lights, and a cool shower. The healthy response to stress versus the freeze is the practice of mindfulness, being aware in the moment, and fully present. Persons that are in a hypo-aroused state have most often have lived through an abusive relationship, an example could be, having to remain as still, and silent as possible to avoid a parent's wrath in such overwhelming fear that one can not move. Teaching people to deal with real, or perceived danger helps to "thaw" the freeze response.
The least understood response to trauma is the parasympathetic response called fawning. Fawning is referred to as people pleasing. It is used as a response to neutralize a threat, by collapsing and playing dead. In overwhelming circumstances this type of behavior may look like appeasement to a predator. People who live in toxic relationships may lose their sense of self, and forfeit their personal boundary to stay alive. Relationships where one party is not emotionally available, or pervasively violent can create codependency, on the other hand, a healthy response to others is compassion, compromise in relationship, active listening skills, mercy or fairness, and exhibiting healthy boundaries.
Finally, the friend trauma response is described as "Stockholm syndrome," or trauma bonding. This trauma response is seen quite frequently in survivors of prolonged infant trauma, or children and adults with attachment disorders. It includes metabolic shutdown, numbing, and hiding behaviors. Stockholm Syndrome is a coping mechanism that occurs during prolonged abuse, or terror when a person begins to sympathize with their abuser. It is considered to be learned helplessness, and is sometimes seen together with battered persons syndrome. The abuser creates these feelings by developing positive feelings in the relationship through rescuing, or taking breaks from the abuse and being kind which creates confusion to the victim. In some cases of domestic violence, victims defend their abuser versus working with authorities. Stockholm Syndrome is often seen as a coping mechanism in individuals diagnosed with PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety, and depression. These diagnosis are commonly given to survivors of severe trauma that involves sexual, physical, and emotional abuses, prolonged child and infant abuse, coach-athlete abuse, and human sex trafficking.
So when authorities shame us to shape up and stop all the sinning, they neglect to acknowledge their own indecency in the pervasiveness of the lie that the fall created the human condition, but that the human condition creates the human condition. People live in an aversive state trying to escape the experience of humanity that was never their own.
Four Types of Trauma Responses, Life Stance Health Inc. Feb. 3, 2022 https://lifestance.com/blog/four-types-trauma-response/
Hypoarousal versus Hyperarousal, Dandelion Training and Development. Nov. 21, 2022