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The Trauma Experience: How can Trauma Therapy Reduce our Unhelpful Behaviours?

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

DR. ESSLIN TERRIGHENA explains how Trauma Therapy can reduce our dysfunctional survival behaviours after a traumatic experience.

Trauma therapy tackles trauma and its effects on our mental health on four levels: emotions, cognitions, body, and behaviours.

After a traumatic incident, we may be triggered into survival mode by triggers that our brain associates with the trauma. When this happens, one of four things can happen: Flight, Fight, Freeze, or Fawn.

1. Flight Mode: Our brain thinks that escape will give us the best chance of survival, so we run away. In practice, this may look like avoidance. We may avoid any cues that could remind us of our trauma. We may procrastinate from tasks at work or withdraw from relationships. We may throw ourselves into our work, move jobs, cities, or countries regularly, strive for perfection, self-soothe with drugs or alcohol, or avoid conflict and difficult conversations.

2. Fight Mode: Our brain thinks that defence will give us the best chance of survival, so we fight the threat. In practice, this might look like conflict, or aggression. It can be overt, such as getting into arguments, yelling, or throwing things, or covert, such as passive aggressive remarks, or giving the silent treatment. We may be abrasive and defensive or take control over situations. There may be little room for empathy or compassion toward us or others.

3. Freeze Mode: Our brain thinks that we have no chance of survival, so we freeze, collapse, or detach. In practice, this may look like inaction and dissociation, whereby we disconnect mentally or emotionally from a situation. We may not fully remember what happened after we have been triggered. We may go limp and struggle to get any words out, or even move. We may feel numb, fuzzy, and fatigued. We may hide away or use escapism with drugs, alcohol, or imagination.

4. Fawn Mode: Our brain thinks that appeasement will give us the best chance of survival, so we try to soothe and please the threatening person. In practice, this may look like people-pleasing and self-sacrifice. We may consistently put other people’s needs first to the detriment of our own needs and health. We may fail to develop a strong sense of self and rather default to the likes and dislikes of the people around us. We may have a lack of boundaries and feel that others quickly take advantage of us, intrude on our emotional or physical space, or hurt our feelings without consequence.

Trauma therapy can help us to identify our survival behaviours and how they may be preventing us from getting our needs met, and ultimately how they may be damaging our mental health and wellbeing. In the process, we can learn more about our needs, and healthier ways of getting these met. We can develop enhanced resilience strategies and ways of coping with our trauma triggers, while leaning away from survival responses that were helpful in the past, but are no longer adaptive in our today.

Together, these steps can reduce unhelpful trauma behaviours that stand in the way of us meeting our needs, wellbeing, and full potential.

Read more about how trauma therapy can help improve your distress, negative thoughts, and physical reactions. To find out more about how trauma therapy can help you, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2521 4668 or

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