Trauma responses. Fight/Flight Freeze/Submit


Here are some survival responses to trauma.
They say about 2 out of 3 people go into the flight/fight Hyperarousal state. The other third go into Hypoarousal Freeze/Submit state. In other words some people gear up and are ready to fight or run. Others of us shut down and freeze or become really compliant.

This is a list from a brochure for adoptive parents and what to look for in small children. But I see these reactions in myself and I see them in others with trauma.
It seems to me that when we get triggered we revert to these states even though they look a little different in adults.

What I look like in Fight…
• Hot and bothered
• Argumentative, angry and aggressive
• Controlling, demanding and inflexible
• Lie or blaming
• Unable to concentrate on one thing
• Unable to follow the house rules
• Confrontational
• Disrespectful
• Disregarding of others, pushing away friends/family members
• Shouting, loud and noisy
• Immature

What I look like in Flight:
• Running away, escaping, disappearing, hiding under the table/bed/sofa
• Clumsy
• Disruptive, loud and noisy
• Not coping with unstructured time to play
• Unable to follow house rules, avoiding what you’ve asked me to do
• Lonely
• Keeping super busy
• Baby talk/silly voices
• Bumping into people
• Needing to get into the car/house/park first

What I look like in Freeze…
• Bored, not interested
• Confused, forgetful
• Distracted, not listening
• Clumsy
• Talking about something else, moving you on
• Not moving to where you’ve asked me to be
• Standing still/sitting still (hanging/lounging about)
• Finding it hard to stay focused on what you’ve asked me to do
• Scanning the room
• Wide eyed, my pupils might dilate
• Zoned out, daydreaming, staring into space

What I look like in Submit…
• Unhappy, low mood
• Alone or withdrawn
• Fidgety but not disruptively so – anxious
• Never questioning or asking questions, never
drawing unnecessary attention to myself
• Yes or no answers - doing just enough to
avoid being noticed, unable to think
• Quiet and passive, compliant, resigned to my fate


Do you see these traits in yourself when triggered?
For myself I submit. I get really quiet and withdraw. I stop posting. Try to avoid any attention. Feel sad and alone.

My wife in my opinion has a flight response.
See escapes in work and projects. She avoids things by being super busy. And when life gets crazy her first instinct is that we need to move.
On here we see people get triggered and then leave not coming back. Perhaps being disruptive on their way out.

I know a few people that appear to have the fight response.
Constantly mad at someone, or on the otherhand people often are mad at them.
They come accross as argumentative, and aggressive, controlling and inflexible.
But it is never their fault.
On here we see ones who get into more than their share of controversy. Angering or being angry at the others. But it will never be their fault.

And then the Freezers.
I know a kid that has trauma that sure seems like this.
Confused, forgetful and distracted.
He gets really lethargic when triggered.
If you try to talk about things he shuts down and changes the subject.
These kids often appear not to be affected by the abuse at first. But it tends to build up until they have problems in their teens or later. On here these ones are hard to spot. If they get triggered they may just post on something else.

I write this because it helps me not to take things personally. If someone is triggered they are not meaning to act out. They may disappear or be angry and confrontational or try to control how others should feel on a matter. But often it is not really who they are. It is just a survival response.


I have a freeze response to trauma usually. At least i did during my childhood abuse. I just froze and let her do what she wanted. I feel guilty and like it was my fault for not fighting back.


I think most of us wish that we were fighters and not flight, freeze, submit.

But as an adult I don't mind not being overly reactive to people and percieved slights. Which is hard to break out of for fighters.

So I have my own fight of trying to find and keep my voice and speaking up.
And really what could most of us do? If you are young when the abuse starts you really can't fight. So you learn other coping tactics.

Tom E.

My last assault was the only one I wasn't shit-faced drunk for. I completely froze & shutdown.Numb. I let him have his way. I never struggled or tried to fight him off. I might as well have been passed out.


I am a mix of all 4, but mostly fight and flight.

I've finally learned I don't have to be hyper aware in order to respond. I don't have to keep the spring loaded to protect myself. I can trust that if needed, I will fight my way out to a flight path. It's nice letting that guard down.