Harmful Behaviours that are actually Trauma Response
Self Help

Harmful Behaviours that are actually Trauma Response

trauma response

Trauma has become a jargon these days as people on social media platforms are using it frequently not knowing the severity and the spectrum of traits it holds. A prevalent example of a traumatic event can be children being threatened by something he/she has been a victim of or witness to. 

According to the American psychological association ( APA), trauma is “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” Trauma has chronic effects on an individual’s health and lifestyle. If the symptoms tend to last longer than expected duration, it is a sign of trauma leading to a mental health disorder called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Based on the intensity and complexity trauma has been classified into different types:

  1. Acute trauma – It’s a consequence of one particular stressful or hazardous event.
  2. Chronic trauma – It’s a consequence of recurring and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events, such as bullying, domestic violence, and child abuse. 
  3. Complex trauma – It’s a consequence of several ongoing traumatic events. 

An individual undergoing trauma May experience irritability, difficulty concentrating prolonged sadness, embarrassment, drowsiness, guilt, anger, denial, and hopelessness. In terms of physical challenges, the individual may report headaches, sweaty palms, hyperactivity or fatigue. India holds common incidents that are relevant to every household, we often refer to them as generational trauma due to body shaming, name-calling, expectation, comparison with others, physical, psychological or sexual abuse, and the sudden loss of a loved one.

Related: Exploring Trauma Dumping: Impact and Coping Strategies

Overview of trauma responses

  1. Fight: this is when an individual responds to a threat or danger by acting impulsively and confrontational feeling the need to fight back or defend oneself.
  2. Flight: This is when an individual responds to a threat by escaping or running away feeling a strong urge to flee. 
  3. Freeze: This is when an individual responds to danger by feeling paralyzed or unable to move. 
  4. Fawn: This is when an individual responds to a threat by trying to please or appease the person causing the threat. 

Linking trauma to behavioural patterns

  • Fear-Based Behaviours: Children may display fear-based behaviours such as sleeping with lights on or keeping the washroom door open as protective measures against perceived threats. These behaviours are often attempts to regain a sense of safety and control.
  • Cognitive Disruptions: Children who have experienced trauma may exhibit disruptions in cognitive skills, including attention and memory difficulties. These disruptions can impact their academic performance and overall cognitive development.
  • Social Withdrawal: Adolescents may ease their distress by withdrawing from social media engagement or distancing themselves from peers. This withdrawal can be a way to avoid reminders of trauma and cope with overwhelming emotions.
  • Self-Harm: Individuals who have experienced recurring childhood abuse, whether physical, psychological, or sexual, may engage in self-harming behaviours as a coping mechanism. These behaviours serve as a way to manage emotional pain and gain a sense of control.
  • Substance Abuse: Substance abuse, such as drug or alcohol consumption, may be practiced by individuals post-trauma as a means to escape or numb painful emotions. This coping strategy can lead to further health complications and dependency issues.
  • Avoidance: Many individuals, both children and adults, may choose to avoid certain situations, places, or people that trigger unpleasant feelings or memories associated with trauma. Avoidance can provide temporary relief but often exacerbates long-term emotional distress.

Read More: Trauma Due to Childhood Sexual Abuse

Impact of trauma on emotional regulation and impulse control

Trauma can have a significant impact on emotional regulation and impulse control. When someone has been through trauma, their ability to regulate and manage their emotions may be compromised. They often struggle with severe and intense emotional reactions such as anger, fear or sadness. This can lead to difficulties in controlling impulsive behaviours.

Trauma can derail the brain’s basic functioning affecting areas responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control. The amygdala which helps in processing emotions can become overactive leading to heightened emotional responses. Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex responsible for impulsive control and decision-making can get impaired, resulting in difficulty in thinking rationally and making sound decisions.

Read More: Power of Self-Care in Trauma Recovery

As a result, individuals who have been through trauma may have impulsive behaviours as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions or retain a sense of control. This can manifest as risky behaviours. Self-destruction, difficulty controlling impulses or related to anger. It’s essential to approach individuals who have been through trauma with empathy and understanding. Professional support such as therapy or counselling can be provided to them. Healthy coping mechanism, improve emotional regulation and improve impulse control.

Importance of trauma-informed care and support systems

Trauma-informed care and support systems are crucial in giving effective and healthy assistance to people who have been through trauma. 

Why do we need trauma-informed care and support systems? 

  1. Safety and trust: trauma-informed care focuses on creating a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable to let go of their burden, pain/baggage of emotions. It focuses on building trust and forming a therapeutic relationship based on respect and empathy. 
  2. Understanding validation: trauma-informed care recognizes the impact of trauma on a person’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being. It considers that trauma responses are normal reactions to abnormal events. Understanding and validating these experiences helps release shame, and reduce self-blame and isolation. 
  3. Professional training and awareness: trauma-informed care focuses on the importance of training and education for professionals to enhance their understanding of trauma and its impact. This ensures that support systems are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide the required care.

Read More: Beyond Trauma: Illuminating the Power of Post-Traumatic Growth


Traumatic events can lead to various harmful behaviours as coping mechanisms, affecting emotional well-being and cognitive skills. Recognizing these signs is vital for providing proper support. Empathy, understanding, and trauma-informed care are essential in helping individuals develop healthier coping strategies and resilience. Investing in professional support and education can make a significant difference in addressing trauma effectively.

References +
  • Kleber RJ. Trauma and Public Mental Health: A Focused Review. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Jun 25;10:451. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00451. PMID: 31293461; PMCID: PMC6603306.
  • Berson, I. R., & Baggerly, J. (2009). Building resilience to trauma: Creating a safe and supportive early childhood classroom. Childhood Education, 85(6), 375-379.
  • Treatment, C. F. S. A. (2014). Understanding the impact of trauma. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/#:~:text=Self%2Ddestructive%20behaviors%20such%20as,with%20a%20history%20of%20trauma
  •        Lmhc, S. B. (2024, March 26). Fight, flight, freeze, & fawn: Understanding the trauma response. Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/fight-flight-freeze-fawn/
  • Students exposed to trauma. (n.d.). https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/ed/schools/primer/trauma

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