Trauma Typology and C-PTSD

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According to Walker (n.d.) there are four basic types of defenses that emanate from trauma: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. I seem to experience three out of the four at any given time, depending upon my level of emotional and physical fatigue. Primarily, my “go to” defense involves freezing. [Funny, doesn’t seem like a defense now does it?] Secondarily, I choose flight but that’s only because sometimes I cannot flee. 🙂 On a tertiary level, fawning is the option. Generally, fawning  occurs when I am anxious and/or cannot muster the courage to flee and contributes to codependent behaviors.

Freeze (Dissociative)

Walker states that “freeze types hide away in their rooms and reveries” (para. 4) and I find this to be ambiguous because I am pretty introverted and that, on its face, is not an unhealthy thing. However, I know that there’s a lot more to it than my love of quiet and being alone; mental white space is what I call it when I use the coping mechanism to recharge. In an unhealthy sense, I tend to gravitate toward secret schizoid tendencies which essentially means that my acting skills serve me well because nobody outside of my head realizes how withdrawn into my safe little world I actually am. My avoidant attachment style dovetails “nicely”.

Walker writes “The freeze response, also known as the camouflage response, often triggers the individual into hiding, isolating and eschewing human contact as much as possible. This type can be so frozen in retreat mode that it seems as if their starter button is stuck in the “off” position. It is usually the most profoundly abandoned child – “the lost child” – who is forced to “choose” and habituate to the freeze response (the most primitive of the 4Fs). Unable to successfully employ fight, flight or fawn responses, the freeze type’s defenses develop around classical dissociation, which allows him to disconnect from experiencing his abandonment pain, and protects him from risky social interactions – any of which might trigger feelings of being reabandoned. Freeze types often present as ADD” (para. 9). Not surprisingly “When they are especially traumatized or triggered, they may exhibit a schizoid-like detachment from ordinary reality” (para. 9). Freeze and flight types are usually unconscious of their fear and their tortuous inner critic, which makes treating difficult, according to Walker.

Flight (Obsessive-Compulsive)

It was enlightening and somewhat comforting to read “flight types respond to their family trauma somewhere along a hyperactive continuum that stretches between the extremes of the driven “A” student and the ADHD dropout running amok” (Walker, n.d., para. 6). The author states that “flight types stay perpetually busy and industrious to avoid potentially triggering interactions” (para. 4). Um yeah. That’s a very accurate description of the second half of my life so far vs. the first half of my life. Walker points out that flight types “relentlessly flee the inner pain of their abandonment and lack of attachment with the symbolic flight of constant busyness” (para. 7).

Fawn (Dependent)

Fawn types avoid emotional investment and potential disappointment by barely showing themselves – by hiding behind their helpful personas, over-listening, over-eliciting or overdoing for the other – by giving service but never risking real self-exposure and the possibility of deeper level rejection” (para. 4). Walker states that “they act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries” (para. 12). Contempt, shame, and guilt by a narcissistic parent prompt the fawn type into compliance so that a temporary feeling of safety can be attained. Long term, development of a sense of self that is healthy and are prone to relationships with narcissistic personalities in adult life. Walker observes that “even the thought of expressing a preference or need triggers an emotional flashback of such intensity that they completely dissociate from their knowledge of and ability to express what they want.”

Combinations

The flight/freeze combination is my typical defense as I avoid my feelings “with an obsessive-compulsive/dissociative ‘two-step’ that severely narrows [my] existence”. This combination, according to Walker, is more common in men and is stereotypical of the “information technology nerd”. Although I’m not a man, I conduct business like a man in terms of philosophy and assertiveness and – damn – I am a true technology nerd (uh, I mean professor…).

Walker concludes by stating “recovery is not an all-or-none phenomenon, but rather a gradual one marked by decreasing frequency, intensity and duration of flashbacks”. I’ll blog on flashbacks next but in the meanwhile, I will admit to being relieved to understand my defense structures. One of the most frightening things I experience is freezing when I cannot flee. Fawning is something that I do out of fear or fatigue and is, on its face, not as obviously disturbing in the short run, but it is highly damaging in the long run.

References

Walker, P. (n.d.). The 4Fs: A trauma typology in Complex PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.pete-walker.com/fourFs_TraumaTypologyComplexPTSD.htm

Photo from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Automotive_C-pillar_typology.jpg

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7 thoughts on “Trauma Typology and C-PTSD

  1. Pingback: Emotional Flashbacks and C-PTSD | Dharma Goddess: The Journey to Me

    • Hi Frank! This exercise was very valuable for me. I find the freezing to be trauma-inducing because I don’t understand why I do it – or at least I didn’t. Now I do. Boy do I ever. I feel relief but recognize I need to unplug the things that cause this because it’s becoming more debilitating. Awareness should help me.

  2. oh gosh, thank you for this post!

    I am without a doubt, Flight/Fawn…

    I am somewhat beginning to understand my CPTSD, but the very nature of it has my brain getting so lost and overwhelmed that working through it all feels impossible, sometimes.

    Awareness is helping, but I also feel that it’s hindering in some ways, because now I’ve become that girl who won’t ever get hurt/need anyone again! Which is not so awesome when I’m 4 and a half months pregnant and shutting myself off from my partner even more than I did when I would dissociate daily.

    It really makes me angry that my ability to navigate a future is constantly being dictated by reactions from a past I never, ever chose.

    • Hi there! Glad you found me on the Interwebs!

      Understanding my C-PTSD is going to take quite awhile to rebuild new patterns of behavior because the others were developed over a lifetime. S’ok. Counterdependence, for me, has been part of that pendulum swing and my goal is balance. Awareness started a trend toward obsession, which I noticed right away. I also got to the point where I recognized that it was time to stop being scientific in my approach and replace that mindset with feeling – actually feeling – whatever comes up. [yeah, that part is super rough, but let’s face it – I’ve avoided it for a lifetime too!] during the rough patches, I’ve learned to go easy on myself. I’m going to backslide now and then. I’m going to feel depressed now and then. However, I now have the knowledge and wherewithal to stop my head from running away with my life. Hence, my past *will not* define my future. I give. I cannot control this thing so it’s better for me to heal it.

      Being pregnant has its own challenges and I remember my emotional sensitivities were really high (hormones). Try to take it easy on yourself. All things being equal, even if you weren’t battling the C-PTSD, pregnancy would still likely hijack your head in one way or another. Separate the normal pregnancy stuff (whatever “normal” is) from the C-PTSD stuff.

      Above all, see the gift you’ve been given in that you can change your future and your baby’s future – right here, right now. You got this thing girl!

      • I actually found you after you followed my blog, itsokaytoeatfish, so I’m definitely glad you found me – I’ve read a few of your posts and reblogs now and am finding them a great source of comfort.

        Thanks for your encouragement. I think a large part of what I need to do is accept that I was a victim, and that I wasn’t aware of being a victim for many years – when I did speak up against what was being done to me, I was told I was just being a typical female, and whinging.

        But the time for that is over… I have many triggers, but I welcome their discovery – being able to recognise what is setting me off is the only thing that’s allowing me to move forward… those lightbulb moments when the fear creeps in and I go “holy shit. So *that’s* why I react that way? OK, cool. not cool, but cool”.

        Now I just need to regulate that angsty teen that’s come back out and teach her that she doesn’t need to keep building walls and fighting ghosts.

      • Hehe! I love the “holy shit. So *that’s* why I react that way?” part. Yes, yes, yes!

        Maybe your angsty teen has something else to teach you about yourself…eh, giver her a little air time [with boundaries, of course lol!] and see what comes up.

        Joking aside, none of this is easy because most of it has been hidden from our consciousness. How could we possibly expect ourselves to be experts at something we were never taught? [My inner teenage girl just said “DUH!” and tossed her hair lol!]

        You’re going to do just great, I know it!

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