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Trauma Response: Flight?

When someone experiences a traumatic event, their body responds with a range of physiological and psychological reactions that can be categorized into four main types of trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. In this article, we will focus on the flight response and explore how it manifests in people who have experienced trauma.

The flight response is characterized by a strong urge to escape or avoid the source of the trauma. This response is often associated with anxiety and fear, and it can be triggered by a variety of events, such as physical or emotional abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, or combat. When someone has a flight response to trauma, they may feel the need to flee from the situation, either physically or mentally. This can result in a range of behaviors, from physically running away to avoiding certain people or situations that trigger memories of the trauma.

One of the key symptoms of the flight response is hyperarousal, which is a state of heightened physical and emotional sensitivity. People experiencing hyperarousal may feel tense, jumpy, or irritable, and they may have trouble sleeping or concentrating. This can lead to a range of physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and sweating. Over time, these symptoms can become chronic and lead to long-term health problems.

Research has shown that the flight response is a common reaction to trauma, especially in people who have experienced interpersonal violence or other forms of trauma that involve a threat to their safety. In a study of Chinese adults who had experienced traumatic events, researchers found that those who had a flight response were more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and depression than those who did not (Zhang & Liu, 2015).

Another study found that flight responses were more common in people who had experienced sexual assault than in those who had experienced other types of trauma (Kubany et al., 2004). This may be because sexual assault is often perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim, which can make it difficult for them to escape the situation.

Treatment for the flight response to trauma typically involves addressing the underlying anxiety and fear that are driving the urge to escape or avoid. This may involve a combination of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions. These approaches can help people to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs, develop coping strategies for dealing with anxiety and fear, and learn to tolerate the discomfort of traumatic memories without feeling the need to escape.

It is important to note that the flight response can be a healthy and adaptive response to danger in some situations. For example, if someone is in a car accident, their instinct to flee the scene may help them to avoid further danger. However, when the flight response becomes chronic or interferes with daily functioning, it can be a sign of trauma that requires professional help.

The flight response is a common reaction to trauma that is characterized by a strong urge to escape or avoid the source of the trauma. This response can be triggered by a range of events, and it is often associated with anxiety and fear. Treatment for the flight response typically involves addressing the underlying anxiety and fear, and developing coping strategies to manage traumatic memories. With the right support and treatment, people who have experienced trauma can learn to manage the flight response and reclaim their sense of safety and control.

Trauma Response


Kubany, E. S., Haynes, S. N., Leisen, M. B., Owens, J. A., Kaplan, A. S., Watson, S. B., & Burns, K. (2004). Development and preliminary validation of a brief broad-spectrum measure of trauma exposure: The Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire. Psychological Assessment, 16(2), 182-192.

Zhang, L., & Liu, X. (2015). The relationship between flight response and PTSD in Chinese trauma survivors: The mediating effects of depression and anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders, 174, 432-437.

Cloitre, M., Courtois, C. A., Ford, J. D., Green, B. L., Alexander, P., Briere, J., ... & Van der Hart, O. (2012). The ISTSS Expert Consensus Treatment Guidelines for Complex PTSD in Adults. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25(3), 241-255.

Gilligan, K. M., De Bellis, M. D., & Spencer, R. (2014). Trauma exposure and the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder on the developing brain. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(9), 1-9.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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