The Four F’s of Trauma Response: How They Can Mess Up Our Relationships

The Four F’s of Trauma Response: How They Can Mess Up Our Relationships

Fight. Flight. Freeze. You have probably heard about the first three F’s of trauma response. These responses get activated during stressful events, and they help us survive. Not only do these responses help humans survive, these responses help animals survive as well. When an antelope is about to be attacked by a lion, stress hormones flood the antelope’s body to help increase his speed so he is able to flee and escape with his life (flight). A male lion defends his territory against other males by using the fight response. Chickens are known to go into shock when being attacked by another animal (freeze). These trauma responses have been studied for a long time now, but the fourth trauma response, fawn, has only recently been studied, and seems to be unique to humans. Fawning in humans involves gaining the affection of an abuser in order to survive. Fawning is the mechanism at play in Stockholm syndrome when victims fall in love with their attacker or kidnapper. The fawn response is how we have come to better understand the unofficial diagnosis of Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD and The Four F’s of Trauma Response has been written about extensively by Pete Walker in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma” (click link to purchase on Amazon). Unlike traditional PTSD, Complex PTSD is the result of experiencing long-term, daily trauma such as hearing parents argue or become violent on a daily basis, or being emotionally or physically abused for the majority of your formative years. Complex PTSD has been linked to a number of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc. It is no surprise then that the four F’s of trauma response can mess up your relationships in significant ways. Here is how.

Fight: Individuals who use this trauma response as their primary coping mechanism may tend to be argumentative and aggressive. They may even be defensive and always on guard, looking for an opportunity to make their voice and opinions heard. Individuals with this coping style may compulsively feel the need to be “top dog” or dominant in most social situations. Their fight response can also translate into physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse. They have a “me against the world” or “my way or the highway” attitude. People who use this response (which it is important to note that using this response is not necessarily voluntary, it is automatic) could very much benefit from mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps slow down the cycle of thinking, feeling, and then acting. A Netflix documentary called “The Mind Explained” shows inmates convicted of violent crimes participating in mindfulness meditation. The inmates reported being able to control their words and actions more once they are triggered, and therefore had a greater chance of not being convicted again once released from prison. A couple where one individual is abusive would be able to slow down and think before reacting and harming their partner if they were to practice mindfulness daily.

Flight: This response can look somewhat different in humans than it does in animals. While we may not be running from lions, tigers, and bears these days, there are other stressors in our daily lives that may trigger a flight response. Some examples include bills, financial worries, an argument with your significant other just to name a few. In humans, the flight response can be a literal running away, like moving to another country, or it can be constant busyness. Workaholism can be linked to the flight response, as those who engage in this type of coping often report feeling a sort of numbing out by staying busy. This can leave their partners feeling neglected, and it can leave relationship problems unresolved for a long time due to sheer avoidance. In addition to mindfulness, individuals who engage in the flight response would be wise to make sure they are balancing their work and home lives, as well as using deliberate good communication with their partners without fleeing.

Freeze: This response is when an individual is able to numb out or “change the emotional channel” in their brains. I have seen individuals who freeze in my therapy office. I will think we are getting somewhere, or that we are on the verge of an emotional breakthrough. They will then simply blink and the emotion in the room changes, and they change the subject and move on. This is not advantageous to these individuals, as healing requires an emotional catharsis in order to take place. These individuals may not allow for negative or sad emotions anywhere in their lives, which results in them not really being able to feel at all. The thing about emotions is that they demand to be felt, and if you cut off one emotion, you cut them all off. So someone who shuts down sadness will not be able to feel joy either. Individuals with this trauma response can also release the same chemicals in their body that help calm animals when death is imminent. These chemicals are sedating, and freeze users can call upon them when they are triggered. This can cause their partners to feel as if they don’t realty know the person using the freeze response. The freeze response eliminates authenticity. Freeze users will also turn to screens as a way to numb out; you will often see their heads in their phones, watching TV, or on the computer. This is another means of changing the emotional channel. In order to heal, freeze users need to learn to feel their emotions, which can suddenly emerge with brute force. Doing so in a safe environment, such as therapy, is often the best course of action, as sometimes emotions they have been repressing can result in increased suicidal thoughts, which a therapist can help them manage and heal.

Fawn: The fawn response is the mechanism used in Stockholm syndrome, which was originally coined to explain what happened when those who were kidnapped would fall in love with their captors. In relationships, this is responsible for why battered women (or men) often stay with their abusers. Their bodies get flooded with the love hormone, oxytocin when they are around their abusers. This causes the abused to fall in love in order to increase chances of survival. The biological function of this is to also inspire love in the abuser, so that they are less likely to be abusive. This often isn’t the case, however, and many go on being abused for years, stuck in this cycle. People who use this response are also chronic people pleasers. They may even change aspects of their personality depending on what the situation warrants, or depending on who they are associating with at the time. Even in healthy relationships the fawn response can be used, leaving partners to feel unsure of what their partner really wants or needs. Fawn users can wake up one day and realize that their life isn’t really what they wanted at all, which can come as a shock to their partner in a healthy relationship. The fawn user can really benefit from mindful time spent alone. During this alone time, it is important that the fawn user pays attention to what stimuli brings them happiness, joy, and inspiration, as well as what brings them discomfort, disgust, ambivalence, or boredom. Fawn users are often very out of touch with their feelings, preferring instead to focus on the feelings and wants of others. They often confuse these feelings and wants of others as their own. Alone time can help them get more in tune with themselves, which is the key to recovery.

The four Fs of trauma response can range from mild to severe. While in moderation they can be useful, it is in excess that they cause trouble. We can also run into trouble when we favor one response over the others, and use that response for all situations, even when it is inappropriate or unhelpful to do so. They can mess up our relationships because they are automatic responses that take on a life of their own. Recovery from these trauma responses takes time and willingness to look at one’s self honestly. Therapy is a great place to begin this healing process. I am now talking in-person or teletherapy clients in the state of Nevada. Email me at to start our conversation about your recovery today.

A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

Trigger warning: this article mentions rape/assault. If you are struggling with the aftermath of rape or assault, contact a qualified therapist to help you! You are not alone, and recovery from this type of trauma is possible!* If you are like most Americans living through the pandemic, you have probably spent a lot more time watching Netflix and other media streaming services in the past two years. The numbers confirm this: at the height of the pandemic, Netflix had more than doubled their price per share due to most people being stuck at home watching TV. One of the most popular shows in 2021 has been “Sex/Life”, with over 67 million views since it was released this past May. While the show was entertaining and albeit, titillating at times, this therapist is somewhat troubled that a show this popular potentially spread such a negative view of sex, marriage, and the kink/fetish/polyam community. Let’s take a look at what the show got right and what the show got very very wrong.

What the show got right: To its credit, the writers of this show did attempt to address some pretty difficult topics about love, marriage, and sexuality. These topics are rarely talked about in broader society, although they are far from foreign. The show highlights some of the difficulties of maintaining one’s sexuality while child rearing. For example, Billie, the main character, struggles with boredom in her marriage and then one day runs into her ex, who she still has unfinished business with. This leads Billie to try to escape the demands of her life (kids, judgmental friends, lackluster sex with her husband) by fantasizing about the sex she used to have with her ex. According to the Gottman’s in their book “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for A Lifetime of Love” it is normal for couples to experience their greatest period of relationship dissatisfaction when they begin to have children. With each subsequent child, studies have shown that the unhappiness grows. It is understandable and quite normal for people to fantasize about times when it was easier to prioritize sex. It is also normal to experience lack of sexual interest, or low desire from time to time in a marriage regardless of whether or not you have children. It is just too easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to incorporate sexuality. Think about it: when you were dating your spouse, you spent a lot of time pampering yourself and getting ready to impress them on dates. You maybe spent more time apart, adding fuel to the excitement about seeing them. These are the types of behaviors that foster the relational climate that leads to sex. Part of recapturing that sexy relational climate is to start taking care of yourself in the same ways you did when you were dating. Unfortunately, our culture does not do very well at encouraging couples to have separate time, as we are not overly community oriented as a society. Our community is our spouse, especially since being quarantined due to the pandemic. It is a lot of pressure for ONE person to meet all of our needs, and yet this is becoming more and more how our society is.

What the show got wrong: Do a quick google search about this show. Most reviews from professionals are negative. Why? The first thing that came out of my mouth after I finished the season was, “Wow, this is probably going to cause a lot of marital fights!” The show attempts to suggest polyamory or non traditional monogamy as an alternative option to getting stuck in the hum drum of a marriage with kids. In the show, Billie wants the stability and safety that her husband and family provide, but she also wants the excitement and chemistry that her unstable relationship with her ex had. This is a common issue that comes up with the couples I work with. First off, this CAN be a great option for some couples, but both partners have to be on board. There has to be something in this type of arrangement that BOTH partners can see themselves benefitting from. Second, this type of arrangement needs to move slowly. There needs to be deliberate research done by all parties involved, and there needs to be a lot of communication. There also needs to be a willingness by both partners to express their true feelings and desires, and this can take time and therapy to cultivate. In the show, Billie fantasizes about the type of life in which she has her cake and eats it too, and ultimately she chooses it for herself without first having a conversation with her husband. The show ends on that note, which gives viewers who may have similar ideals a bad example.

The second issue with the show is its handling (or mishandling) over the topic of consent. Granted, this is a loaded topic and one that is difficult to do well on television, however more responsibility clearly could have been taken by the writers of the show. One example occurs when Billie is trying to rekindle things with her husband. They are attempting to have sex in the car, but Billie isn’t feeling it. She tells her husband that she would like him to stop, or that she is uncomfortable, and he keeps going, saying “I’m almost done.” The writers of the show don’t address the non consent, and then the show goes on to show even more nonconsensual experiences! This is troubling because many women have been raised, particularly in religious cultures, that they are to please their husbands sexually, no matter what. Women are trained to keep men sexually satisfied in order to avoid abandonment, but never are they taught to value their own pleasure. Furthermore, the show missed a teachable moment about how consent must be ENTHUSIASTIC. This means that both partners engaging in sexual activity are looking for emotional queues in their partner that may indicate if the sex is being enjoyed or not. This enjoyment (or lack thereof) may be verbal or nonverbal, but it is important that those engaging in sex are are aware that consent is not just the absence of a “no”.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of rape or assault, reach out to a therapist today. Going through this can be so isolating, but you don’t have to do this alone! Send me an e-mail to start our conversation about your recovery!

How Childhood Neglect Can Lead to Commitment Issues in Adulthood

How Childhood Neglect Can Lead to Commitment Issues in Adulthood

We have all heard the saying: “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. Commitment issues can come in many forms. For some, they avoid intimacy by breaking things off before the relationship’s honeymoon phase ends. Some only date and hookup casually and make that known on their Tinder accounts. Others have simultaneous affairs once married. According to renowned sex and relationship therapist Esther Perel, affairs are more common than one might think: one third of marriages end in divorce because of an affair. As harsh as these figures may seem, how many of us take the time to understand what causes these commitment issues? As a culture we are quick to write these people off as “monsters”; but what if the problem is much more complex than that? Esther Perel writes that an affair is “a window into the crevices of the human heart”. As we all know, each human heart is unique, and understanding the nuance in each affair takes a willingness to listen and understand for which most individuals do not have the patience. The same is true for the commitment-phobic; we write them off as “players” or “f*ckboys” for men, and the ever popular “slut” for women. People are so much more than the labels we ascribe to them. As it turns out, trauma is often the answer for the plethora of human behaviors that cause us to scratch our heads.

In childhood, we gain much of our understanding about love from observing our parents. Our minds are little sponges soaking in information such as: Will my needs get met? Who is responsible for taking care of me? Are my parents happy? What is love? Do my parents love me? Do my parents love each other? Am I safe? Are Mom and Dad safe? From a young age, our minds are creating a template of the answers to these questions. How these questions are answered determine how we view love as adults.

If we experienced emotional neglect, our needs for love, protection, guidance, affection, and so on were not met. We either take a detached view such as: “Whatever. I can fend for myself. This is just how it is.” This view is commonly seen in those with avoidant attachment styles. In these individuals, the need for connection is still there; however, avoidantly attached individuals downplay the importance of these connections and play up the importance of independence. Alternatively, some people become anxious as a result of their upbringing, with views like: “What if I’m forever alone? What if my relationship becomes like what I saw with Mom and Dad? What if my partner neglects me or doesn’t meet my needs and I get stuck in an unhappy marriage?” Anxiously attached individuals become preoccupied with making sure that their needs get met. They are sensitive to the slightest change in their connection to others, and they magnify their dependence on their partners. Some individuals have what is called anxious-avoidant attachment. These individuals are rare, and the combination of these two attachment styles can cause the afflicted to lash out violently against their partners. For a good example of how this plays out, watch the scene in “Good Will Hunting” with Robin Williams and Matt Damon where Will (Damon) lashes out at his girlfriend (played by Minnie Driver) for asking him to move cross country with her. She declares her love, and Damon shoves her violently against the wall and yells in her face. He sabotages the relationship because he wants to prove to his girlfriend (and to himself) how unworthy of love he is. While not all examples are as extreme as Will’s these are some of the questions and attitudes that prevail amongst the unfaithful and the commitment phobic, and they are a direct result of how we were raised, if our needs were met, and if we saw our parents’ needs being met.

It is possible to fear being loved. We fear what we do not understand, and if we were severely neglected in childhood, being loved is so unfamiliar that it can seem scary. While not everyone reacts in as extreme of a fashion as Will (Damon) when they fear being loved, people do sabotage relationships in a number of ways. In addition to the examples I listed in the first paragraph, people self-sabotage by only being the most attracted to partners who are unavailable or uninterested in them. This insures that they never have to face the fear of the closeness they desire. Some will become anxious and leave a relationship when it seems too similar to their parents’ marriage. Others will stay locked in a marriage where it is clear that they will never get their needs met; “It’s just how relationships are” they will tell themselves.

While what I am writing may seem quite bleak, there are a number of solutions for individuals who seek to rectify this problem for themselves and their loved ones. Experiencing a positive and empathetic relationship with a therapist can be the first step in healing some of these childhood wounds. From there, individuals are free to explore what relationship structures might work for them. Some are able, with much trepidation, to commit to a secure and loving relationship with their partners, while talking through their fears first with a therapist, and then with their loved one. Others choose a more open-structured relationship while working through these fears in therapy. One of my greatest joys is helping individuals and couples find the love they truly seek and deserve. Over time, I have seen individuals learn to embrace intimacy and vulnerability with all the messy things that entails. People eventually learn different messages from those they were raised to believe. They learn: I am worthy of love. I can have the love I seek. Connection is important. Vulnerability is strength. There are people who will meet my needs if only I am brave enough to discover what those are and ask.

If you or a loved one struggles to form and maintain secure attachments, shoot me an e-mail at I would love to hear your story! From there we can schedule an initial appointment to see how therapy can help you find the love you seek. Alternatively, I am offering an e-course on all things relationship (click here). If you struggle with commitment, I highly recommend the Early Stages of Dating and Next Level mini courses. These courses will help you attract healthy partners, build trust with others, have vulnerable conversations, and help you learn set boundaries.

5 Ways to Deal with a Narcissist (if you have to)

5 Ways to Deal with a Narcissist (if you have to)

A few weeks ago, I made a post about how to recognize a emotional abuse (here). Often times these are the tactics used by narcissists in order to keep their victims/lovers stuck and dependent on them. While many people choose to permanently “social distance” from a narcissist, in many cases, this is not possible due to co-parenting, work, or familial ties for example. In this post, I will give you some tools that you can use to disarm a narcissist, if you must. Here are the top 5 ways you can de-escalate interactions with a narcissist.

#1-Gray Rock/Safe Detachment: When you think about gray rocks, what comes to mind? For me, I think of smooth, round stones clustered together on a beach. Just like no one stone stands out among the others, uniformity is the goal of the gray rocking technique with a narcissist. Simply put, you are trying to make yourself appear as bland and un-special as possible in both mood, personality, and appearance. Neutrality is your new friend. Did your narcissist love the way you looked in jeans? Time to get comfy in sweat pants. Your sparkling, bubbly personality? Time to act flat and depressed, and the reality is that your depression “act” may not be an act at all. This tactic is good to use if you are trying to safely end a relationship with a narcissist without them trying to suck you back in. Narcissists love having exciting people around who sing their praises, and if you are no longer that person, they move on to greener pastures. Keep your social media private, block them, or don’t post any updates for a while. Take some much needed time to move on, and don’t let them see when you do.

#2-The Medium Chill: this technique is most effective when having to frequently be in contact with a narcissist due to employment, children, family, etc. The goal of medium chill is to be assertive in the most non-confrontational way. If the narcissist tries to draw you into their drama, simply come up with the most bland, uninteresting, or neutral responses possible, and say them in a flat or unemotional tone. Do not volunteer any personal information about yourself. Some examples of phrases might be: that’s too bad, that’s nice, I can’t do anything about that, you should talk to your doctor/lawyer/dentist about that, that’s up to you, I don’t know about that, let me get back to you, I don’t know what to tell you, that’s a shame, I’m sorry you feel that way, I can’t be there, that doesn’t work for me, that is none of your business, etc. For a full list of phrasing suggestions, visit The important things to remember are to monitor your tone, keep a calm demeanor, and neutral responses. If you find yourself angry, exit stage left or hang up the phone. The goal is to give them nothing.

#3-Broken Record: this technique is best when your narcissist is arguing with you about a decision you have made, or when you find yourself in a circular argument with them. When this happens, it is best to repeat the same phrase over and over again. This combines both the gray rocking and medium chill techniques. For example, Narc: can I drop off our kid early? I want to go to the bar with some of my buddies. You: That’s too bad. I won’t be home until 8pm. Narc: you’re so selfish! I thought this was a 50/50 split. You: I’m sorry, I won’t be home until 8pm. Narc: you aren’t even going to consider my needs? You: No, I won’t be home until 8pm. And so on and so forth. Again, the most important part is to keep your tone calm and neutral. Practice it a hundred times if you need to!

#4-Boundaries/Your Stuff, Their Stuff/The Clean Up Rule: much of dealing with a narcissist is mental in nature. Many selfless and loving people are drawn to narcissists because they want to see them healed; however, it is important to realize that YOU cannot be the one to do the healing. The narcissist must heal him/herself. The narcissist will keep you hooked by making you believe that only you can save them. They are exploiting your kindness through manipulation. A good rule of thumb: everyone is responsible for their own feelings. Everyone is responsible for cleaning up their own messes. You have your stuff to take care of, they have their stuff to take care of.

#5-Personal Safety: personal safety refers to not only your physical safety, but also your mental and emotional wellbeing. Your safety and the safety of your dependents is your highest concern. If your narcissist threatens to harm you physically, your child(ren), themselves, or anyone else, call the appropriate authorities immediately, and perhaps from a safe distance away. This is a manipulative tactic used by the narcissist in order to avoid abandonment. Do not be fooled, but take it seriously. Remember, it is not your job to save the narcissist if they are suicidal. Only they can do that with the help of professionals. If you are being insulted or verbally attacked, try politely ending the conversation. If your boundaries are not respected, calmly leave the room/area. Protecting your emotional health is vital to your wellbeing.

I hope that this article has given you some tips on how to handle dealing with a narcissist if you must. Find support for yourself and your dependents. is also a great resource for understanding and coping with relationships with personality disordered individuals. Check out the Amazon link below to the book Out of the Fog.

What Is Schema Therapy and How Can YOU Benefit From It

What Is Schema Therapy and How Can YOU Benefit From It

Simply put, “schemas” can be referred to as “life traps”. Life traps are self-defeating patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us stuck. Do we all have life traps? Yes, and here is why: none of us get out of childhood unscathed. Try as they may have, none of our parents ever peaked at perfection. We have all experienced trauma in our lives, believe it or not. Whether that be “trauma” with a lowercase “t”, “Trauma” with a capital “T”, or all caps “TRAUMA”, we have all had our needs neglected at some point or another, or terrible things have happened to us in varying degrees. The bottom line is, life traps are unfortunately easy to develop.

Life traps are easy to develop because when we are young, we need these 6 core emotional needs to be met in just the goldilocks right amount in order to thrive and become well-adjusted adults: basic safetyconnection to othersautonomyself-esteemself-expression, and realistic limits. To the degree that the child is denied or given in excess any of these core needs, that is the degree to which he or she will struggle with a particular life trap. There are a variety of factors that influence if we get too little or too much of these core emotional needs. These factors can include mental illness of a parent, lack of structure, environmental disasters such as hurricanes, financial stressors, lack of education on the parents’ part, political unrest, and so on and so forth.

Regardless of whatever it may be that the child is lacking, one hundred percent of these factors are out of the child’s control; however, children are perceptive creatures. It is highly unlikely that a child perceives a traumatic event correctly. This is because when we are young, we tend to view things in black and white or simplified terms. For example, if a child’s parents get divorced, without proper and very delicate communication from the family regarding this divorce (the core emotional need of connection to others), the child may incorrectly assume that he or she was the cause of the divorce. They may have thoughts such as “Daddy left because I was hard to deal with”. This child will then take on undue shame and guilt, and develop what is known as the Defectiveness life trap. That child may be fearful of entering romantic or platonic relationships for fear that they may “screw them up” or that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. As an adult, the child with the dependence life trap will avoid intimacy for fear that their flaws are terrible; they believe that nobody could ever love them once their flaws were found out.

Conversely, another child experiencing the same situation of their parents divorcing may have a different reaction. This other child may develop the life trap known as the Abandonment life trap. Sufferers of this life trap tend to be preoccupied with keeping loved ones close to them. They may cling out of fear of being abandoned. Tragically, their clinging often drives people away, and the life trap becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The negative reactions of others are the consequence of their clinging behavior, and thus the person continues to believe that they will always be abandoned.

It is often not until this person enters therapy that this life trap is exposed. More importantly, therapy gives this person the chance to experience an emotionally corrective relationship with the therapist. That is, the therapist responds in ways that help heal the original attachment wounds of the person. For example, if a client frantically and excessively e-mails their therapist for extra sessions, the therapist does not judge the client for this. The therapist has unconditional positive regard and care for the client. The client with the abandonment life trap picks up on this and learns that their needs for connection are good, and that others want to meet their needs. The therapist can then train the client on how to appropriately ask for their (very valid !) needs to be met.

At this point, you are probably wondering, “So what ARE the various life traps?! Which ones do I have?!” The answers to these questions are probably best answered between client and therapist, as life traps and how they manifest in your life can be quite complex to explain in this short amount of space. The answers to these questions are also going to be highly personal depending on the individual, which is why it is important to discuss in the “safe space” of therapy. I will list the names of the life traps here, but for more information, the book “Reinventing Your Life” by Dr. Klosko and Dr. Young is an extremely helpful start. Click the link at the bottom to purchase this book on Amazon! And now, without further ado, the 18 Life Traps in brief:

  • Abandonment
  • Mistrust/Abuse
  • Emotional Deprivation
  • Defectiveness/Shame
  • Social Isolation
  • Dependence/Incompetence
  • Vulnerability to Harm or Illness
  • Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self
  • Failure
  • Entitlement/Grandiosity
  • Insufficient Self-Control
  • Subjugation
  • Self-Sacrifice
  • Approval/Recognition Seeking
  • Negativity/Pessimism
  • Emotional Inhibition
  • Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness
  • Punitiveness

CLICK HERE ^^^ to purchase Reinventing Your Life! A portion of the proceeds will go to Moore Vulnerability Counseling. Thank you!