The Six Stages of Trauma Response

By Karen Robinson

Heal Thrive Dream 

The six stages of trauma response is credited to Schauer and Elbert, 2010. Most of you may have heard of fight, flight, or freeze when feeling anxious or scared. I’m curious if you have experienced any of the other stages I am sharing with you. If so, please write me at: HealThriveDream@gmail.com and share your experience with me. I would like to invite you to speak on my podcast if you are ready to share your story! (Please note, I don’t want you to tell your story for the first time on my podcast as this is exploitive (my opinion) and doesn’t feel safe to me. Please share with your therapist or a close, trusted friend first).

I decided to write just short introductions into each of these areas. What I’m considering doing is writing additional posts about each of these areas in great detail. Why? Because I believe that survivors tend to spend a great deal of their lives in these stages until they are healed. Has this been your experience? Either way, I would like to hear from you.

1. Freeze

If you have experienced the sympathetic nervous system’s freeze response, you know it feels like your feet are glued to the ground and you’re trapped in your body.

2. Flight

You are likely familiar with the experience of wanting to get out of dodge, stat! Flight happens when you sympathetic nervous system is alerted that you are not safe and must seek protection.

3. Fright

Both your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are both engaged or activated which creates confusion, panic, dizziness, and nausea. Symptoms feel abrupt and discombobulating.

4. Flag

Despite studying and working with survivors for 25 plus years, I’m just now learning about flagging. Flagging is a parasympathetic nervous system response involving numbness, difficulties with speech and eyesight, feeling helpless, and a drop in your blood pressure.

5. Faint

Typical or possible symptoms include nausea, light headedness, vomiting, diarrhea. The medical term for fainting is syncope. Fainting is a parasympathetic nervous system response after experiencing or witnessing a major traumatic event.

6. Bonus Stage… Fawn

With fawn, there is usually some sort of attachment to the perpetrator. Survivor attempts to cajole perpetrator by pleasing them or going along with them in order to stay safe. Fawning is driven by fear or not feeling secure, but also wanting to be attached. Confusion often sets in. Fawning from the outside, looks like the victim is being “obedient” to their abuser. This can often be seen in domestic violence situations.


First stage of treatment tends to be establishing trust, safety, positive regard, and for you to be both seen and heard. When all of this is established, then trauma processing is recommended at a slow pace or at a pace you can tolerate. Moving to quickly risks emotional flooding and overwhelm. During this stage, exploring emotion regulation is beneficial. The next stage of therapy is learning to be in your window of tolerance by looking at how you interact with others and setting goals involving your relationships. Being able to work in these stages empowers you to look at your future and have hope. You will believe that you deserve to heal, thrive, and dream.

Want to work with me or learn more? I offer 15 minute consults or you can join my group coaching community where we work on all aspects of trauma (not all at once!) and have a thriving peer support community. Learn more here: This is Us: Healing from Together.

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    1. Thank you Cindy. I am writing more detailed posts for each stage. It is in the works so please stay tuned!

  1. I am not familiar with the 'fawn' response. But it makes sense.

    Any upsetting event tends to send my parasympathetic nervous system into overdrive. When I get upset, I often get lightheaded. I haven't had many traumatic events in my life fortunately.

    I look forward to your future posts about each stage.

    1. Dominique, I appreciate your comment. I hope you will consider my membership that offers coaching in bite size learning and includes a support group. You are welcome to call or email me with any questions you might have. Healthrivedream@gmail.com. Just email me for my phone number. In the event that you aren’t interested, I hope you will continue to follow my blog. I have outlines for the blogs on all the stages. Coming soon! Thank you for for sharing your experience and you deserve to heal! Karen

  2. Interesting to learn about so many other stages than "fight, freeze or flight" I've heard about. Luckily I have not experienced things that qualify as trauma.

    1. That is likely Tamara. I haven’t mean many women not impacted by trauma, but sometimes that happens. Thank you for reading my blog and leaving a comment.

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Karen Robinson

  Karen Robinson  

About the Author

I'm licensed therapist with 25 years of clinical experience. Service driven, specializing in trauma recovery, anxiety, and depression, holistic care, and transformation to create an impact for trauma survivors globally. Services include coaching, therapy, virtual courses, digital products, and on-line memberships.

Are you a survivor in need of HOPE?