This article talks about suicide and suicidal ideation, which may not be suitable for all people. Reader caution is advised.
The trauma response causes people not to think but to react emotionally and can be the catalyst for many mental health problems. One of the most severe consequences of trauma is suicidal ideation and attempted or completed suicide.
This article is part of a four-part series about suicide and its link to trauma.
What is the Trauma Response?
A trauma response is how a person responds to distressing situations. Most people have experienced trauma of some sort in their lives. However, the type of trauma that can lead to suicide involves serious life-threatening events and causes the person experiencing it to feel helpless to control.
There are four primary trauma responses, including fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, also known as the four F’s of trauma. These trauma responses are learned because of threatening or abusive situations you survived in childhood or after a significant event. Unfortunately, unless a person works on these issues and puts them to rest, the four F’s of trauma may become the default response later in life as said person faces other situations that are perceived as threatening.
Understanding your trauma responses and which one you default to most often can aid you in understanding behaviors that have bewildered you. Facing your trauma response head-on, you can learn to choose a healthy response that works best at the moment instead of defaulting to behaviors you have learned from negative experiences in the past.
A Closer Look at the Four F’s of Trauma Response
To clarify the four F’s of trauma response, let’s examine them further.
The Fight Response. This trauma response is self-preservation and doesn’t care who it hurts. A healthy fight response is good because it allows you to respond to danger. However, if it is a trauma response, you could possibly alienate people or even harm someone else who doesn’t understand your reaction. An unhealthy fight trauma response can caus
- You exhibit controlling behaviors
- Bully other people
- Give you a false feeling of entitlement
- Push you towards narcissistic tendencies
- Cause you to exhibit a conduct disorder
One unhealthy fight response is to turn it inward and feel incredibly angry at yourself for no apparent reason.
The Flight Response. If the situation you are facing is or seems impossible to overcome in a fight, you might experience the flight response instead. Healthy flight responses allow you to escape imminent danger. However, if unhealthy, the flight response can lead to many reactions meant to help you run from perceived danger, including:
- Obsessive behavior
- Constant fear
- An inability to remain still
Most of the time, the flight response is triggered by a situation that reminds you of something that happened long ago and is not happening in the present.
The Freeze Response. This response causes you to pause instead of fighting or running when endangered. A healthy freeze response allows a person to be aware, present in the moment, and be mindful. However, if the freeze response is unhealthy, it can lead to:
- Perceived laziness
- Brain fog
- Zoning out
Sometimes, people get trapped in the freeze response because they fear they are endangered with no escape in sight. Instead of shutting down, you must learn how to deal with perceived danger through grounding techniques.
The Fawn Response. The fawn response is the least known of the trauma responses and is related to pleasing people. People who are around unhealthy others learn to try and appease unhealthy people to neutralize the threat. Those who fawn become attuned to the needs and emotions of those around them. While this response on the surface seems beneficial because those who fawn can better empathize deeply with others, it can also be highly detrimental. If you are responding due to a situation from the past, you may not see that you are responding in an unhealthy manner that is not sustainable.
Suicide and Suicidal Ideations as Trauma Responses
Trauma responses are often hard to manage and make you feel out of control. Because of the intense emotional component, you will seek immediate solutions to end your pain; sometimes, you may turn to suicidal ideation.
Suicide feels like a great solution to the pain caused by trauma, but as they say, it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I know from first-hand experience that suicidal ideation can quickly turn to suicidal behaviors.
Suicidal ideation takes two forms: active and passive.
Passive suicide involves not having a plan or intent to die but desperately wanting your life to end. Active suicide is when you want your life to end and have an intent and plan to carry it through.
With either type of suicide, forming a safety plan often helps redirect your pain and buys you time to get the help you need. Sometimes, you must admit yourself into the hospital for observation and safety. Never be afraid to go to your local hospital for help. It will save your life.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan
To prevent suicide, many people utilize the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). WRAP is a powerful tool you can use to create the wellness that you crave. With WRAP, you will discover practical tools and develop a daily plan to help you stay going forward with your wellness objectives.
WRAP was developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D., in 1997 to address a group of people struggling with their feelings and behaviors. The plan is effective because you discover and write down methods before the emotional crisis as well as ways to recognize when you are breaking down and need professional help.
The main emphasis in WRAP is the wellness toolbox, which consists of strategies to keep yourself well and to help you feel better. The wellness toolbox includes approaches you can use to recover or maintain your wellness.
- Daily Plan. The daily plan consists of a simple structure that allows you to implement wellness tools in your everyday life. It includes listing things you can do every day to stay well on a particular day.
- Stressors. Stressors are events and situations that lead to uncomfortable emotions and behaviors. These are triggers or red flags that happen in your life that can disrupt your wellness. Identifying your stressors and what tools you will use to respond to them is vital.
- Early Warning Signs. These subtle signs of change indicate the need to take action to keep yourself from worsening. These early warning signs are things you might notice about yourself that tell you that you need to pay close attention and plan what you will do when you notice them.
- When Things are Breaking Down or Worsening. When things begin to or have broken down, you might feel worse despite your best try. When you realize you are breaking down, it is time to take action to prevent you from falling into a crisis. Beforehand, you will have made a list of signs that you are breaking down and tools you can put into action.
- A Crisis Plan. If a crisis occurs, remember it is not your fault. Having a crisis plan aids you in staying in control of the situation despite feeling out of control. You have made advanced plans that include those you can get in contact with to help you remain safe.
- The Post-Crisis Plan. This part of the action plan will help you reintegrate yourself back into the world after a crisis. The post-crisis plan allows you to identify new tools and strategies based on what you learned about yourself during the crisis you just experienced.
While there are other methods to address crises that can lead to suicidal actions, WRAP is an easy and affordable tool to keep you safe. This approach is evidence-based1 and is supported by research2 to ensure it is highly effective.
Some Final Words
No matter how low you go into the abyss that is depression, no matter what has happened to you, suicide is never the answer. Yes, resisting the urge to end your life is challenging because of the pain, but you must recognize and act upon what is happening.
I, too, have been a statistic. I have experienced two suicide attempts and understand what it is like to experience severe and repeated trauma. I survived those attempts only because I was lucky enough to have had people who recognized my problem and got me the help I needed.
Because I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, I have utilized my WRAP plan several times. It has helped me because I have a list of how I look when things are going well and what I look like when breaking down and heading for trouble.
I know all too well that suicidal thoughts and ideations can come seemingly out of the blue, leaving you gasping at how quickly a situation has escalated from experiencing a problem to having a suicidal thought. Remember to please seek help if you find yourself spiraling down.
Now, it is easier to reach out for help than ever before, as you can dial 988 to connect with mental health professionals. Veterans can press 988+1 to be connected with a national veterans hotline, or you can text 838255.
You are precious, and I am always rooting for you, as are many others.
“Fight for your dreams, and your dreams will fight for you.” – Paulo Coelho
“I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor, and I’ll get through anything people can throw at me.” – John Daly.
1 Petros, R., & Solomon, P. (2021). “How adults with serious mental illness learn and use Wellness Recovery Action Plan’s recovery framework.” Qualitative Health Research, 31(4), 631–642.
2 Petros, R., & Solomon, P. (2020). “Examining factors associated with perceived recovery among users of Wellness Recovery Action Plan.” Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 43(2), 132–139.
My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.