It can often be difficult for trauma survivors to understand how or why they reacted a certain way during a traumatic experience.
Instead of seeing their trauma response as the result of a split-second, unconscious decision made by their nervous system, your client may blame themself for not reacting differently.
This can be especially true for clients who went into the freeze or collapse response.
But Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD has a simple way of explaining how the nervous system responds to trauma that can be very helpful for clients.
This powerful piece of psychoeducation can ease feelings of shame and self-blame, and help clients appreciate the nervous system’s efforts to keep them safe.
We put it into an infographic that you can share with your clients. Have a look.
Click the image to enlarge
How does your nervous system figure out how to respond in a crisis?
It’s a split- second, unconscious process designed to choose the best option for keeping you safe. Here’s how it works.
Identify the Threat. Can I escape?
If yes, then flee. If we can quickly get far enough away from the threat, we might be able to escape and avoid interacting with it entirely.
If I can’t escape, can I overpower it?
If yes, then fight. If we attack the threat before it attacks us, we might be able to weaken it and possibly keep it from attacking in the future.
If I can’t overpower it, can I make it lose interest?
If yes, then freeze. If our body closes up, becomes rigid, and won’t move, we might be able to keep the threat from noticing or becoming interested in us.
If I can’t make it lose interest, then collapse. If our mind/brain disconnects from our body, like by dissociating, or in some cases by fainting, we might be able to avoid feeling as much of the pain.
In the face of threat, there isn’t time to try every approach. In fact, your nervous system has to make these choices almost instantaneously. So while you may not understand the choice, or agree with it afterward, it’s important to know that your body is taking care of you the best it knows how.
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If you’d like to print a copy, you can use one of these links:
If you’re looking for more ways to work with the nervous system’s response to trauma, you can get some of the top strategies in our Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma.
In this program, you’ll hear more from Stephen Porges, PhD, along with Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Peter Levine, PhD, Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, and other leading experts in the field. Just click here.
Now we’d like to hear your takeaway from this infographic. Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
If you found this helpful, here are a few more resources you might be interested in: