In this week’s LoveLetter, we will continue our focus on what it means to parent with PTSD. We had a family crisis this week, and while I would not have chosen for this to happen (obviously), it has given me a front-row seat to the whole spectrum of trauma responses in action. This includes my own.

Of course, this is also what we are studying in our family systems class in grad school this week. Because that’s how God works, right? I’ve spent the whole week learning about attachment styles, trauma responses and listening for how God is calling me in the midst of all this crisis.

I think the most important thing for me to share this week are the five nervous system states that we operate from. Everyone is always in one of these five states:

1) Safe Social

2) Fight/Flight

3) Freeze

4) Fawn

5) Faking It

Most everyone has heard of the fight or flight response, right? In response to a perceived threat, our body prepares itself to either fight it or run like hell away from it. Our heart starts pumping blood to our lower extremities, and adrenaline gets dumped into our bloodstream so that we have the energy we need to RUN AWAY.

Every time I write or talk about that response, I think of Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo after they accidentally set off one of those mines, “SWIM AWAY!”

Freeze is relatively new on the scene in terms of our response to danger. Think about how a possum freezes and plays dead, or a deer freezes in your headlights. You can easily see how the Freeze response also makes sense. When we sense a threat, if we freeze, maybe it will leave us alone.

Fawn and Faking It are very newly identified states (and not everyone acknowledges them yet). I think the best way to describe Fawn is when your boss or coworker tells a terrible sexist joke, and you laugh at it. Laughing things off and “playing nice” is a way to diffuse a threat.

Have you ever found yourself being super nice to your husband, who’s betrayed you when you know you should be mad at him? Or walked away from a conversation from him where you allowed a boundary to be violated? That’s Fawn.

Faking It is probably more obvious. This is what we have historically referred to as “Denial.” I don’t like that word because it has come to mean something shameful or bad.

But here’s the thing to know about ALL of these responses. They happen in a very primitive area of our brain without our awareness.

They are NEVER conscious choices.

Life is handing me a chance to be mindful of my responses, and practice “extreme self-compassion” this week. Some days I’m better at that practice than others. That’s the work. You have to learn to do it for yourself. 

This week, I am practicing slowing down, taking deep breaths, acknowledging my strong emotions, and pausing before reacting. Will you join me?

Until next time,

 xoxo, Jenni