Trauma Response Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

Trauma Response Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

If you are a trauma survivor, a mental health care worker or know someone who has experienced trauma, you understand how it affects people in different ways. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, society's views on trauma and mental health have shifted. There has been an increasing acknowledgment of trauma, post-traumatic stress and the solutions that need to happen to support those who have experienced it.

What Is a Trauma Response?

Trauma response is the unconscious way an individual responds to a perceived threat after experiencing a traumatic event. It may shift how they think, feel, behave or physically react to others or their environments. Trauma changes people, and the responses that develop because of their experiences can reflect how the trauma affected them.

If trauma responses are unaddressed for a long time, people will continue to suffer through tiring survival instincts. Thus, treating trauma is beneficial to no longer living in fear.

Symptoms of Untreated Trauma

 The symptoms of untreated trauma include: agitation, nervousness, anxiety, trouble concentrating, depression, and headaches



When trauma remains untreated, individuals may begin experiencing different symptoms and responses. Some recognizable symptoms following trauma are: 

  • Agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Headaches

A trauma symptom is not the same as a trauma response. The two progress differently depending on the person and the trauma they experienced. A symptom may linger long after the traumatic event occurred, while a trauma response may manifest as a quick, immediate reaction after the memory of a trauma gets triggered. Even if trauma responses do not happen immediately, they can appear as a reflection of the past traumatic experiences a person has had.

What Can Trauma Responses Look Like?

Trauma responses take form in many ways and may also include responses like fight, flight, freeze or fawn if triggered by high-stress or anxiety-related situations. Common trauma responses include:

Hyper Independence

Trauma can make us feel that our safest path is to work and live alone, so we become hyper-independent. We may feel like the only person we know we can rely on is ourselves, making us feel undeserving of connection with others. We can feel ashamed of who we have become and avoid social contact and interdependence for this reason as well.


Overworking ourselves can be an attempt to outrun our trauma. It is a distraction from our trauma symptoms. When we are not working, symptoms increase because we no longer have the focus of work to distract from our intrusive memories.

Lack of Memory

Cognitive changes are part of the trauma response, including memory and concentration loss. Think of unaddressed trauma as a "file" on a mental computer that slows the whole system down. While it is unaddressed, it is always running in the background. Then, all of a sudden, it sends a "pop up" into the mental space, which impedes the ability to focus and remember things with clarity.

There may also be a conscious or unconscious suppression of disturbing memories. When we suppress one thing, we often suppress other memories since our memories often interlock in our memory network.

Apologizing Constantly

Constantly apologizing can be a behavior designed to "keep the peace" and "socially appease" someone else. If our trauma is interpersonal, this behavior can develop in response to an attempt to avoid dangerous interactions.


Many trauma survivors have said for years that trauma shrinks their world. Trauma can make people feel unsafe or overwhelmed in groups, misunderstood, quick to anger or uninterested in being around people, so isolation is the seemingly logical response. Isolation often coincides with the flight trauma response when trauma gets triggered because it makes an individual flee the conflict and isolate to protect themselves.


Oversharing can be part of lacking boundaries when we have been violated in traumatic ways. It can also be part of the anxious-ambivalent attachment style.

Body Dysmorphia

Trauma can cause body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) to develop in an individual. BDD is a mental health condition that causes a person to spend significant time focusing on their appearance and their perceived flaws. When an individual obsessively worries about their appearance and becomes upset about it, BDD symptoms can make it challenging to live life normally. Neglect, especially in childhood, can lead to people having a distorted self-perception.


Procrastination is a trauma response associated with higher stress levels. Avoidance and emotional dysregulation are common symptoms of mental health challenges, and if they are related to trauma, the two symptoms can lead to procrastinating on tasks and activities to avoid things related to trauma.

Procrastination could also manifest as the freeze trauma response. Putting off tasks to avoid and alleviate stress reflects the part of the freeze response in which an individual may have feelings of immobilization because of a trauma trigger.


Lying is also a trauma response. It is a learned behavior and could start as a result of childhood trauma. People may lie to protect themselves from potential harm, or as a coping mechanism to avoid negative feelings and consequences. Individuals could also lie as a fighting response to trauma. Lying can result from fear and act as a defense mechanism or a way to control a situation when an individual defends themselves.


Trauma can show in various ways, and hoarding or living in cluttered environments is one of them. Hoarding can result in a response to childhood abuse, neglect or traumatic events that may trigger someone to hold onto objects, hoarding them not to forget memories or people.


Compulsive sexual behavior, or hypersexuality, is a trauma response. While many individuals struggle with intimacy after a traumatic sexual event, some may develop hypersexuality.


Overthinking is a trauma response that often begins during childhood if an individual experiences neglectful, invalidating or abusive events. It can be a coping mechanism one develops to feel like they have more control over their environment, creating a sense of security and safety to protect themselves. Even if overthinking didn't start during early experiences, it still affects people by keeping them in a loop of thinking about the same negative things.


People-pleasing is part of a fear response called fawning, which is when individuals try to appease whoever is causing perceived danger by doing whatever they can to stop harmful reactions or actions. People-pleasers often have difficulty saying "no," and they deny their needs to ensure the people they're interacting with are satisfied.

Approaching Trauma Treatment With Stella

Professional treatment can help people safely and effectively recover from trauma symptoms that can make everyday activities challenging. Dual Sympathetic Reset Stellate Ganglion Block (DSR SGB) has emerged as a promising treatment option for symptoms of trauma.

Stella offers treatment services to help individuals experiencing trauma symptoms and responses find relief. Learn about these services when you schedule a call with a care advocate. 



This article has been clinically reviewed by Dr. Shauna Springer

Dr. Shauna Springer

This article has been clinically reviewed by Dr. Shauna Springer. Shauna Springer is one of the world's leading experts on psychological trauma, suicide prevention, and close relationships.

A Harvard graduate who has become a trusted doctor to our nation's military warfighters. As Chief Psychologist for Stella, she advances a new model for treating psychological trauma that combines biological and psychological interventions. Dr. Springer is a licensed psychologist who is frequently sourced by the media for her uniquely perceptive insights on trauma recovery, post-traumatic growth, psychological health, and interpersonal relationships, developed from two decades of work at the extremes.

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