The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex PTSD

 
Steakhouse-Trim

by Pete Walker:

This paper describes a trauma typology for differentially diagnosing and treating Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This model elaborates four basic defensive structures that develop out of our instinctive Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn responses to severe abandonment and trauma (heretofore referred to as the 4Fs). Variances in the childhood abuse/neglect pattern, birth order, and genetic predispositions result in individuals “choosing” and specializing in narcissistic (fight), obsessive/compulsive (flight), dissociative (freeze) or codependent (fawn) defenses. Many of my clients have reported that psychoeducation in this model has been motivational, deshaming and pragmatically helpful in guiding their recovery.

Individuals who experience “good enough parenting” in childhood arrive in adulthood with a healthy and flexible response repertoire to danger. In the face of real danger, they have appropriate access to all of their 4F choices. Easy access to the fight response insures good boundaries, healthy assertiveness and aggressive self-protectiveness if necessary. Untraumatized individuals also easily and appropriately access their flight instinct and disengage and retreat when confrontation would exacerbate their danger. They also freeze appropriately and give up and quit struggling when further activity or resistance is futile or counterproductive. And finally they also fawn in a liquid, “play-space” manner and are able to listen, help, and compromise as readily as they assert and express themselves and their needs, rights and points of view.

Those who are repetitively traumatized in childhood however, often learn to survive by over-relying on the use of one or two of the 4F Reponses. Fixation in any one 4F response not only delimits the ability to access all the others, but also severely impairs the individual’s ability to relax into an undefended state, circumscribing him in a very narrow, impoverished experience of life. Over time a habitual 4F defense also “serves” to distract the individual from the accumulating unbearable feelings of her current alienation and unresolved past trauma.

One response to this post.

  1. […] The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex PTSD […]

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