What Is My Trauma Type and How Does it Effect my Sexuality and Intimacy?

trauma type four f's

As individuals we respond differently to trauma from childhood (also called developmental trauma or complex trauma). Often I find in its useful to have a model to help us understand why we feel the way we do so we can make sense of the myriad symptoms we may be dealing with.

The Four F Model does exactly that by describing the survival strategies and defensive styles you may have instinctively developed, that are now running your life.

What are the Four F’s?

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Fawn

The type you develop will vary according to your childhood experiences, patterns of abuse/neglect that you may have experienced, along with genetic predispositions. You develop this Four F type as a way of preventing further abuse or trauma. Let me give you some examples.

  • Freeze types develop a pattern of dissociation to survive so they may watch excessive TV or play computer games endlessly, they may appear spaced out or develop a drug or alcohol habit.
  • Flight types may be overly anxious and be obsessive compulsive in their behaviours to survive.
  • Fight types develop a sense of entitlement and have narcissistic tendencies as a way to survive.
  • Fawn types are the classic people pleasers and develop patterns of co-dependency to survive.

Do you recognise yourself in any of these?

Obviously the degree to which they play out is hugely variable, and you may find you have a dominant type and less dominant sub-type/s.

If we’ve experienced ‘good enough’ parenting we have time-limited access to all the the Four F’s when faced with danger, meaning we can use them to survive a situation but we don’t stay in them. How this may manifest includes:

  • Fight = having good boundaries and healthy assertiveness
  • Flight = knowing when to step back when a confrontation increases danger
  • Freeze = knowing when to give up when further struggle is futile
  • Fawn =  ability to both compromise and to assert themselves

What happens if we didn’t receive ‘good enough” parenting?

If we are traumatised by our caregivers or by those around us and its not attended to at the time we learn to survive and tend to fix upon one of the Four F’s as our way of coping in the world.

This obviously limits our experience of life, as we can feel:

  • Less relaxed
  • Unprotected
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Disconnected from our the depth of our pain

How does this impact sexuality and intimacy?

As we mature into our sexuality we find our access to full sexual pleasure, intimacy and healthy relationships becomes compromised.

  • Fight types may have trouble maintaining relationships as they are over dominant and controlling and may find it hard to consider the emotional and sexual needs of the other.
  • Flight types may find themselves too busy and unable to relax into sex, they may feel panicky in relationship and develop obsessive behaviour.
  • Freeze types may struggle to stay present in intimacy, they may prefer their own company and prefer watching TV to being connected with someone.
  • Fawn types are likely to develop co-dependent patterns of relating, where they put the needs of others before them, they may not know what they like sexually and if asked may respond with ‘whatever you like.’

Essentially all Four F types struggle with intimacy as this is the context where they will be most triggered into painful unresolved emotional states. The Four F states acts as a defence mechanism from truly feeling the, often incredible depth of pain, that arises from the risk of further abandonment.

How do we resolve this?

Once we recognise ourselves and see our Four F strategies and defence mechanisms at play we know this is a sign there is unresolved trauma at play and we can begin to take the necessary steps on our healing journey which can be characterised as follows:

  • Fight types the process begins with them becoming more aware of the pain of their abandonment feelings, so the feelings of shame and fear can be transformed, and to use the anger they feel and direct it towards their childhood experiences, rather than at their intimates
  • Flight types need to slow down so they can feel their pain and step out of their perfectionist demands
  • Freeze types  often need to find the motivation to understand how their childhood’s were impacted by trauma as many are unaware they are in emotional pain. Their pattern of dissociation will preclude them towards depression. They generally benefit from the therapeutic relationship to resolve their underlying pain.
  • Fawn types benefit from shrinking their inner critic so they can learn to assert themselves and step out of relating with the narcissistic type they are often paired with.

Whatever our type if there is motivation present and we can find the right support we can begin the journey to transforming our childhood wounding. Remembering it will take you time but the rewards of shedding the layers of rigidity and survival will bring you home to who you really are, meaning your relationships and sexuality will have the right earth in which to grow and flourish.