COVID and the Four Fs of Post-Traumatic Experience

4 Fs.jpg
Image Description: This image shares the four primary nervous system responses to trauma — fight, flight, freeze, and fawn — as well as symptoms for each and ways they are commonly mislabeled. I am sharing the image text throughout the blog post below. I found this image on @SELSpace on Facebook.

As we continue to process the time of upheaval we’ve experienced during a pandemic, this is an important time to learn about trauma and the responses that our nervous systems often take in response. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, we can move into states of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. We might also vacillate between a couple of these.

In addition to these becoming activated due to present circumstances,

— some people have endured past traumas as well, and these can become reactivated in our nervous systems in these ways,


— some people have lived with dysregulated nervous systems throughout much their lives, not necessarily remembering large, traumatic events in childhood, but rather, growing up in households that felt stressful and overwhelming in a generalized way. In these households, it was difficult to have needs cared for and nurtured, or caregivers may have also had dysregulated nervous systems, making it difficult to co-regulate alongside them.

In both of these instances, people may live with symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD (the C stands for complex and means that the traumatic events or environment was long-lasting).

In a moment, I’m going to list symptoms of the 4F pathways of trauma. You may recognize some of these in yourself or your loved ones. Please know that these don’t have to remain stuck or static in the body, and we don’t have to stay stuck or static in these patterns. There is help. Therapy certainly helps, and it’s good to seek that help. In fact, it can be transformative. There are a variety of somatic therapies that help to heal our bodies and these patterns. (As just one example, I’m a big cheerleader for EMDR. Check it out.)

These are the 4Fs of trauma and PTSD. Which pathways tend to be primary for you? I am typing out the text of the image above.


  • ‘Self-preservation’ at all costs
  • Explosive temper and outbursts
  • Aggressive, angry behavior
  • Controls others
  • Bully
  • Can’t ‘hear’ other points of view
  • A pronounced sense of entitlement
  • Demands perfection from others
  • Dictatorial tendencies

Typically mis-labelled as
– Narcissist
– Sociopath
– Conduct disorder


  • Obsessive and/or compulsive behavior
  • Feelings of panic and anxiety
  • Rushing around
  • Over-worrying
  • Workaholic
  • Can’t sit still, can’t relax
  • Tries to micromanage situations and other people
  • Always ‘on the go;’ busy doing things
  • Wants things to be perfect
  • Over-achiever

Typically mis-labelled as
– Bipolar
– Panic disorder
– Mood Disorder


  • Spacing out
  • Feeling unreal
  • Hibernating
  • Isolating self from the outside world
  • Couch potato
  • Dissociates
  • Brain Fog
  • Difficulties making decisions, acting on decisions
  • Achievement-phobic
  • Wants to hide from the world
  • Feels ‘dead,’ lifeless

Typically mis-labelled as
– Clinical depression
– Schizophrenia


  • People pleasing
  • Scared to say what they really think
  • Talks about ‘the other’ instead of themselves
  • Flatters others (to avoid conflict)
  • ‘Angel of mercy’
  • Over-caring
  • Sucker
  • Can’t stand up for the self, say ‘no’
  • Easily exploited by others
  • Hugely concerned with social standing and acceptance, ‘fitting in’
  • ‘Yes’ man (or woman…)

Typically mis-labelled as
– Codependent
– ‘Victim’

Do you recognize these patterns in yourself or your loved ones? They are natural and do truly discharge traumatic energy. Our bodies have them because we need them as protection at times. But we don’t want to become stuck in them. That causes larger problems for us. These patterns may spin out, causing us pain, and impacting our relationships.

But we can heal these patterns, and we can do the work of healing the systems that cause so much trauma in the first place. I love how the word ‘heal’ is both passive and active at once. We receive healing and cultivate it over time, and we can act as healers for a world with less trauma.

Renee Roederer

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