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How To Spot Hidden Trauma Responses, From A Psychologist

Hannah Frye
Author:
June 14, 2024
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Woman lying on couch with legs crossed
Image by Stocksy | Lucas Ottone
June 14, 2024

Identifying trauma responses is not easy—especially when it comes to hidden signs. 

As psychologist and trauma expert Peter Levine, Ph.D., said on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, "Trauma isn't just what happened to us, but rather it's what we hold inside." It's this reason that trauma responses aren't always so cut and dried. 

Below, three common trauma responses that may bubble up from experiences stored in the body or deep in the mind, from Levine: 

1.

Strong and unexplained verbal outbursts

First up: Strong responses (commonly known as trigger responses) to something that may not call for such an intense outburst. 

"Many of us, particularly if this is big trauma, we have things that happen kind of out of the blue. For example, we're...we're at a party, and we meet somebody, and all of a sudden we feel terror and rage. Where is that coming from?" Levine says. 

When this happens, take note of how you feel in the moment and the context of whatever conversation or action triggered you. Later on, after you've cooled down, you can dive a little deeper into that reaction and try to piece together what may have caused it. You can ask yourself questions like: 

  • When have I felt like this in the past?
  • What does this conversation or action remind me of?
  • Have I responded like this to other related topics or situations?
2.

Seemingly random physical tension

Along the same lines as that above, you may find your body reacting to a trigger more than your conscious mind. "You know, we're in a situation with somebody and all of a sudden we're angry, or our guts tighten up, or our shoulders become tense… These are replays of trauma," Levine says. 

Any physical manifestation of anxiety or anger falls into this category—including feeling a pit in your throat or stomach, getting hot out of nowhere, and so on. If this happens, you can follow the same protocol as above, checking in on what the situation is, what it may remind you of, and how your body and mind are responding to it. 

3.

Trauma bonds in relationships 

Many people assume trauma bonds exist only between the person being traumatized and the person inflicting trauma on someone—but according to Levine, the term defies those definitions. 

"Sometimes when we've been traumatized, we're drawn to the trauma person…[or] we're drawn to somebody who reminds us of that," he says. 

Whether it's a personality trait, tone of voice, physical resemblance, or even a way someone makes you feel that is reminiscent of a person who traumatized you in the past, it's worth taking note of—and avoiding when you can. 

"We want to be judicious," Levine says about identifying new friends or love interests. "We want to take the time to get to know somebody and see if they really are a person that would be nourishing that we might want to cultivate a friendship with." Or, if they simply remind you of someone from the past.

When these trauma bonds go unchecked, you may find yourself repeating patterns or basing new connections on old relationships (friendship or romantic relationships included). 

Editor's note

Coping with trauma is not easy and oftentimes calls for assistance from a therapist, psychologist, or trauma healing expert. When in doubt, ask for help.

The takeaway

Trauma shows itself in strange ways, many of which you may not spot unless you know the signs of a trigger response ahead of time. As a rule of thumb, take a mental (or physical) note when you think you may have experienced an emotional or physical trauma response. By collecting the puzzle pieces, you'll have a better chance of seeing the full picture. 

If you want to learn more about how trauma is stored in the body and how to release it, tune in to the full podcast episode with Levine on Apple Podcasts

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