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How Trauma Can Affect Our Reactions to Stressful Situations

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

When cornered in a stressful situation, individuals with ADHD often use 1 or more of the “F Trauma Responses”.

  • FIGHT Immediately jumping to defend ourselves. People may say we’re easily offended or overly defensive but it’s how we keep ourselves safe after many times of being thrown under the bus by others.

  • FLIGHT We feel the need to escape the stressful confrontation in any way possible. Usually met with a lot of bodily anxiety like sweating, shaking, and even tears.

  • FREEZE Talking hasn’t worked in the past or has gotten us into more trouble. Now when confronted, our brains freeze up and we struggle to get out words. (If we can even think of any)

  • FAWN Individuals that resort to fawning often use people pleasing in our daily lives. In a confrontation, we’ll automatically do and say anything to appease the other person and end the negative interaction ASAP.

  • FIB A response very similar to fight. We default to lies when confronted to avoid being scrutinized after many times of being called out for not meeting expectations.

When we are having an “F” response, we can become defensive or shut down.

When we become defensive we resist an attack, to protect from harm or danger. This is a natural response when you feel threatened, attacked, or trapped.

Think about these words…It can really hurt you to fight back or others fighting back if in fact you are not in actuality threatened. “Threatened, Attacked, Trapped”- These words all imply battle. Where 1 person has to win and the other has to lose.

In order to reduce defensiveness and our “F” trauma response, consider using the “STOPP” method.

  • STOPP!

  • Take a few deep breaths

  • Observe yourself and the situation

  • Pull Back

  • Practice what you know works for you!

STOP and distance yourself from any impulsive automatic reaction! (You might even need to walk away respectfully to distance yourself for some time before you come back to the conversation.)

TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Breathing helps you to gain control of yourself and your emotions. (It gives you some as well as your prefrontal cortex the opportunity to look at the situation better.)


  • What’s the feeling that you’re experiencing?

  • What does the feeling want you to do (ie: fight back, interrupt)?

  • Your emotional mind wants you to FIGHT and REACT! Especially with ADHD, when we think things are unfair and unjust! (Justice Sensitivity anyone?)


  • What’s the bigger picture? (Take a birds-eye view)

  • How would someone you admire see this situation?

  • Can this be seen differently?

PRACTICE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!! What is the best thing to do right now? (For me, for them, and the situation)

  • Use “I” statements:

    • “I’m not comfortable with this,” or, “I hear what you’re saying.”

  • Buy some time:

    • Option 1: Use filler words such as “Go on...,” or “Say more about that” and let the other person continue speaking. Mirror what they are saying. “You were saying you are upset about _______, is that right?”

    • Option 2: Step away. Say something like, “I need some time to process this and respond. I can come back to this conversation tomorrow and address your concerns at (x) time. Does that time work for you?”

    • Option 3: We’re not always going to come to a resolution, especially when two people are emotional and fighting for their stance. You can always say, “Let’s agree to disagree.”

Our STOPP exercise is just the tip of the iceberg…

Because our brains have plasticity, they can be rewired so you can be more calm and think positively.

If you liked this, we have a whole program, Healing ADHD Emotions that arms you with tools to help you reprogram your brain, become happier, and think differently!

All the best,

Coach Brooke

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