When trauma is extreme and ongoing as in cases of complex trauma, neither ‘fight’ nor ‘flight’ responses are possible nor effective in ensuring survival. In such instances, persecutors usually break down the resilience of their victims by shrinking them into submission and destroying their sense of control and self-esteem through a toxic cocktail of denigration, rage, threat, contempt and scorn.
Under such circumstances the only survival responses left to a person are the ‘freeze’ or the ‘fawn’ responses. The ‘freeze’ response is triggered when a person, realising resistance is futile, numbs into dissociation or collapses (internally, emotionally or externally, physically) as if accepting the certainty (inevitability) of being hurt. The ‘fawn’ response happens when a person totally submits their identity or needs to those of an aggressor by appeasing or pleasing them in order to forestall an attack. When complex trauma is ongoing, people’s perceived chances of survival depend on the consistent use of these coping responses which leads to deep rooted dissociation problems.