What is Trauma?

During ordinary, day-to-day events, both sides of our brain process and store what we experience. However, when you have a life-threatening experience or you witness another person in such circumstances, your verbal brain can be overwhelmed and your executive function (the ability to think your way out of the trauma) fails. You can no longer organize your experience in a logical way. The parts of the brain that deal with survival take over. If you cannot fight or flee the situation you will go into the freeze. The body and brain are hardwired to help us survive. Tis is called the Instinctual Trauma Response (ITR).

The ITR components occur in order for almost any overwhelming or life-threatening experience. Some experiences may have several components over again as the event goes on over a period of time. Many people get “stuck" in one of the aspects for an extended period of time. This is known as a ‘fixed state."

ITR Components:

Startle, Thwarted Fight/Flight, Freeze, Altered State of Consciousness, Automatic Obedience, and Self-Repair

Going into the ITR affects your memory for the event. You may feel that the fragmented memory is “stuck” in the non-verbal parts of the brain, where there are no words and no sense of time. We call these fragments “mental shrapnel.” These bits and pieces of the trauma then become triggers that intrude into life at unexpected times. The result can be bewildering and can change how an individual views him/herself, others, and the world at large.

Fixed States
A person can sometimes enter a “fixed state” when re-experiencing an aspect of the Instinctual Trauma Response as an intrusive symptom (even though the trauma happened long ago). For example, one could be in the fixed state of the freeze that is mistaken for depression. In such a case, antidepressants and other conventional treatments have little effect.

" Trauma is the biggest mental health problem of the 21st century and it is the most treatable." Dr. Louis Tinnin, Psychiatrist and Co-Founder of ITR

Treat trauma first and see what is left!


Fixed States of ITR Components: May Present as Behavior, Symptoms, or Syndromes Such As: Might Be Mistaken For a DSM Diagnosis Such As:
Startle Panic attacks; anxiety attacks; phobias; insomnia ; hypervigilance Generalized Anxiety D/O; Panic D/O; ADHD
Thwarted Intention (Fight/Flight) Physically combative; avoidant Antisocial Personality D/O; Oppositional Defiant D/O; Conduct D/O; Intermittent Explosive D/O
Freeze Emotionally or physically numb; suicidal thoughts; depression; hypersomnia; withdrawn Major Depressive D/O
Altered State of Consciousness Voices or “strong thoughts”; difficulty staying in the here- and-now; episodes of dissociation (ex., daydreaming or “spacing out”); distortions of perception Schizophrenia; Depersonalization/ Derealization D/O
Body Sensations Chronic fatigue syndrome; fibromyalgia; chronic pain; headaches Somatic Symptom D/O; Conversion D/O; Body Dysmorphic D/O
Automatic Obedience Sexually promiscuous; Stockholm syndrome Dependent Personality D/O; Borderline Personality D/O
Self-Repair Over-eating; excessive alcohol or drug use; use of pornography for self-soothing; compulsive shopping or gambling Obsessive-compulsive D/O; Feeding & Eating D/O; Substance-Related & Addictive D/O’s


Variables Contributing to Different Responses 

  • Physical proximity to the actual event

Those who were closest to the event likely to have a stronger response than those who were some distance away.

  • Previous traumas

Some people may have had traumas of different types (physical or sexual abuse, accidents, medical traumas, neglect) in childhood and adolescence for which they may or may not have been treated. Such traumas can have a cumulative effect.

  • Availability of support systems

Some may not have readily available emotional support systems, may live alone or with only one or two others, or maybe physically far from home. Sometimes even close friends or family members may deny the depth of the experience and may urge to “Get on with life” or say “It wasn’t that bad.” This is demeaning to those who felt their lives or those of others to be at significant risk.

  • General resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity and severe emotional stress. Some people have a natural capacity to do this and others have to cultivate it. In what is perceived to be a life-or-death situation a person may be totally overwhelmed in the moment and unable to respond without help or orientation from others.