‎”I’ve tried yoga, but I find stress less boring. Anonymous

I often come across the question, “What is your love language?” or “How can I learn what my love language is?”

The concept coined by Baptist pastor Gary Chapman nearly thirty years ago became very popular among couples, friends and the dating world. The truth is that a recent paper explains that “despite weak empirical evidence for the love languages, it is still one of the most well-known lay theories on relationship processes.”

The love language concept makes three main assumptions, which, after reading the paper cited above, prove to have weak evidence: One assumption is that there are five love languages; secondly, we all have a primary way of expressing love; and thirdly, when partners’ primary love language matches, the relationship is more satisfactory. 

On the other hand, in working with couples and individuals struggling with communication and connection, I have learned that it’s essential to explore and discover each individual’s attachment style, their family of origin’s styles of communicating love and comfort, what makes them feel loved, how they show care and affection, past traumas, betrayals, and heartbreaks, what they value the most in relationships, what they fear the most, their triggers, etc. 

Part of the individual or couples therapy process is to co-create a narrative that generates mutual understanding and sense-making. Some of the work involves unfolding the road map of how each individual understands, feels and expresses love as much as how they experience and express stress. 

Let’s talk about Trauma.

Let’s start by briefly describing the five main types of Trauma:

1- Acute trauma results from a single incident.

2- Chronic Trauma is repeated and prolonged, such as domestic violence or abuse.

3- Complex Trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature.

4- Vicarious Trauma is Trauma that service providers may experience, resulting from empathetic engagement with a client’s or patient’s traumatic background.

5- Historical and/or intergenerational Trauma could include war, slavery, racism, colonization, loss of culture, etc.

What is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health problem most people develop after experiencing traumatic events. PTSD was first identified in WW1 veterans under the name ‘shell shock,’ and it became a formal diagnosis in 1980. Several social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups, worked to raise attention and support for trauma survivors and played a part in this progress. 

“Exposure to traumatic experiences has always been a part of the human condition.” “Literary accounts offer the first descriptions of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, authors including Homer (The Iliad), William Shakespeare (Henry IV), and Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) wrote about traumatic experiences and the symptoms that followed such events.” History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5.

Understanding Trauma Helps Us to Understand Stress Language. 

Most of our initial reactions to a traumatic experience are fatigue, confusion, sadness, anxiety, restlessness, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and even shock. Most of those responses are expected and normal.

Understanding the concept of The 5 Fs used in trauma-informed approaches might help us make sense of our experiences and feelings when we experience stress:

Fight: physical aggression, arguing. Feeling anger, anxiety, sense of urgency, rage, intense frustration. Common behaviours include showing defiance, defensiveness, restlessness, short fuse, blaming, self-harming, or storming out.

“It’s all your fault!” “You make me so angry!” “You are wrong.”

Flight: creating distance between us and what we perceive as danger or threat. It might include walking away, running, hiding or backing away. Feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Feeling the urge to flee and avoid connection. Spacing out or seeming not to listen, getting intentionally or unintentionally distracted, missing work/class, or not showing up. 

“I need to get out of here!” “I am busy now; I need to go; I can’t talk.” “I can’t do this anymore.” “I feel alone in this.”

Freeze: our body goes tense. We might present as still and silent. Procrastination and indecisiveness are often experienced. It’s important to understand that freezing is not giving consent; it is an automatic survival response. Feeling panicked, overwhelmed, numb out. Giving up easily. 

“I can’t.” “I don’t know.” “I can’t find the words.” “I feel so stuck.”

Flop (collapse): like freezing, except our muscles become loose, and our body feels limp. In addition, our mind can also shut down to protect itself. Feeling sad, hopeless, apathetic, unmotivated. Showing little emotions, appearing disengaged. Stonewalling as a result of feeling emotionally flooded. 

It’s not worth it.” “It’s all my fault.” “There is no point.” “It’s too late for me/us.”

Friend: relying on a ‘friend’ for help or others’ advice. Feeling low confidence, helpless and relying on others to solve the problem. Sometimes, it can involve ‘befriending’ the person we perceive as threatening, for example, by placating, negotiating, pleading, or pleasing. Again, this could not necessarily mean us giving consent; it is an intuitive survival mechanism. 

“Please tell me what to do, I can’t.” “Please help me.” “You deal with it.”

Let’s talk about what we need during stressful times. 

Stress is simply a reaction to a situation that calls for a response. In the 1960s, Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye defined stress as “the non-specific responses of the body to any demand for change.”

Learning about our style for expressing and communicating stress might help us consider what we need or how to support someone feeling distressed:


Movement rather than stillness. When the danger feels internal, reach out for resources outside your body, such as music. When the threat is perceived as external, it helps to connect with internal resources, such as breathing or repeating a mantra or comforting phrase like “I/we will be OK.”. Avoid saying “calm down” to the other person in a fight response. 


We need a sense that we are not alone. It could be reaching out to someone to be there or creating a connection with an internal version of ourselves that feels calming and soothing. Movement, such as walking, is helpful. During a flight response, we need understanding, connection, and validation.


We need to move slowly or do nothing at all. We need time and space until we can resume connecting in tolerable doses. Grounding techniques, breathing deeply, gentle somatic experiences, such as self-massage. 


We need space and time to recover. It can help us use warmth, heat, and contact with different surfaces, textures, scents, and sounds or use grounding techniques


We need to pause and take time to process what’s happening. Learning about identifying and communicating boundaries. Learning to recognize and label feelings and needs. Support by showing curiosity about their experience and thoughts rather than solving the problem or giving advice too soon.

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Shultz