The fetal position & trauma

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tumblr_liw4m7S1Nj1qznj3eo1_500The fetal position is exactly what the word says: the position of the body of a prenatal fetus inside the womb of its’ mother. However, the fetal position is used for comfort, protection and other reasons, by children, adults and even animals.

Sometimes, when a person has suffered extreme physical or psychological trauma (including massive stress), they will assume the fetal position or a similar position in which the back is curved forward, the legs are brought up as tightly against the abdomen as possible, the head is bowed as close to the abdomen as possible, and the arms are wrapped around the head to prevent further trauma. This position provides better protection to the brain and vital organs than simply lying spread out on the ground, so it is obvious as to why it is an instinctual reaction to extreme stress or trauma when the brain is no longer able to cope with the surrounding environment, and in essence “shuts down” temporarily.The fetal position has been observed in drug addicts, who enter the position when experiencing withdrawal. Sufferers of anxiety are also known to assume the fetal position during panic attacks.
Many people assume this position when sleeping, especially when the body becomes cold.

I have memories from the ages of 8 or 9, where I used to roll my feather duvet into a sausage shape and place it around myself in bed like a nest, while lying in the fetus position. I found this immensely comforting at the time and looking back on it now, I realise there was probably a lot more to it. It was a way of self-soothing, of avoiding nightmares or waking up feeling scared. I felt protected in my little self created nest. I felt like I was giving myself the hug of comfort I so desperately was missing as a child.

When I was a little older, we used to go to one of my parents’ friends’ house and they had the exact same circular bamboo chair (as seen in the 2nd image) in one of their rooms. I absolutely adored it and because I was always bored in their adult world of chatting, I used to go into that room and curl up in the chair. It was such a comforting feeling..It felt like I was being held in these loving arms and nobody could hurt me.

Looking back at these small experiences, I realise more and more how much this feeling of being ‘soothed’ and held was absent in my childhood. I mean don’t get me wrong, my parents hugged me and played with me many times, but I never felt this unconditional love, this soothing love. The sort of love that forgives & accepts a child, no matter what it gets up to in those young pre-adolescent years. Also, the type of love that continues after that when the child starts pushing boundaries even more.

Do you have any memories of lying in the fetal position during periods of stress, when cold in the winter or to self-soothe?

Thanks for reading friends x

The 2nd image and following text in quotations, is taken from this webpage:

7 thoughts on “The fetal position & trauma

  1. I don’t have memories of lying in a fetal position. But I do remember craving for affection – hugs. Never had that as a child. My parents were not emotionally there because it’s not in their culture I suppose I’m not sure.


  2. My best friend was recently severely beaten with a baseball bat, and 5 guys kicking him until he was unconscious. He has been in the hospital now for about 2 weeks, and he is basically contracted into the fetal position and is in and out of consciousness. From the report I saw, the paramedics found him unresponsive, and laying in that very position in a parking lot. I don’t know if he will ever be the same person again. I just wanted to share more proof that this is SO true. Thanks for the insight!


    • Oh Emily, that is so awful. I am so sorry this happened to him! Hugs to you and I really hope he manages to recover step by step. The emotional trauma will be a long journey to heal from, if ever completely. Xx


  3. Hi
    Your article is interesting and helpful.
    I have a question:
    I had a traumatic birth and that caused me not to roll out of fetal position until I met a chiropractor and he rolled me out of fetal position at age 38.
    I am curious of this position. And the results after rolling out. I know it’s purpose is for delivery. Also I didn’t get my molars. Just curious what you think


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