Trauma 101

An Introduction to Trauma and Trauma Response, featuring Shinji Ikari

Welcome to my first Pixie 101! I’m starting with trauma because it informs a good deal of my research and my writing. In 2021, after I appeared on three different podcasts to discuss trauma, I joked it was “my brand”. I studied trauma and recovery in terms of psychology, sociology, and art throughout my post-secondary education. My longterm career goal was “to be the person I needed when I was a traumatized teen”. And my intent was to use fiction to reach those “teens like me”. 

Storytelling is my default. In high school, college, and grad school I more than once convinced my teachers to accept a piece of original fiction in lieu of a traditional research paper. Not in lit classes —  in high school physics I wrote a book report as a self-insert fanfic featuring Wesley Crusher. For my required math course in college I wrote about Jurassic Park and Ian Malcolm. And for a grad level history class I wrote a paper on plagues from the point of view of a rat. Narrative is how I process and express information.

And it’s how I process and express my emotions, and more to the point, my trauma. I use fiction and fandom as a coping mechanism. It’s how I explain the world to myself and in turn how I explain myself to the world. I have, many times, told people “If you want to understand me read this book/watch this movie/pay attention to this character”. I recently created a list on letterboxed dedicated to this idea. Stories are an escape for me, but not the way most people mean it. I don’t use use fiction or fandom to avoid my reality, I use them to address my reality.

Who is Shinji Ikari?

Shinji Ikari (碇シンジ, “Ikari Shinji”) is the protagonist of Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japanese animated series released 1995-1996), The End of Evangelion (sequel film released in 1997), and Rebuild of Evangelion (a reimagining released as four films from 2007-2021). Evangelion tells the story of the teen pilots of giant robots built to battle supernatural monsters, but it is explicitly about trauma. Asuka, Shinji’s peer and sometime love interest, is one of the characters I point to when someone asks me who I am. My very first online handles referenced Asuka and her catch phrase “Anta baka?” (“What are you, stupid?”). Asuka is angry, demanding, damaged by her mother’s death, and desperate to prove herself. She cycles through a few different trauma responses, but Shinji exhibits all of them. 

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.

Personal Examples

  • abuse
  • assault
  • poverty
  • accident or injury
  • loss of loved one(s)

Communal Examples

  • war
  • pandemic
  • mass shooting
  • natural disaster
  • systemic racism

There are three main types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex. Acute trauma results from a single incident, such as an attack or a car accident. Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged, such as domestic violence. Complex trauma is the exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, and the profound, wide-ranging, and long-term effects of that exposure. For example, childhood sexual abuse includes physical and emotional abuse, a betrayal of trust, and results in isolation, anxiety, shame, and rage. 

Evangelion is a fictional representation of complex trauma. Fifteen years prior to the action the world suffered an apocalyptic event and every character in the story is shaped by that global trauma. Each of the main characters were also traumatized by individual, often related, events. Shinji was abandoned by his father after his mother’s death, and in the course of the series is required to fight literal world-destroying monsters in a semi-conscious cybernetic machine that sometimes takes control. 

There are five common types of trauma response.

Trauma responses are automatic, our body’s instinctive response to a perceived threat. The concept of “fight or flight” was first coined by physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon in 1915. Three more “F”s have been added over the years.






The fight response is active and aggressive, the use of conflict for self preservation.

Unhealthy Examples

  • bullying
  • conduct disorder
  • entitlement

Healthy Examples

  • courage
  • leadership
  • setting boundaries

Shinji most often exhibits a flight response when in battle with the Angels.

The flight response is an escape, gaining distance from harm either physically or mentally/emotionally.

Unhealthy Examples

  • panic
  • perfectionism
  • need to stay busy

Healthy Examples

  • disengage from harmful situations and/or persons

Shinji runs away both physically and emotionally when he spends hours riding the train. Later the train becomes a symbol of his escape.

A freeze response is more passive than fight or flight, it’s a lack of action and can feel like a trap.

Unhealthy Examples

  • dissociation
  • indecision
  • isolation

Healthy Examples

  • mindfulness
  • consciousness
  • alertness

Shinji is often seen wearing headphones and switching between two tracks over and over. He is unable to either engage or leave during more than one event.

Flop, a less common response, is an extreme version of freeze where the body shuts down entirely.

The flop response can reduce physical pain during a traumatic event, and the mind can also shut down to protect itself. However, there is no healthy manifestation of it.

Shinji and Asuka both exhibit a flop response towards the end of the story.

Fawn (also called ‘friend’) is a social response.

Unhealthy Examples

  • codependence
  • loss of identity
  • lack of boundaries

Healthy Examples

  • active listening
  • compassion
  • compromise

Shinji’s initial trauma is the death of his mother and subsequent abandonment by his father. He latches on to Misato, Kaji, Asuka, Rei, Mari, Kaworu, and his EVA in his search for a sense of self.

My senior year in college I created a performance dance thesis titled “Pandora” using dialogue from a Star Trek tie-in novel, and set to Rei III, a darker, more dramatic version of the theme played for Rei (the first EVA pilot) throughout the series. Shinji, Rei, and especially Asuka and Misato were very important to me in my formative teen years. I saw myself in their struggle, their trauma, their resilience, triumph, and loss. They were there for my first steps on the road to this webpage.

Explore More

  • Trauma – reaction and recovery: the ‘get help’ links in this fact sheet are specific to Victoria, Australia, but the information is universal and extensive.
  • Mental Health and Setting Limits (This Ends at Prom podcast): the podcast is about teen movies, but this very special episode is an exploration of one host’s complex trauma and how she deals with it. It’s very personal and moving.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion are available on Netflix
  • The Evangelion Rebuild films are available on Amazon Prime

The following contain major spoilers for all versions of Evangelion.

Leave a Reply