Fawning: Another Fight, Flight, Freeze Trauma Response
What Is Fawning?
With trauma responses we often think of Fight, Flight. Where in the face of threat our bodies gear up for a fight or to run away and flee. It then became popularly understood that there was another response, Freeze. Where we just freeze and can’t fight or run away. Often times there can be shame around this response because it’s not a very active way to respond, even if it’s our brain’s response and not our conscious choice.
An external stressor can trigger your body to react automatically. This reaction is controlled by your brain’s autonomic nervous system, which falls under the limbic system. Depending on our upbringing, we may lean towards one particular response instead of another. That’s where the trauma portion comes into play.
There is another response that’s not so well known. The Fawn response. Fawning means to people please. To acquiesce. You see dogs doing it when they become submissive and belly up around another dog. Basically becoming non-threatening and malleable. Compliant.
The term Fawn was first used by Pete Walker, a psychotherapist. Pete says “Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”
He says that the child “learns that a modicum of safety and attachment can be gained by becoming the helpful and compliant servants of their parents. They are usually the children of at least one narcissistic parent who uses contempt to press them into service, scaring and shaming them out of developing a healthy sense of self.”
It is extreme self sacrifice and loss of identity when we compulsively mirror others and what they want from us.
Why Do We Fawn?
Dr Nicole LePara, The Holistic Psychologist, says on her Instagram post “The fawn trauma response is an adaptive coping mechanism that we learn as children when our environment isn’t fully safe. When our environment isn’t safe or predictable, we learn to adapt by dismissing our own needs + focusing on the needs of others.“
People who grow up with a dysfunctional or abusive family system often become ‘fawners’; they didn’t learn to express their feelings and needs as a kid. In order to survive, children adopt the values of those around them as their own. They learn that their natural impulses & self-expression are not acceptable and that they have to work hard to be accepted.
Fawning could also be referred to as codependent, you may need validation from other people to feel OK and be liked. You could be so focused on what other people think of you that you don’t know what you actually want or think about a situation. You become so enmeshed with others you have no boundaries and don’t know where they stop and you begin.
You repress so many of your thoughts, needs and desires to keep the peace that you lose touch with yourself to such a degree that you can put your health and safety in danger. You abandon yourself and you don’t even know what’s going on inside of yourself. The fear of being yourself is so great that because of your childhood trauma you feel that its life or death to even say the word “No”.
You will also be a magnet for toxic people, they will smell your obsequiousness and enmeshment a mile away.
How To Overcome The Fawning Response
So now that you see that this behaviour is a maladaptive response to trauma, you can forgive your child self for adopting this response and be grateful she/he/they did what it took to survive in the conditions she grew up in. By seeing that this is trauma rather than feeling that you’re just a pushover, you can seek out the appropriate trauma therapist to help you slowly start to overcome the wounds of your childhood, to learn to create boundaries, feeling it’s safe to stick up for yourself, express yourself and have your own say about things. That the world won’t collapse because you said No.