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NAVIGATING THE FAWN RESPONSE: A Comprehensive Exploration of the Fourth "F" in Trauma

Throughout the annals of time, human survival instincts have undergone profound transformations to cope with evolving challenges. While the fight or flight responses are familiar, the freeze and fawn reactions are equally significant yet often overlooked. This blog post delves deep into the fawn response, examining its roots, manifestations, and strategies to mitigate its impact on our lives.


Individuals exhibiting the fawn response prioritize the needs of others over their own, seeking to maintain peace at the expense of personal boundaries. Let's delve into specific signs and examples to better understand this intricate trauma response:

People that experience the fawn response often hide their need's and who they truly are to stay safe.


The 4 Fs: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn

When confronted with stress or danger, the body initiates the release of stress hormones, prompting instinctive reactions. Traditionally, fight and flight were deemed the primary trauma responses, later expanded to include freeze and fawn. Coined by psychotherapist Pete Walker, the fawn response involves attempting to navigate danger by pleasing and appeasing the perceived threat.


The Fawn Trauma Response:

Individuals exhibiting the fawn response prioritize the needs of others over their own, seeking to maintain peace at the expense of personal boundaries. Let's delve into specific signs and examples to better understand this intricate trauma response:


Signs of Fawning:

  • Neglect of personal needs and boundaries

  • Constantly offering praise and compliments, even if insincere

  • Inability to assertively say "no"

  • Chronic people-pleasing behavior

  • Lack of a distinct personal identity

  • Hypervigilance regarding others' moods and emotions

  • Unawareness of one's own emotions and feelings


Physical Symptoms of Fawning:

  • Muscle tension: The body may experience muscle tightness or tension as it prepares for a potential threat or to carry out the actions associated with the fawn response, such as appeasing gestures or behaviors.

  • Increased heart rate: The body's sympathetic nervous system is activated during the stress response, leading to an increase in heart rate. This prepares the body for action, even if that action is more passive in the case of the fawn response.

  • Shallow breathing: Stress can often lead to changes in breathing patterns. Shallow or rapid breathing is common during the fawn response, reflecting the body's readiness for action.

  • Sweating: The body may produce more sweat as part of the stress response. This is a natural physiological reaction to help cool the body during periods of increased activity or stress.

  • Digestive changes: Stress can affect the digestive system, leading to sensations such as a "butterflies in the stomach" feeling or other gastrointestinal discomfort.

  • Hypervigilance: Individuals experiencing the fawn response may become hyper-aware of their surroundings and the people in them. This heightened vigilance is a way to anticipate and respond to potential threats.


Examples of Fawning:

  1. Total Neglect of Personal Boundaries:

  2. People-Pleasing Behavior: Going out of your way to fulfill every request, even if it conflicts with your own priorities.

  3. Hypervigilance and Emotional Awareness:


Individuals exhibiting the fawn response prioritize the needs of others over their own, seeking to maintain peace at the expense of personal boundaries. Let's delve into specific signs and examples to better understand this intricate trauma response:

A sign of the fawn response is feeling guilt and responsibility for thing's we cant control.


Trauma Responses and Attachment Styles:

Understanding the fawn response necessitates exploring its connection to attachment styles formed in our formative years. A healthy upbringing allows for a balanced use of all four trauma responses, but an unhealthy one may lead to an overactive or habitually stuck response, impacting both physical and mental well-being.


Why Do People Fawn?

The fawn response is most commonly associated with childhood trauma, particularly in environments where adapting to an unsafe or abusive situation becomes a survival strategy. Here are some detailed scenarios illustrating why people might adopt the fawn response:

  1. Parental Approval and Survival: A child may develop fawning habits to garner parental approval and ensure survival in a potentially threatening environment.

  2. Coping Mechanism for Abusive Relationships: In cases of abusive relationships, individuals may adopt the fawn response as a strategy to minimize harm and navigate the tumultuous dynamics


Overcoming the Fawn Response:

Recovery from the fawn response involves acknowledging its origins and actively working to establish healthier habits. Let's delve into actionable strategies and provide additional details:


Strategies to Overcome Fawning:

  1. Talk to Someone:

  2. Set Boundaries:

  3. Learn to Say "No":

  4. Let Go of Unhealthy Relationships:

  5. Remind Yourself of Your Worth:


Building Better Habits:

To combat an overactive fawn response, it's crucial to acknowledge its past protective role and seek healthier mechanisms. Additional strategies include:

  • Reflecting on how and why the fawn response became a pattern.

  • Validating your experiences and feelings to counteract past invalidation.

  • Building satisfying, mutually fulfilling relationships to ensure your needs are met.

  • Recognizing your inherent worth outside of others' approval.


Conclusion:

The fawn response represents our ability to adapt and survive, but it need not define our future. By recognizing, understanding, and actively working to overcome the fawn response, individuals can pave the way for healthier relationships, improved mental well-being, and a future liberated from the constraints of past traumas.


If you would like help with rewiring the fawn response and setting healthy boundaries, consider taking my new group coaching program The Boundary Babe!




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