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Most people are aware of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially when it comes to those returning from combat war zones. Other soldiers returning from past battles had PTSD as well, but there was little awareness of the alterations brought on by extreme trauma in these past wars.

Today, studies into the brain’s or mind’s response to trauma have raised awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a wide range of situations. This involves experiencing and seeing the atrocities of war, as well as first responders, crime victims, and those who have been exposed to one or more incidences of trauma throughout their lives.

The fight, flight, or freeze reactions are well-known responses to trauma. The so-called fawn response, on the other hand, is the fourth option. Flight is the fleeing or running situation, fight involves becoming hostile, and freeze entails becoming physically unable to move or make a decision.

Pete Walker coined the concept “fawning” in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. Fawning, also known as the fawn response, is a type of people-pleasing conduct used to handle disputes, gain relational security, and obtain approval from others. 

As a consequence of dealing with a problematic individual who is most likely a noxious personality type, we automatically learn to fawn to get ourselves out of difficulty. It’s bending over backward to please and satisfy someone, not because they’re lovely or considerate, but because it’s a trauma-related response. It’s because we’ve learned that being overly kind is the only way to get through a difficult situation.

When a parent or another person in authority causes trauma, frequently through abuse, the fawn response may occur in childhood. It’s logical to try to appease the abuser to keep safe. It becomes a routine that is utilized not just to cope with abusive situations as they arise but also to prevent future occurrences. In order to keep others happy, those who use the fawn response overlook their own feelings.

Like other survival reflexes, the fawn reaction serves a crucial purpose. Even yet, if this becomes a habit, it can lead to its own set of issues.

The following are examples of fawn trauma response issues:

  • You’ve become so accustomed to minimizing your own wants and feelings that you can’t even recognize them. As a consequence, you don’t deal with things until they’ve gotten out of hand.
  • Others don’t perceive your needs because you don’t recognize them, and you strive to feel understood.
  • Striving to be everything to everyone wears you out emotionally and physically.
  • Shame and guilt for situations that are beyond your control or for which you are not responsible in the lives of others.
  • You open yourself up to more harm. It’s possible to link people-pleasing and trauma in both directions. 

According to a Psychology Today article, persons who use the fawn reaction are more likely to be targeted by manipulative, controlling, or narcissistic people, which can lead to increased misery. It’s possible that therapy will be required to interrupt the cycle.

When a kid does not get the love, attention, care, or compassion he or she deserves, the Fawn Response emerges. As a consequence, he tries to please, remain out of the way, avoid causing problems, refrain from speaking out, and soothe the irritated parent or caregiver.

Consider this fawn trauma response example: a kid is sitting at home, playing, when mom burst through the door, exhausted, enraged, and screaming. Because the child is terrified and unsure of what to do, he chooses to look after his mother and fawn all over her. Perhaps the child will say, “Can I help you, Mom? Is it okay if I hug you? Is it okay if I get your slippers? Please tell me how I can make you happy!”

The child learns that in order to feel safe, he must help his mother in calming down and be joyful.

The youngster believes that she is responsible for her mother’s feelings, which results in a lifelong cycle of codependency and people-pleasing. It also increases the likelihood of the youngster remaining in abusive relations as an adult.

The fawn response includes moving quickly to try to please someone in order to keep peace and avoid conflicts. This is a common reaction to childhood trauma, especially when a parent or other prominent person in authority is the abuser. By becoming a pleaser, kids go into fawn-like behavior in an attempt to avoid physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. To put it another way, they try to appease the abuser ahead of time by agreeing, saying what they believe the parent wants to hear or neglecting their own personal thoughts and desires in order to prevent the abuse.

This fawn response develops into a pattern over time. This pattern of behavior is carried over into adult relationships, encompassing personal and professional encounters.

Because the fawn reaction develops early in life, it can be hard to notice when it occurs. Nevertheless, there are a few telltale signals that the fawn response is in play:

  • In a relationship or a particular situation, you rely on others for feedback on how you’re feeling.
  • Even when you’re alone, it’s tough to pinpoint your emotions.
  • You frequently feel as if you lack an identity.
  • You’re always attempting to appease people you care about.
  • When a fight arises, your initial instinct is to soothe the aggressor.
  • You accept the views, thoughts, and facts of others around you instead of your own.
  • When situations do not include people who are important in your life, you may have odd emotional reactions. This could involve outbursts of emotion directed at strangers or periods of abrupt grief throughout the day.
  • You experience guilt and self-anger on a regular basis if not all of the time.
  • It’s difficult to say no to all those around you.
  • You’re overburdened at times, but if asked, you’ll take on more.
  • You lack limits and are frequently exploited in relationships.
  • When asked for advice, you feel uneasy or threatened.

The fawn response is frequently overlooked in PTSD because it is thought to be a natural aspect of the individual’s personality. It extends beyond being a non-competitive and collaborative temperament, though.

People with fawn responses can be targeted by narcissists or those who want to manipulate or dominate the people around them. The fawn response creates a hazardous circle in these circumstances, with the narcissist demanding more and more, and the person with PTSD experiencing increased feelings of rage, shame, guilt, and self-reproach for offering their all, including physical and emotional, to the partner.

The following are some of the most prevalent symptoms of the Fawn Trauma Response:

  • Saying no can be difficult.
  • Having a lack of respect for your friends, family, and coworkers
  • Feeling compelled to make people happy and keep track of their emotions
  • Putting the needs of others ahead of your own
  • Trying to appease others to avoid conflict
  • Feeling compelled to inquire about other people’s feelings on a regular basis
  • Constantly worrying about being accepted and fitting in
  • Feeling compelled to explain and justify your decisions and actions
  • Constantly apologizing or accepting blame for events that are not your fault
  • Oversharing personal information about your life, feelings, and actions
  • Accepting your partner’s poor behavior
  • Maintaining toxic friendships and familial relationships
  • Burned out because pleasing everyone is too tough and stressful.
  • Lack of authenticity and identity – feeling compelled to be someone other people want you to be rather than who you are.
  • Discontent and tiredness – the notion that nothing is ever enough because you’re unappreciated despite the fact that you provide so much.

People who fawn or excessively people-please as a trauma response may experience a wide range that appears odd or unfitting, especially when the person being pleased is not important to them. Those that demonstrate this trauma response experience a variety of obstacles and emotions, including:

  • Strong emotions like guilt and anger toward oneself
  • Saying ‘no’ to others is difficult.
  • Taking on new responsibilities, even though you’re already overburdened
  • Setting clear boundaries and limits is difficult.
  • Others frequently take advantage of you, particularly in relationships.
  • When asked for an opinion, you may experience worry or discomfort.
  • Relationship codependency

Codependency and Fawning

The fawning response is the basis of many codependents’ behavior. Those who suffer from codependency pick up on this adoring behavior as a child. A young child, for instance, may soon learn that protesting or ‘talking back to a parent results in an even more stressful situation, in which the dissent against the primary event, behavior, or demand is penalized. If speaking up or protesting is met with an even stronger reaction from the caregiver, the kid will learn to abandon their ‘fight’ instinct and may never acquire assertiveness about their own requirements and desires.

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