Fawn Response: The Trauma Response You Probably Don’t Know About

by Jan 30, 2020

The Fawn Response

Though we hate to admit it, deep down, we all engage in some form of people-pleasing. To fawn is to be a people-pleaser. But the fawn response takes people-pleasing to a distinct depth. This little known response to trauma is the fourth survival response, birthed out of habitual abuse. Triggered, the person cringes – visibly or deep within. Gripped by fear, they strive to please the person perceived as a threat. The motive isn’t to gain attention or affirmation. This is a matter of safety – even of life and death.  

A person who fawns in response to perceived danger has experienced abandonment, been a victim of adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), or a victim of domestic partner violence. Fawning is a survival mechanism to deflect danger. 

The deep need to feel safe requires constant vigilance. If you ignore your desires or gut reactions as a desperate attempt to avoid or somehow prevent confrontation, you are fawning. You’ve moved beyond people-pleasing into appeasement.

You are not shameful because you move into the fawn response. This is a trauma response to help you survive. Let’s try to understand fawning. 

Survival Skill

You developed a survival skill, rooted in fear caused by memories of abuse buried within your non-conscious mind. Instinctively, you try to avoid conflict and do anything just to keep the peace. Perhaps falsely accused and beaten for things you had no control over, you learned false responsibility. To be vulnerable or share what you really think feels dangerous, for someone may become angry and even violent.

Today, you have a deep fear of doing the wrong thing, or being seen as doing the wrong thing, even though you are innocent. You desperately strive to blend in, to mirror those around you. You may even desire to not be seen, for being seen represents danger. 

Designed to escape unexpected threats to your life; your brain instantly switches you into a flight, fight, or freeze response, preparing your body for instant action. In the moment, that is healthy and wise. But living with constant danger sets you up to be habitually triggered by stresses of life or angry people, causing you to fight, flee, freeze or fawn. 

Sadly, being victimized, your brain perceives you are in danger, even if you aren’t. Triggered, your reptilian brain doesn’t allow you to think; it simply impels you into the fawn response of survival. When your life is driven by pleasing those you live or work with, your brain has been taken captive by lies. 

When You Give Up Your Dreams & Desires

When your dreams were killed, you stopped dreaming. To survive, you sought to please the abuser. You sought to meet their needs and do their will.

But fawning placed you under their authority in a harmful way, bringing you into collusion with them against yourself. Desperate to maintain a safe environment, you learned to sacrifice your needs and your dreams to make them happy. 

A confusion of roles occured as they placed their sin onto you. You became co-dependent. As you accepted false responsibility for the choices and actions of the other person, you believed you were guilty and deserved punishment. Thus you became trapped in the fawn mode. 

Fawning is Dangererous

It’s good to be helpful. But it becomes harmful when fear triggers your amygdala into self-protective behavior. Compliance is a safety mechanism you switch into – to avoid danger. But choosing to become compliant, means you also chose to become the sacrifice offered to meet the needs/demands of others. You may find momentary relief when driven to sacrifice yourself to keep the peace. You may even feel validated. But the cost is further exposure to danger. 

Why? Because nothing changed. Statistics show people who are triggered and switch into the fawn mode in their attempt to survive are repeatedly victimized. If you have shut down your intuition, you become blind to true danger. 

The Lord gave us a will. And the responsibility to use our will to choose wisely.

With fawning, you make the will choice to subvert your will to the will of another. You don’t realize it, but you’re giving the other person permission to think for you. It’s like saying, “Oh master, I will do your will; whatever you desire, is what I desire.” 

To bow before the will of another, makes them lord of your life. Bowing encourages disrespect and abuse, sending signals you disrespect yourself and like to be abused. It is dangerous to bow to anyone but the LORD, who is always good.

What Lies Do You Believe?

Deep down you may feel the world would be better off without you. If your parents or partner repeatedly said, “You are worthless. You are no good. You can’t do anything right.” You believe them.

You feel worthless, a failure, no good. Deceived, you think your feelings confirm their cruel words are true. 

Their words taught you who you are, so your identity was shaped by lies. Then you speak those lies over yourself!

Lies always bear negative fruit. Today, because you feel worthless, you think you have no rights. The negative thoughts (lies) churning in your brain cause you to embrace limiting beliefs. But those lies don’t have to define you.

Limiting Beliefs You Might Have About Yourself

I don’t have the right to live.

I don’t have the right to say no.

I don’t have the right to speak, or choose, or be. 

Others have permission to override my desires and violate my boundaries. 

My opinion is not worth hearing.

I deserve to be treated with disrespect.

My dreams aren’t important because I’m not important.

Dear Heart,

You are a precious person, deeply loved by the Lord. Though you experienced abandonment and abuse, He desires you to find healing and to be treated with respect. You don’t have to fawn before anyone. Paul encourages you to become a bond-servant who loves Jesus. (Eph 6:6 & Col 3:22).

But that means learning a new way of thinking. While you cannot undo the past and can’t make angry people happy, you can find fulfillment as you allow Jesus to be Lord of your thought life. 

You are not responsible for the choices or actions of others. But you are responsible for the thoughts you think.

Your thoughts matter. Negative thoughts hold you captive to lies and domination. Learning to give thanks and sing throughout your day will set you free from the fear of man and will result in you being safe, even around angry people. 

The exciting news is if you hide Jesus’ words in your heart, something incredible happens in your brain. New neuronal pathways of life and hope will be established and you will begin to experience joy and peace. Meditating on God’s Word is the path to transformation. Lies are exposed and defeated as you renew your mind with truth (Romans 12:2).

Dear Heart, you were designed to thrive in God’s love. Choose life and live!

You are not responsible for the choices or actions of others. But you are responsible for the thoughts you think.

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