People Pleasing - the Fawn Trauma Response
In my reading lately about Trauma and our responses to it, I’ve been drawn to noticing the fawn response, which is not talked about so much as fight, flight and freeze.
When we are feeling fear, we might respond by becoming very focused and alert, or we may experience our flight response, and run away from threat or towards safety. However, vigilance or flight might not always be options, and sometimes a route to coping with ongoing relational trauma is to escape harm by learning to please the person who is threatening, to keep them happy.
This might show up in ignoring our own needs to take care of the other persons, being as useful and helpful as possible, giving up aspects of yourself like values or ways you identify in favour of being like or pleasing the other, or even offering affirmation and praise when the other person is being unkind or undermining.
When we have learned this response to be a way to minimising threat and maximising safety, it can carry on beyond the relationship or context in which it was a survival mechanism, and become a generalised way of being. In adulthood this can result in codependent relationships, and people pleasing across contexts that is personally damaging.
As Pete Walker puts it, “We 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.” The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex Trauma“
Not all trauma is about experiencing or witnessing horrific events. Much of it is about the drip, drip, drip of interactions that erode your authenticity and ability to inhabit and be your true self. If the fawn response has a resonance or familiarity for you, then psychotherapy may be a helpful healing path to help you find new ways to relate, finding a sense of safety both within your own self, and in your interactions with others.