What is the Fawn Trauma Response?

“Unlearning trauma also means unlearning the behaviours you adopted and inherited as survival tactics.”

Most of us have heard of fight, flight and freeze as typical responses to experiencing a trauma.

However, there’s a fourth response which is much less discussed, despite the fact that it’s also very common. This is what’s known as the fawn trauma response. Essentially, it’s a people-pleasing response, and one that’s been described in the following way[1]:

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.”

Symptoms of this fawn, or people-pleasing, trauma response are:

– Desperately trying to figure how you should “be” in order to fit in, or please a person who’s significant to you. What is the Fawn Trauma Response?

– Feeling afraid to be yourself (as the cost could be the loss of the relationship).

– Feeling you can’t be honest and state your true feelings, wants, needs, preferences and desires.

– Not being able to talk about yourself because the other person “needs” you to focus on them.

– Always prioritizing the other person’s needs, feelings, perspectives, wants and demands (and often to your own detriment.)

– Being quick to flatter and appease other people.

– Feeling used and unseen.

– Feeling unappreciated; feeling as if you’re unimportant and disposable.

– Never bringing up how the other person hurts, disappoints, or affects you negatively.

– Constantly battling low self-esteem

– Avoiding conflict at all costs.

This is a self-protective trauma response. It’s an unconscious way of keeping ourselves safe when we feel under threat, or we fear we are at risk of losing something that matters to us. And this could be an intimate relationship.

If this is something you relate to then a key part of your healing will be learning to listen to your own wants and needs, and to establish and assert healthy boundaries with others.

As you set off on this journey some things to bear in mind include:

– Your wishes, wants, needs and perspective are as important as the next person’s wishes, wants, needs and perspectives.

– You have right to be seen and heard.

– You have the right to take up space in the world.

– Your thoughts, feelings, memories, opinions, perspective and boundaries all matter – and deserve to be respected.

– You are already enough. You do not need to change, “improve yourself”, or do anything at all, in order to be accepted, and acceptable. You are absolutely fine just as you are. Period.

[1] http://pete-walker.com/fourFs_TraumaTypologyComplexPTSD.htm

On Grief

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ― Jamie Anderson

Grief is just love with no place to go.

Because that individual’s not around anymore.

They can’t hear your words.

They can’t respond to your words.

You can’t express your love in any way that’s meaningful.

All that love that is inside you, in its pure intensity …

All the feelings that you have, and want to open up and share …

None of that is possible

There’s only silence now.

There’s no-one there to listen.

There’s only emptiness.

Getting Unstuck

There are a lot of reasons why we end up feeling stuck. And one possible reason is experiencing a trauma. Clearly, this is something that we need to address or we’ll live with its effects for the rest of our lives.

But assuming that you’re doing this, and yet you still feel stuck, are there any strategies that can help to move you forwards? Here are some suggestions to experiment with:

1. Start with a time of self-reflection. Some questions to think about, and answer, could include:

– How would I describe my life at the moment?

– What did I expect to be like?

– How am I different – because of what has happened?

– Are there parts of my old self that I wish I could recapture?

– If I could realistically change one aspect of my life, what would it be?

Remember: For now, we aren’t focusing on problem-solving. We’re simply try to create an image of how you would like your life to look like.

2. What do you feel is your purpose in life? Purpose is what drives us; it gets us out of bed. It gives meaning to our life. It inspires and motivates us. But in the aftermath of trauma people lose touch with their purpose. They feel disconnected, like they’re moving in a fog. Some questions to think about, and answer, here might be:

-What did I view as being my purpose in the past – before the traumatic experience or event?

– Does that still resonate with me today?

– Whose life would I like to make a difference in?

– Are there any ways that I could still do that?

3. What would my ideal future look like? Try to think ahead, and take a peek into the future. What might life be like in 5 or 10 years for now. This is your chance to think outside the box, and to try out different options, opportunities and endings. Let your imagination run free for a while … and then try to answer the following questions:

– Is there anything here that inspires or motivates you?  

– 5 or 10 years from now … What could I be doing? Who would I be spending with energy and time with? What would I be proud of? What had made me happy?

– Who would I be if I could be my best self?

4. Try something new and different. Sometimes we don’t know exactly what needs to change, and we simply can’t imagine what a could change could look like. Here are some suggestions to help you with this:

– Maybe thing about saying “yes” an invitation, or some opportunity, that comes across your path. You never know what it might show or teach you.

– Or, change something up in your current routine. Sometimes a small thing has a massive effect, and is able to spark our creative powers again.

– Try reading a new book, or listening to some different podcasts, or going to events you’d never normally consider. Again, that can jostle our creative juices and can be a vehicle to help us get unstuck.

The Journey you are on Forges the Person you Become

“And they all lived happily ever after.”

At least, that’s what they had always thought.

At least, that’s what they had always expected.

But that wasn’t how this couple’s life turned out.

James and Priti both grew up in the same city. Their parents were good friends. The kids attended the same schools. And they started dating when they were only 14.

When she graduated high school, Priti moved away from home to study Law in a far-flung province.

But time and distance didn’t separate this couple, and five years later James and Priti were married. 

And so begins a wonderful fairy tale.

Then, three years later their first child was born. A boy with Down’s syndrome, and some health complications.

Then, two years later a little girl was born. A child who had autism, and some learning difficulties.

This was followed by three heartbreaking miscarriages. So much grief and heartache. So much sorrow and stress.

It takes a strong marriage to survive something like this … And one day James packed his bags, and walked away.

His wife was left alone to take care of their two kids. The fairy tale was over. There would be no happy ending.

But today, Priti works in a special needs centre. She counsels hurting parents who have children like her own. She offers them support, and she helps them to find courage. She helps them to keep going, and to find joy in the pain.

The journey you are on forges the person you become.

And Priti became someone who was beautiful and strong. A person with compassion who became a rock for others.   

“In the wounding you become the story that brings hope to others.” – Erwin McManus

Counter-Acting Trauma Lies

Below are some common trauma lies, and some ideas on how to reframe these thoughts so they’re more in line with reality.

1. The LIE: “There is no-one who is safe. There is no-one I can trust. I need to look out for myself – for I can only trust myself.”

The TRUTH: There are people in this world who are trustworthy and safe. They won’t deceive you. They won’t gaslight you. They won’t manipulate me. They won’t lie to you. With these individuals ‘what you see is what you get.’ The majority of people don’t want to hurt or harm you.

2. The LIE: “I need to keep my guard up in order to be safe. I can’t ever risk being open, or being vulnerable, again.”

The TRUTH: You will likely be more cautious if you’ve been traumatized, but you can learn to trust your instincts, and to be more vulnerable, with people who have shown you they are trustworthy and safe.

3. The LIE: “I need to stay alert, and be hyper-vigilant.”

The TRUTH: You will wear yourself out if you stay on high alert. Yes, you need to be aware of what is happening around you, but there are numerous situations where it’s OK to relax.

4. The LIE: “Sleeping isn’t safe as I can’t protect myself.”  

The TRUTH: The trauma’s in the past. It is over. You survived. It is healthy to sleep, and to renew your strength.   

5. The LIE: “Don’t be deceived: Things are never what they seem.”

The TRUTH: There will always be some tricksters and a few manipulators. But in most situations, there are no hidden agendas, and peoples’ intentions are genuine and sincere.   

6. The LIE: “I can’t trust my instincts or my intuition.”

The TRUTH: We can learn how to listen to our bodies again, and to notice those small clues that say ‘we need to be on guard.’  Your body and your brain are finely-tuned to pick up signs. With patience and with time you can trust yourself again. And it is wise and safe to choose to trust yourself.

7. The LIE: “I’m never going to recover, and live a normal life again.”

The TRUTH: Recovery is a journey – and it isn’t a straight road. You’lI have good times; you’ll have bad times. And it’s going to take time. The bad times are less frequent, and less scary, than before. You can see you’re making progress. You’re not in the same place.”  

“It’s okay if you thought you were over it but it hits you all over again. It’s okay to fall apart even after you thought you had it under control. You are not weak. Healing is messy. There is no timeline for healing.”

Want to Feel Excited About Life Again?

Sometimes is lasts for a day or two. Sometimes it lasts for weeks, or even months. That dull malaise which kills our motivation. That greyness which hangs over everything. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. When nothing is exciting, or inspiring, any more.

But despite how we feel, there are things that we can do to help us get unstuck, and to love our lives again. These include:

1.Travel, or go somewhere different or new – It’s amazing how a change of scenery can reignite our passion, and our love for life. Somehow, changing our environments shakes up our brain as well. We get in touch with our old self – and we feel re-energized.

2. Get out and meet new people; go and socialize again – We keep thinking the same thoughts, and we get stuck in the same grooves when we do the same things, with the same friends, all the time. 

So, we also need new friends who bring a new outlook on life. They’re ambitious. They have plans. There are things they want to do. And as we spend more time with them, we absorb that energy.

3. Pick up a new hobby, or sign up for a course – This will push you outside your comfort zone. And as we start to learn new skills, we start to feel more confident. Also, you may find you’re inspired to try other things as well.

4. Fill you time with things that add value to your life. Wasting lots of time on empty, pointless, boring things will drain your motivation, and will leave you feeling down.

So, start by saying “yes” to any opportunity that gives you a small boost, and adds value to your life.

 5. Give yourself permission to wave a magic wand – Allow yourself to dream, and to think outside the box. Perhaps the following questions can hep you with this:

If you could wave a magic wand over your life right now, and have the life you would like to have, what would that life look like?

How would you look?

What would you be doing?

How would you be feeling?

How would other people describe you?

What would they see that is different from the way things are today?”

“Darling, you deserve it all. You deserve love and peace and magic and joy dancing in your eyes. You deserve hearty, deep-belly laughter and the right to let those tears fall and water the soil. You deserve freedom and goodness and company and days of bliss and quiet too. You deserve you happy and healed and content and open. So keep going, darling. Keep going. Go realise into being the life you deserve.” – Unknown

Why We don’t Talk about our Trauma

“Own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamont

There are so many reasons why we keep it to ourselves. Why we choose not to talk about the things that we’ve been through. These include self-protection, feeling it is pointless, and because of messages we’ve picked up from our family.

Let’s break this down further ….

1. Self-Protection

Because it isn’t a safe thing to do.

Because we’re afraid of being judged, shamed, or attacked further.

Because we haven’t got the emotional reserves to deal with being judged, shamed, or attacked further.

Because we haven’t got the energy, or mental head space, to carefully explain our side of the story (and, if necessary, ‘argue our case’).

Because we don’t think people will believe us (or even want to believe us)

Because we don’t think people will empathize with either our perspective, or experience.

Because we think other people will spread gossip about us, or will derive great satisfaction from thinking we’re in pain.

2. It’s Pointless

Because we don’t think it would help (and it may even leave us feeling worse).

Because we know other people aren’t good at handling pain and suffering. They can’t deal with it in their own lives, and they certainly can’t deal with it in other peoples’ lives. So, they don’t want to know about our heartache or trauma.  

Because what we are going through is bigger than anything our friends have gone through (as far as we know). It’s beyond their experience and comprehension. They wouldn’t be able to put themselves in our shoes. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really help.

Because we have picked up the message that: ‘What we go through is irrelevant to others’. Sadly, it’s a fact that many people are narcissistic, and are completed focused on themselves. So they don’t really care about what’s happened to you.  

(Related to this) … Because we think there’s a reasonable chance that what we are sharing (which is huge to us) will be trivialized, downplayed, brushed aside – or ignored, by other people.    

3. It’s in our Script/ Messages we’ve Picked up from our Family

Because we grew up with the message that you don’t share your dirty laundry in public.

Because we’ve picked up the message that we must never talk about (or betray) our family in any way at all – even if they’ve treated us badly, or have seriously harmed and damaged us. The family’s reputation comes before our own – and is more important than our pain.  

Because we’ve picked up the message that our needs have been placed at the bottom of the heap; that we’re not the kind of people who are taken seriously, and so we can’t expect understanding and justice.

Because we’ve picked up the message that no-one wants to hear negative things or complaints. They only want to hear happy, positive things. (“When you laugh the world laughs with you; when you cry you cry alone.”)

Because we’ve learned that society expects us to bear our burdens alone. So, it’s weak or pathetic to need, or ask, for help.    

These are some of the most common reasons for keeping our heartache and trauma to ourselves. Perhaps there are reasons you can add to these – based on your personal experiences …