Addition to The Fight, Flight or Freeze Framework


Difficulty saying ‘no’, afraid to say what you really feel, and denying your own needs – these are all signs of the tawny response.

Have you ever been too preoccupied with the needs and emotions of others instead of your own? This can be a traumatic response known as a fawn.

You’ve probably heard of other traumatic reactions like fight, flight, and freeze. These can arise when you are faced with an emotionally or physically dangerous situation. Less well known is the fawn’s response to trauma, but it can also be common.

The fawn response is “a response to a threat by becoming more attractive to the threat,” wrote registered psychotherapist Pete Walker, MA, a marriage and family therapist who coined the term fawn, in his book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Prosper. “

Fawning refers to the constant abandonment of your own needs to serve others in order to avoid conflict, criticism, or disapproval. Flattery is also referred to as the “please and appease” response and is associated with person satisfaction and codependency.

“Wild types seek security by merging with the wants, needs and demands of others. They act as if they subconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the loss of all of their needs, rights, preferences and limitations, ”Walker writes.

Research from 2020 found that trauma can impact personality traits such as pleasantness, emotionality, and neuroticism – all qualities that influence our relationships with others and our relationships.

Why do people go in the fawn response?

The aforementioned study, published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, also found a relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the way a person handles stress.

In the context of a potentially dysfunctional bond with a spouse or parent, attempting to manage stress can, at a basic level, result in your personality adjusting to meet the needs of your loved one, often to the detriment of you- same.

Trauma is often the cause of the fawn’s response.

Research from 1999 found that codependency can develop as a child grows up in an environment based on shame and has to take on certain parenting roles, known as parentification.

Examples of shaping might look like:

  • pursue a certain career mainly to please one’s parents
  • not talk about your restaurant preferences when choosing where to dine
  • lack of work so you can take care of your partner’s needs
  • complimenting an abuser to appease him, although this is at your own expense

The fawn response should not be confused with showing selflessness, kindness or compassion. Half-mast-like behavior is complex, and although it is linked to trauma, it can also be influenced by several factors including gender, sexuality, culture and race.

The tawny response is most often associated with childhood trauma and complex trauma – types of trauma resulting from repeated events, such as childhood abuse or neglect – rather than a one-time trauma, such as an accident.

The fawn is particularly linked to relationship trauma or trauma that has occurred in the context of a relationship, such as your relationship with a parent or caregiver.

Some signs of release include:

  • stifle your own needs
  • finding authentic self-expression difficult
  • fly under the radar
  • have a hard time saying “no”
  • to apologize excessively
  • withhold opinions or preferences that may seem controversial
  • experience chronic pain or illness
  • having depression, which may be related to trauma
  • problem with personal boundaries
  • take responsibility for the emotional reactions and responses of others
  • fix or save people from their problems
  • trying to control the choices of others to maintain a sense of emotional security
  • deny your own discomfort, complaints, pain, needs and wants
  • change your preferences to align with others

Children displaying a tawny response may exhibit intense concern for the well-being of a caregiver or spend a significant amount of time dealing with the emotional needs of a caregiver. They may also be overly cautious about how they interact with caregivers.

Recovery from traumatic responses such as parturition is possible.

By becoming aware of your habits and educating yourself about your behavior, you can find freedom regarding pleasurable and co-dependent behaviors. Here are some suggestions:

Become aware of your actions

Noticing your showcasing habits is a valuable step in overcoming them. When you think you are having sex, try to ask yourself:

  • Am I saying / doing this to please someone else? And is it at my expense?
  • Do my actions at the moment correspond to my personal values?
  • Am I genuine or am I taking action for someone else’s sake?

When you notice that you are falling into a tendency to please people, try to gently push yourself to think about what your genuine words / actions would be like.

Validate your experiences and feelings

People experiencing the tawny reaction to trauma may have grown up seeing their feelings invalidated by their caregivers. To help reverse this experience and reprogram your thoughts, knowing how to validate your thoughts and experiences can be helpful.

Here are some examples of validating yourself:

  • “Despite what my scathing critics say, I know I am doing valuable work.”
  • “I will be patient with myself as I grow and heal. “
  • “What happened to me was really hard. I recognize the challenges I face.
  • “I am brave in trying something new. “

Building healthy relationships

When you’re in fawn mode, your relationships can be one-sided. If you have met the needs of others, your own needs may not be met.

Building satisfying and mutually rewarding relationships can take time. Benefits of social support include the ability to help manage stress and facilitate healing from conditions such as PTSD, according to a 2008 article.

Presenting yourself differently in relationships may require setting limits or limiting contact with people who don’t meet your needs.

Value yourself

People who engage in pleasant behaviors may have built an identity around being likable. It can therefore be liberating to build one’s self-esteem apart from the approval of others. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • pursue your personal goals and dreams
  • practicing hobbies that make you happy, even if they aren’t your friends or partners’ favorite things
  • accept that not everyone will approve of you
  • make a list of your positive traits that have nothing to do with others

When you have a habit of putting others first, it is a courageous step to put yourself first. You can be proud of your commitment to this slow change in reprogramming your responses to past traumas, such as tendencies to flatter or please others.

Analyzing your behavior can be uncomfortable and difficult. Honoring and acknowledging your willingness to examine yourself and your history of trauma is essential in the pursuit of an emotionally healthier life.


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