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The Forgotten "F" Word of Trauma Responses

Most of us are aware of the familiar trauma responses: fight, flight, or freeze, but there's a less familiar "F" word in trauma response. Fawning!

It is a coping mechanism that individuals may adopt when faced with a traumatic or overwhelming situation. Fawning is characterized by an excessive people-pleasing behavior, often driven by a deep-seated fear of conflict, rejection, or further harm.

Fawning is a trauma response that involves ingratiating oneself to others as a means of self-protection and emotional survival. It typically arises from experiences of trauma, abuse, or situations where an individual feels powerless or threatened. Here are some additional aspects of fawning:

  1. Appeasement: Fawning often involves excessively accommodating others to avoid conflict or potential harm. This can manifest as people-pleasing behavior, constant apologizing, or seeking validation and approval from others.

  2. Overriding Personal Boundaries: Those who fawn may have difficulty setting and maintaining personal boundaries. They may prioritize the needs and desires of others above their own, disregarding their own well-being in the process.

  3. Loss of Authenticity: Fawning can lead to a disconnection from one's authentic self. The focus on meeting others' expectations and avoiding conflict can cause individuals to suppress their true thoughts, feelings, and desires, leading to a loss of personal identity.

  4. Hypervigilance: Individuals who fawn may develop a heightened sensitivity to the emotions, reactions, and needs of others. They may constantly scan their environment for potential threats or signs of disapproval, which can contribute to anxiety and hyperarousal.

  5. Difficulty Saying No: Those who fawn may find it challenging to assert their own boundaries and say no to requests or demands. They may fear rejection, abandonment, or retaliation if they refuse others, leading to a pattern of overcommitting and overextending themselves.

  6. Codependency: Fawning can be closely linked to codependent behaviors, where individuals excessively rely on others for validation, self-worth, and a sense of identity. They may prioritize the needs of others to the detriment of their own well-being.

When someone has a fawning trauma response, they may prioritize the needs and wants of others over their own, suppress their own opinions or desires, and go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. They might become overly compliant, accommodating, or agreeable, even in situations where it is not in their best interest. This response is often an attempt to gain a sense of safety or avoid further harm by seeking the approval or validation of others.

Fawning can be especially prevalent in individuals who have experienced repeated or prolonged trauma, such as childhood abuse or ongoing interpersonal violence. It can become a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior and a way to navigate relationships and social interactions. However, it is important to note that fawning is not a conscious choice but rather a survival strategy developed as a response to trauma.

Recognizing fawning as a trauma response is crucial for understanding and supporting individuals who exhibit this behavior. It is important to create a safe and validating environment that encourages open communication, autonomy, and self-expression. It's important to note that while fawning can be an adaptive response in the face of trauma, it can also be harmful in the long run. It may perpetuate unhealthy dynamics in relationships, hinder personal growth, and contribute to a loss of self-esteem. Trauma-informed therapy or counseling can be beneficial in helping individuals process their experiences, develop healthy boundaries, and cultivate self-compassion.

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