THE FAWN RESPONSE: THE ORIGINS OF PEOPLE PLEASING | 2.16.2022
In this episode, Kristen talks about the origin of people pleasing and how it has come to be known as The Fawn Response.
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Welcome to this week's close the chapter podcast. Thank you a million times over for joining me today I'm happy you're here, we are going to be talking about a survival response that I work with often. In my practice with clients, I see it in my own life. I see it with others. And it's something we don't talk about very often. I have talked about it on this podcast, but I haven't taken a deeper dive into the topic. We are going to be talking about the fawn response, think of a deer in a deer in headlights, and we're gonna be diving deeper into fawn, there's fight-flight freeze, or fawn, when we're in survival states and there's not a lot being discussed on the fawn response. It's really about people-pleasing and codependency. So you're gonna want to listen to the entire episode is we're going to give you signs to look for in ways to work through it. So hang in there because this is going to be hopefully a transformational episode. And as always, I invite you to do self-reflection. Get your journals out, take some time to take some deep breaths and get centred for our conversation today. And I would love for you to join our community. First get on the mailing list at kristendboice.com/slash/free resources, and you will get a free healing guide emailed to you. You'll also get the latest and greatest episodes as well as any upcoming events programmes, offerings, other podcasts I'm on. So I would love to have you on the mailing list. It comes out every week. And also joining us on social media at Kristen D Boice. On Instagram and Facebook. And follow along. Feel free to tag us take photos of the episodes you love give us feedback. You can always rate review and subscribe the podcast that's how other people find us. I am on a mission to help people find themselves to feel free to be themselves and fawning is really an important topic because we are not feeling free inside. To be ourselves. We think we have to please others in order to gain worth in value. I've done a lot of research for this episode, so I hope it's impactful. Let's dive in. The first thing I want to say is a healthy adult relationship requires the two people involved create relational environment that is reciprocal, truthful, respectful, and interdependent. If you're a foreigner you may have not been sure if you were loved and accepted as a child. So you learn to meet the needs of others and appease them to prove your worth and value. If you identify as being highly sensitive, intuitive, or an empath, you may tend to avoid conflict as much as possible and will deny your truth and an attempt to make those you feel dependent upon or care about comfortable. So it's really important to really digest this okay, although you might easily stand up for others you may find it difficult, even impossible to stand up for yourself when being mistreated by others, including your family, you may instead seek to appease those who treat you badly as a means of avoiding conflict, or even deny the sad truth of your situation altogether. But, but in reality, fawning and maladaptive coping behaviours serve, no one in the end. So that's our little intro to this episode. Because what I see as somewhat of a epidemic in terms of keeping you stuck and leading to anxiety and depression is fawning. Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn can lead us down to the same path, their trauma responses, so let's dive into fawning.
As a survival response, the fawn response is an instinctual response mean meaning its intuitive, associated with the need to avoid conflict and trauma by pleasing other people by appeasing them. For children. fawning behaviours can be maladaptive survival or coping responses, which developed as a means of coping with non nurturing. And what I mean by non nurturing it's kind of emotionally distant, cut off, disconnected, walls up, stuck, victim mentality type parents are abusive parents. Again, we're not blaming them. We're just understanding the roots We're fawning develops, and psychotherapist and complex trauma expert Pete Walker. He's the one that coined the term fawn response to describe a specific type of instinctive response resulting from childhood abuse in complex trauma. In his discussion on fawning. Walker asserts that trauma-based codependency is learned very early in life, when a child gives up protesting abuse to avoid parental retaliation, thereby relinquishing the ability to say no, and behave assertively to kind of stop behaving with a voice. This results in the repression of the trauma associated fight response. So you you repress this instinct to fight or have a voice, and you condition to pretty much out of that and into the fawn response.
Okay, the next question we're going to bring up is how can I tell if I'm a fawner? Let's jump into that. Okay. Fawners are typically individuals who were raised in a dysfunctional or abusive family system, which they were trained by their primary caregivers to repress and deny their feelings, thoughts and needs. Children learn early on in life that their true self expressions and natural impulses are not acceptable to those they depend on for survival, and that their self worth must be extracted from those around them, and a never-ending quest to feel okay. accepted, valued and loved. If you're a foreigner, sometimes referred to as people pleaser codependent, you are likely seeking validation from others that you are acceptable and worthy of being liked or loved. You can be so other focused and a mesh that you may have no idea what you actually feel, think want or need. If you identify as being a foreigner, you may be engaging in people-pleasing behaviours to avoid conflict as much as possible. In your interactions with others, you will deny your truth in an attempt to make those around you feel dependent upon cared of or care about. You want to be comfortable, here's the bottom line of this. You want to be comfortable. You don't want to feel uncomfortable, you don't want the threat of conflict because in childhood, you learned that that dysregulated your nervous system, and it wasn't worth it. As someone with a fawning trauma response you may do anything you can to keep the peace even if that means abandoning yourself by repressive repressing your preferences, thoughts and needs, which in turn deprives you of the ability to negotiate on matters important to you, whether personal or professional, you may be so focused on tending to the wants and needs of those around you that you have lost touch with who you are at the most basic level, to the point where you might be feeling depleted, angry and exhausted and burned out much of the time without ever realising it is because of your chronic trauma response and people-pleasing ways because you did not experience yourself as lovable by your primary caregivers. When you are loved young, perhaps you may be intent on caretaking and helping others to prove that you are valuable. Okay, so let's jump into more signs that you may be a foreigner. And these are some that are hard to acknowledge for people. Some examples of fawning might look like pursuing a certain career to please your parents, not speaking up about your restaurant preferences when choosing where to go for dinner. You'll say No, I don't care when really you do care missing work so that you can look after your partner's needs. Giving complements to an abuser or emotionally unavailable person partner to appease them. at your own expense. The fawn response is not to be confused with demonstrating selflessness, kindness or compassion. It's a survival response. So what are the signs of a fawn response? Here are some of the signs you did not have to have all these. This is just to start getting curious about your self-protection, survival states and that's how we begin to disrupt them is awareness. So here's some of the signs. We already identified. Pushing down your own needs. Finding authentic and real expression of yourself very challenging. You're afraid of not being liked. You're afraid of conflict. You're afraid of people thinking less of you. You want to fly under the radar. You Want to just kind of not you'll must want to be invisible even though the invisibility brings you loneliness, having trouble saying no, you typically will say yes. When you really mean no, because you're so afraid of not being liked and loved over apologising, you will say, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, a million times over. And that is to try to self soothe because when you say no, you feel guilt and shame and you're afraid, people will think differently of you holding back opinions or preferences that might seem controversial. That's the last thing you want to do is trigger anybody, even though you're not triggering the person that triggers already inside that person. Maybe you're experiencing chronic pain or illness, having depression that's linked to trauma and unprocessed childhood. emotional neglect, trouble with personal boundaries, assuming responsibility for the emotional reactions, and responses and feelings of others. It's one thing to acknowledge someone's feelings, it's a totally different thing when you feel responsible for how the other person feels, fixing or rescuing people from their problems. Instead of walking alongside them, you want to fix and rescue it, rescue them so you have worth in value, attempting to control others choices to mantain a sense of emotional safety. denying your own discomfort, complaints, pains, needs and wants you totally dismiss, bypass deny any of your own needs, and change your preferences to align with others and kind of being a chameleon at times. In children displaying a fawn response may display intense worry about a caregivers well being or spend significant amounts of time looking after a caregivers emotional needs. They may also be overly careful about how they interact with their caregivers. It's like they're walking on eggshells. Okay, becoming aware of your actions is one of the most important elements to discovering your fawn response and to disrupting it. Noticing your patterns of fawning is the first step. When you might think that you are in a fawn response. Let's try asking yourself, Am I saying? Or doing this to please someone else? And is it at my own expense? Am I saying or doing this to please someone else? And is it at my own expense? Is there a cost? hi to me? Do my actions right now align with my personal values? Are you abandoning yourself? Are you abandoning what you believe and what you stand for? Are you not in integrity with yourself? Are you being real and truthful and authentic? Or are you taking actions for someone else's benefit? When you notice that you're falling into pattern of people-pleasing, try to really take a deep breath. And think about how you truly, really feel. This is so important.
In when we can start acknowledging your emotions, your thoughts, your opinions, we can start stepping more into your worth value and become empowered. This takes a lot of pausing, deep breathing, and the willingness to sit with discomfort. The willingness to sit with your sadness and your grief and your fear of what people think of you. I'm getting teary eyed even thinking about this because it takes so much courage to step into vulnerability. And exploring this pattern. Your willingness to explore this pattern is life changing. I promise you I know it's scary. When you do this work, you're gonna change your life. And chances are if you're a foreigner, you're passing this down to your children. You're not able to tolerate their anger, their sadness, their grief, their fear, their disgust. You're wanting them to be people pleasers, you're wanting them to belong you're wanting them to fit in and you're recreating the same font response and then so now's the time, now is the time to take radical ownership of this pattern. We don't need to own What was done to us as children, that's not ours to own. What we do want to own is now our own feelings in response to what happened to us in the past. And what we do know is people experiencing the fawn response to trauma may have grown up having their feelings invalidated by their caregivers. And that's what I'm imploring you to break, and not recreate in your own with your own children, because you can't tolerate their truth that may be different than yours. And there's some hard truths that our children will tell us, let me tell you, my kids tell me her truth. And it is rough. It takes me into my shame and not feeling good enough. And like I'm a terrible parent, and I have to nurture and soothe myself through it, or I'm going to put them I'm going to put the responsibility on them to make me feel better. And believe me, I've seen them try to do that. They're like, sorry, Mom, I didn't mean to hurt you. And I'm like, oh, and that's not that that's not okay. They can own. If they have sent something unkind for them to own that that is totally helpful. It's when they didn't do anything, and I'm taking offence to it because it hit my shame. And that's on me. So here's some examples of how you can start acknowledging and nurturing yourself through the shame. So you're not invalidating your children. You're not bypassing dismissing minimising or rationalising, or denying how they really feel you have to be able to handle and tolerate your own emotions, or you're not going to tolerate your children's. So if you can't tolerate your own grief, you'll have a hard time being there for your kids, because you'll be so mired in your own grief. Because you have to tend to your own emotions. So you contend to your children's emotions, if you're not tending to your emotions, it's going to be too much. When they have big emotions, you won't be able to tolerate it, you won't be able to handle it. And it'll become about you in your emotions rather than them in their emotions, even adult children. If you have adult children, this still applies. It's still a parent's job. I realise it changes and evolves through the developmental cycle. But it's still our job as parents to be the listener to be emotionally available and acknowledge. They're not here to caretake us. They're not that's not their job. Is it nice that they have emotional intelligence, if you've really worked on letting them have their feelings and expressing them and owning them, and they're able to take radical ownership for their own behaviour, thoughts and emotions, then you're probably going to have a really pretty healthy dynamic because you can tolerate when they tell you something that hurts you, that hurt your feelings. So here's some examples of validating yourself. Despite what hurtful things people say, I know I am valuable.
This is something I want you to say to yourself. It's okay for me to have my own feelings. And sweetie, take a deep breath. And I love you. Another thing, I'm going to be patient with myself, as I grow, heal and learn. I'm going to be patient with myself. What happened to me was really hard. And I acknowledge how challenging it has been for me to face. I am willing to heal and be open to the process. I am being courageous by trying to lean into my discomfort and even try something new. I'm willing to take radical ownership for my part. And my reactions I'm willing to get uncomfortable even though I'm scared these are really really powerful words to say to yourself and it's okay to feel sad right now. Using the words it's okay and right now allows you to release the emotion so they're not pushed down into your nervous system. Here's the other thing I really want to and encourage you with It's crucial. It's critical that you explore the roots of your appeasing over accommodating behaviours to determine if they might actually be a manifestation of unresolved complex trauma. And if that's the case, you will need to get help. I really believe EMDR and you've heard me talk about this. There's lots of episodes about EMDR eye movement, desensitisation reprocessing therapy, it's been around decades, three decades now. It's empirically researched. And I've done it my own life. I all my team at pathways to healing counselling is also EMDR trained. There's wonderful clinicians all over the world. And then brain spotting is also which was an offshoot of EMDR another modality to help with the fight flight freeze or fawn response. If you're a fighter in your family system, and you go to fight and criticism and contempt that will kill your relationships. If you are a freezer, and you Stonewall, if you're a FLIR and you withdraw, or you fawn and you people, please and you're codependent, these are all unhealthy relational dynamics. Now, do we all have tendencies to do these things? fight flight, freeze or fawn? Yes. Because we're human beings, and we have this survival instinct built in, which is very helpful. It can really help us get through hard things. And when you're a foreigner, you really hope that by caring for other people that might care for you back, you might never have been able to show your true feelings of fear of retaliation, you might feel like you had always have to walk on eggshells. And you never knew when your parents would explode. You had a shape shift, make shift yourself, depending on the other person's mood. And you bypass your own needs, in your identity, to attend to others. And that's what makes it so hard for you to set boundaries. So by becoming aware of your emotions, validating and acknowledging your unmet needs, and developing boundaries is critical. And in working through this. And it's not easy, it is not easy. What I'm asking you to do is a journey. And you have to be gentle with yourself in the process. It's one of the most important things I can tell you. Sometimes we take 10 steps forward 20 steps back, and let me tell you a story that happened recently.
I got to give you a high level summary because there's so many details. The main part of it was I got triggered in fear of what people would think of me doing this podcast is so vulnerable. And sharing personal stories for me is vulnerability, because what it is, is telling the truth about all the parts of myself, my history, my story, and that can be scary. Because of the font response, I have been a foreigner, I can also be a free flyer. I can be a fighter. I mean, we can have all these responses. But when I look at not my family system, necessarily other people like strangers. And what they think of me is a journey that I'm currently on. And the courage to be disliked is where it's at. Now. I have to accept all the parts of myself. That is the most important journey I'm on. Because I'm breaking generational cycles. My mom struggled with accepting herself. She didn't feel good about herself. She was riddled with shame. She felt abandoned. A lot of times her father travelled all over the world speaking and she felt abandoned emotionally. And then her mom struggled when the dad laughed. Her dad laughed. And it was it had left her feeling unworthy unlovable that she didn't matter and it was something I picked up and felt like I needed to care take her and I carried that with me in a lot of relationships and still work through it. And that's my love therapy, because you can hit the inner child parts that are so necessary in healing so I was working with this part of myself I had felt like I might have Somebody in this is a fear based on my childhood that if I speak true, someone's going to get upset with me. And you know, this cancel culture where people really get triggered started me thinking, wow, that could happen to me. That could happen anybody? If one misstep, one mistake, and what I realised is I had to go back and ask myself, How old do I feel? How old do I feel? And it took me back to my first grade self. And I've talked about this memory on the podcast, and you think, Oh, I work through this. You never know when it's gonna come up. And when you're self aware, the beautiful part is you can work through this and have more insight in the ability to nurture yourself through it. Now, did it take me a while to get there? Yes, I had a little bit of a meltdown is what I would call it. I was exhausted. I had a little bit of a meltdown. Re centred, regrouped, took some deep breaths, because guess what, we all have meltdowns in different ways. And if you're not having a meltdown, um, I'm wondering what you're repressing that's metastasizing. Because you've got to give yourself some grace. Here's the thing. There's no such thing as a perfect person, parent, human, boss, son, daughter, parent, it just doesn't exist. So I had to give myself so much grace and compassion said so much shame and guilt, that I was dysregulated because I worked so much on keeping regulated. And I was trying to figure out what is going on in the middle of the night. I had my memory of being on the bus and first grade, we're going on a field trip, and nobody would sit with me on the bus. Nobody would sit with me on the bus. And I remember feeling like what is wrong with me, nobody likes me. I am ugly, I am stupid. I am name all the things. And my mom was going on the field trip that day was like the one field trip she went on, which was such a miracle, because she was able to see that I was so upset. I was like, nobody likes me, I have no friends. And my mom said, I'll sit with you, honey, and she hugged me. And she acknowledged me. And as soon as like that memory, and this is just a memory, this can be one moment in your life. It can be years of your life. But this particular memory made me realise that, oh, that feeling of feeling lonely, and not good enough, has stuck. At some level at some points. Like, I don't always feel like that. But if I get triggered by something, or feel anxious, a lot of times the anxiety is built on what other people think. And if I'm honest with myself, and know that about myself that I can work through that trigger. So I breathe, I took several deep breaths. This took me a while I had to come back to the breath. That's why meditation can be so transformative. And practising breathing every hour, four to five to six breaths. Coming back to the breath is how you recenter and reground. Now, did I come back to the breath right away? Heck no. We're doing such a disservice to Oh, yes, I just took 10 deep breaths and I was fine. No, I was on the struggle, train. I was just not really coming back to centre. Because I was tired. I was up late the night before I got up early the next day. And so I was fatigued. And so that that prefrontal cortex that executive functioning was it kicking in, I finally got myself regulated and put myself to bed because that's the first thing I wasn't able to. I did talk about it, which helped I totally talked about it with my husband and, and owned my dysregulation. And then I put myself to bed woke up in the middle of the night with that memory. And then the next day I got up early. I prayed. I did my breathing. I wrote in my journal about that memory, and how it connected to my present day reactivity. How did it connect to my dysregulation that I felt in this moment? That's why understanding your fawn response is imperative. When you're doing that when you're in a fight, flight freeze or fawn response, writing it out and having an insight talking it through EMDR brain spotting, meditation, walking, being in nature, listening to music, whatever that looks like or a combination thereof. I had to get still though I had a sit with those feelings. I had a nurture my inner child and go, Oh, honey, that you there was nothing wrong with you sweetheart. There was nothing wrong with you. And it's hard to believe that. But I look at my first grader self and I'm like, Oh sweetie, there was You're so sweet. You're loving, I was a very, I look back at my first grade self and I was very loving. I was very kind and warm. And so I can look at her and love her and acknowledge her. That's that inner child work that is so powerful. So nurturing myself through it is one of the most important practices I have in my life. So let's talk about healing the fawn response, because what you're doing the following response is disconnected from your own emotions, body sensations. Therefore, it's important to practice listening to your body as a way to come back home to yourself, which is what I had to do. I had to come back into my body, I could feel it my stomach, I could feel the shortness of breath, I wasn't regulated, and had to come back into my body which was my feet and my breath to get re centred. Accessing your inner wisdom involves connecting with your body knowing and pausing to connect. And when you start reconnecting, ask yourself what does my body want me to know? What does my body and what do my emotions want me to know?
And a fawn response can make it difficult to hear your own truth journaling can help you hear your voice. That is why I love journaling. So that you can access your truth, your inner wisdom, you can give yourself permission to express what's really going on in the inside and tell the truth on the page. And explore incomplete conversations or unfinished business from our childhood by journaling about it. So here are some questions, okay, that I want you to write down to start your healing journey. And you're going to need to do some reflections, you're gonna feel your feet on the floor, you're gonna take several deep breaths. And you're gonna think about floating back on when you learn this fawn response. And I want you to write these prompts to here's the first prompt when you hurt me, I felt because you didn't get to process your thoughts, feelings and body sensations in real time. The worst thing that you said or did was what I was most afraid of was this is because you didn't have a voice. And I want you to practice saying out loud. A lot of times I want you to say it out loud. What I wish I had said to you then, but never told you was what you could never take from me is I know that I'm courageous. Because what I want you to know about me now is
I want you to also understand something that I want to make sure I say because those journal prompts, if they're too much, skip them and do them with your therapist. Because this really is something that I want you to feel regulated through Well, I realise this could be very dysregulated and I want you to come back into your feet into your breath into your body. Here's one thing I want to say about the fawn response and attachment work with your primary caregiver with your parents. Children who are abused are faced with conflict between their need to flee a dangerous situation and their need to attach to their caregivers. We are biologically driven to form an attachment to a parent or a caregiver, even when they also are a source of critical shaming and neglectful and abusive behaviours. Since children have no way to escape an abusive household, they need to make the dangerous environment tolerable. This requires a profound dissociative split, meaning you leave parts of yourself between the part of the self that upholds the attachment to the caregiver, and the part that holds the reality of the abuse. Often the latter part has to be cut off in order for you to survive. Dissociative symptoms often continue into adulthood in order to avoid remembering or acknowledging abuse. When relying upon a fawn response children take care of a parent by restricting expressions of anger or distress In the hope that doing so will reduce the likelihood of further neglect or abuse. And that can be an emotional neglect and medications. For many occasions in cases children will then turn their neglected and negative feelings towards themselves. As a result, the anger fuels self-criticism, self-loathing and self-harming behaviours. And adulthood, this process can evolve into depression, and somatic symptoms of pain and illness. The reason I wanted to go back and say that piece was because and that was taken from an article by Ariel Schwartz called the fawn response and complex, complex PTSD. That's in complex cases, fawn response isn't always to that degree, I wanted to point that out, that's an only complex cases, we all of this is in varying degrees, I think of everything as a continuum, from all the time, severe, to the other side of the continuum. So I want to make sure that's clear when we're looking at the fawn response. And the reason I wanted to add that in is because I wanted you to know that you were still trying to maintain connection with your parents. And that's how you did it was through the fawn response. So here's my encouragement to you. This can totally be worked on, it's about valuing yourself, and nurturing your inner child parts that want to feel lovable, that want to feel liked, that want to feel worthy, that want to feel valuable, that want to feel important, and that you matter, and you're going to work on giving that to yourself first. And then other relationships are icing on the cake. You're giving it to yourself, first by nurturing that little girl or little boy or little person inside of you a little soul inside of you. Whatever that whatever, whoever that is, to know you have worth and value no matter what. And it takes you rumbling through your triggers and your survival responses. In order to have that insight to know what's going on within. There's nothing more valuable than tending to those parts. So you can stop the cycle and not make it anybody else's responsibility. Now as an adult to caretake you emotionally. They can walk alongside you, they can acknowledge you they can offer empathy and compassion, but they can't fix rescuer save you. They can't be the parent that you didn't have. They can't fill these unmet needs. We all have needs, and we can communicate those. But we can't make someone make us feel better. That's icing on the cake. We have to do that for ourselves. And there's nothing more empowering than you doing it for yourself, I promise you. So a couple of books that I recommend on this topic, not the fawn topic. There's not a lot of books on the fawn topic. There are books on healing the inner child and one of my favourites is John Bradshaw's homecoming.
And I know a lot of people, a lot of men in particular, like healing the shame that bind Jill. And it's about taking a deeper dive into your inner child work. It's worth it. And it's a journey. I'll be doing this for the rest of my life. Now have I worked through a lot of the traumas with EMDR and brainspotting? Yes. And when I feel like my intensity has increased or my reactivity has, I take it upon myself to do my own work and go to my therapist. And I journal and I do my deep breathing, and I still have stuff come up. So just know you're not alone. And that makes you human. And what a beautiful part of you that says you know what? I'm going to attend to that so I don't keep passing it along. Good for you. I'm so proud of you. I am so proud of you. I am so thankful you're on this journey of healing. And I want you to be able to access more fun and more joy and we're in survival responses. We're not accessing any fun or joy. We're we've stifled parts of ourselves. We've split off from our truth. And I want the truth to set you free so you can be who you are. I always like the book it's not always depression by Dr. Hilary Jacobs handle. It's on emotions. There's so many books but those are the three that I would start with John Bradshaw Dr. John Bradshaw's work is pioneering he is no longer with us but he really started a lot of the shame work And then Dr. Brene, browns work also, she has a new book called Atlas of the heart that is very good. It's about languaging your emotions. And you know, I'm all about languaging the emotions and taking responsibility for him and working through them. Thank you so much for being here. Let me know what was most helpful in this episode. And what you want to have a conversation about. I love diving into this, you can join the close the chapter Facebook group, and just know that I'm so proud of you. I know I keep saying it. I can't say it enough. And you need to hear that because somebody needs to tell you the truth. The fact that you're doing this work shows so much about your willingness to take a look at some of the hard parts of yourself and your journey and your story. I love you. I'm grateful for you. And I'll see you next week.
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