fawn response, people pleasing, trauma

I’ve been digging deeper into the origins and consequences of trauma and how it impacts our nervous system lately, so I want to share what I’ve discovered so far. 

What is trauma?

Trauma is not just about the things that happened to us that should not have happened. It also includes what DIDN’T happen to us that should’ve happened. We may have been neglected physically or emotionally because our parents were unavailable, preoccupied, or chronically stressed. We may have missed out on childhood experiences because we were expected to take too much responsibility at a young age.

In response to threat, our bodies respond by protecting ourselves. Most of us are familiar with three classic responses – fight, flight and freeze. There is, however, a 4th response not often spoken about: the “fawn” response. When we are in an unsafe situation and a person feels like a threat, we may bend to their needs to protect ourselves. 

The fawn response


⁣Fawning is perhaps best understood as “people-pleasing.” According to Pete Walker, who coined the term “fawn” as it relates to trauma, people with the fawn response are so accommodating of others’ needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships. The fawn response its a learned behavioural response. Fawning behaviour is often an adaptation to having endured emotional abuse. ⁣⁣

For children, this can be defined as a need to be a “good kid” in order to escape mistreatment by an abusive or neglectful parent. As an adult, this means that in relationships you are consistently ignoring your own needs, values, and boundaries to conform to what you believe others expect of you.

Fawning may lead to..

  • feeling misunderstood or unseen by others.
  • turning anger inward into self-blame.
  • feeling guilty for saying “no”.
  • hiding parts of you, because of fear of being ‘disliked’.
  • feeling emotionally drained/overflowed.
  • compromising your needs to please others.
  • dissociating when feeling overwhelmed/in social situations.
  • trying to fit in (over belonging to yourself).
  • feeling ‘broken’/not aligned with yourself & your values.
  • afraid to share your truth.

How to overcome these trauma responses?

There is no quick-fix to healing trauma.

When our needs aren’t met, we conclude that we don’t matter and often feel shame and guilt about having needs. We learn this from our parents, who learned it from their parents, and they from their parents … this is how intergenerational trauma is passed down.⁣

We need to take the risk of being vulnerable. Vulnerable enough to state and ask for what we need, as adults. Can we expect children to do this? No. Children need to learn this skill and right from us.⁣

Accepting that we are human and that needs don’t end when we reach adulthood is really important. As is watching our language around the shaming of needs; terms like clingy, needy etc. Interdependence is not the same as codependence. The denial of needs only causes them to resurface in unhealthy ways.⁣

If you want to learn more about how you can unhook from these trauma responses, I invite you to have look at my 1:1 coaching offerings by clicking HERE.

May you always remember


⁣”Trauma is not what happens to you, trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you.” Dr. Gabor Mate. Trauma changes our perception, we become threat seeking, so be compassionate with yourself. 

As you begin (or continue) your healing journey, there are a few things I want you to know:

You deserve to take up space.
You are enough just as you are.
Healing is possible and you deserve to heal.

Keep on going on!

🧡

Nila

*Disclaimer: Although my approach is trauma-informed (and I have my own history with trauma), I am not a trained professional.

Ps: If you are looking for a simple, yet effective, tool to cultivate a more nourishing and loving relationship with yourself, feel free to have a look at the GOOD LIFE Journal that I created for people like me and you 🕊

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