Three plus one makes four
Originally, there were three trauma responses, fight, flight, and freeze, which occur based on the brain’s limbic system, which is the part of the brain wired to go into survival mode when faced with danger in the wild, like being attacked by a bear. Now, fawn has been added, or the idea of the appeaser or people-pleaser.
A fight response might look like picking up a weapon to fight off the attacking bear, for example. In a relationship, this might look like you coming back with an angry retort when a partner offends you, not backing down, being aggressive, name calling, etc.
In the wild, a flight response could be as simple as you running for your life away from an attacking bear. In a relationship, it could look like you leaving the room after an argument, being avoidant, burying yourself in work to avoid dealing with the situation at hand, engaging in substance abuse, etc. It could also manifest as being overly judgmental, needing perfectionism in oneself and others, and being chronically busy to avoid the intensity of an intimate relationship.
Exhibiting a freeze response might look like standing absolutely still in front of an attacking bear, waiting to see what it does and hoping it leaves you alone. A freeze response in a relationship could look like total solitude or abandoning hope that a relationship is possible.
The fawn response was coined by Pete Walker, a psychotherapist who specializes in survivors of complex childhood PTSD.
“[The 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.”
Fawning behavior can manifest as being appeasing or people-pleasing, but also having poor boundaries, being overly agreeable, trying not to take up space, ignoring personal needs, etc.
Coping with responses
- If it’s clear that these responses are occurring constantly, it may be time to seek out a trauma-informed therapist.
- Learning how to set personal boundaries can be helpful for some, as well as learning to say no. Episodes 178 and 227 cover boundaries.
- Meditation and relaxation can be helpful when you feel your trauma response beginning to manifest, as can self-soothing, like taking a hot bath, using a heating pad, putting an ice pack on your chest, or humming to yourself.
- R.A.I.N, or Recognize/Relax, Accept/Allow, Investigate, and Note/Not attach.
In both platonic and romantic relationships, the manifestation of these responses are often our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong, so it may be beneficial to explore why they keep happening.