S3 E13

“…everything that I teach, I can only teach if I’ve experienced it. So I am so well experienced in the Fawning response, like incredibly. So when I learned about it, it was this kind of mind blowing moment for me of, ‘oh, this thing that I’ve been doing my whole life has a name and there’s a purpose’. And a lot of shame and guilt, and even embarrassment, faded away.” -Luis Mojica, Founder of Holistic Life Navigation

Have you ever witnessed yourself Fawning in real time? Does your body tense up when someone tells you to be gentle with yourself? Do you associate pleasure with shame or guilt? 

Our exploration of how the attachment wound impacts the nervous system and overall health continues this week from a somatic perspective. Recently, Elisabeth was profoundly moved by the work of Somatic Practitioner Luis Mojica, who she found on Instagram. 

When she heard his brilliant teachings about how trauma responses show up in the body and relationships, she was compelled to invite him on to the show for deep discussion about Fawn and Sexual Fawn from a somatic perspective. We are honored that he joined us to talk about this complex topic. We felt so warm and open in Luis’ gentle, compassionate Presence. We hope you feel it in this episode, too.

Luis views the Fawn response as the body’s reflexive way to belong with other bodies. His wise somatic perspective on the nuances of the Fawn and Sexual Fawn trauma responses depersonalizes them. This understanding opens up a whole new way to relate to yourself in moments of Fawn and offers a freedom from the shame and guilt that come with reflexive trauma responses. It’s a beautiful compliment to Neuro Somatic Intelligence work. 

Experience working with Luis as he guides you to witness Fawn by noticing where you feel constriction in your body. Then he offers different ways to practice pausing in your life, to embody the sensation with self-compassion, regulate the nervous system and build trust with the body. This is a beautiful, gentle practice to begin freeing yourself from Fawn.

Also, we revisit the concept of Fawning as “quiet manipulation” from episode 5 with Margy. Elisabeth felt uncomfortable with that label after reading one of Luis’s Instagram posts. Luis reframes lying, clearing her discomfort and opening the door to deeper compassion for others.

As always, we share our personal stories to give you real life examples. Jennifer talks about her journey of celibacy. She attributes Luis’s teachings to taking her healing journey beyond attachment style into healing the coupling of shame and pleasure that came from early adverse childhood sexual experiences.

We hope you find this episode freeing and inspiring. We invite you to join us on the site to train your nervous system with us live for 2 weeks at no charge. Go to rewiretrial.com to get started. We look forward to seeing you there! 

Episode Highlights:

  • Luis explains over-coupling in relation to Fawn & Sexual Fawn
  • How early childhood development experiences shape our arousal patterns
  • Connection of Fawn with shame and Freeze
  • Definition of Sexual Fawn
  • How Sexual Fawning can compound the damage of sexual trauma in consensual, loving relationships
  • The tangible effect that triggers have on brain function
  • Importance of recognizing body sensations
  • Biology of arousal and how it can affect people with complex trauma
  • The protective response of “bracing” in the body
  • Unconscious lies of Sexual Fawn
  • Complexities of navigating sexual activation in the context of trauma responses
  • Importance of honoring your capacity as you gain awareness of Fawn and Sexual Fawn
  • How to build your capacity for joy

Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE


[00:00:00] Elisabeth: Today we’re joined with Luis Mojica, who teaches people how to release stress and trauma through listening to their bodies. He’s an incredible somatics practitioner that we found through Instagram. And hearing his brilliant teachings and the way that he looks at our different responses relationally and how they show up in the body has really impacted me and how I view the nervous system’s response to Fawn response particularly. And that’s what we’re gonna dive into today, talking about Fawn response and Sexual Fawning. 

[00:00:36] Jennifer: I’m really excited to sit with Luis today because this is someone who, in our space of the way that you and I understand and communicate trauma and somatics and how trauma lives in the body, Luis shares a very similar knowing as we do and Sexual Fawning isn’t something that even came into my realm until Luis did. And so I’m very excited to sit with his nervous system today and to just be with him and connect.

[00:01:07] We’ve explored Fawn together before on the podcast. We recorded its own episode and understanding how this threat response has impacted the two of us and how it has driven so much of our behaviors. In that conversation we set it up so well for people to understand it. I feel like Fawn is the reflexive trauma response that gets the most personality credit as being the people pleaser.

[00:01:43] Elisabeth: Absolutely. It’s been really interesting for me to actually connect to Luis through Instagram and see the powerful insights that are there on that account about Fawning and Sexual Fawning. Like you said, I wasn’t even very aware of Sexual Fawning until reading some of those insights. I feel like it’s such a beautiful compliment to applied neurology and to Neuro Somatic Intelligence because as I work with my nervous system, now that I have these understandings, I’m able to begin to create the capacity to create change and to really engage in some of these powerful somatic practices that can release what’s stored in my body and and create new behavior, because I’m also working intentionally with my nervous system on a regular basis to heal my deficits and create a more resilient system because some of this stuff is big.

[00:02:43] Jennifer: This is a very big conversation. And like you said, so much of NSI has really helped me to develop Presence and Embodiment and whole body sovereignty. In that sovereignty, that safety of my sovereignty, I can witness myself in Fawn in real time because I can regulate my nervous system in real time. I have the tools, I have the altitude of witnessing myself. I can really choose a new way of being or remove myself from a situation. As you’re going to hear, Luis talks us through one of his practices to witness Fawn and how one of us might engage in Fawn, and being able to see how that begins to show itself moments before we actually engage.

[00:03:34] This is something that you and I talk about a lot, when does the threat happen? Does it happen at the thought of the person coming into the frame of your picture? Does it happen later when you’re in the Presence of the nervous system? At what point does that neuro tag get triggered for that reflexive automatic trauma response that has really big emotional responses in it as well that are all tied back to our early development and how we’re conditioned.

[00:04:09] Elisabeth: Yep. Then how we can use Neuro Somatic tools to be able to feel those signals in our body and to engage in that awareness and understanding of ourselves. So I am very excited to jump into this conversation with Luis, the Founder of Holistic Life Navigation. 

[00:04:27] Jennifer: Yes, y’all. Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body, and what you can do to heal. I’m Jennifer Wallace, I am a Neuro Somatic Psychedelic Preparation and Integration Guide.

[00:04:53] Elisabeth: And I am Elisabeth Kristof, Founder of Brain-Based Wellness, a virtual platform that helps you train your nervous system for resilience and behavior change. You can join us for two free weeks of neuro training live on site with me and Jennifer at rewiretrial.com.

[00:05:07] Jennifer: Please enjoy this very deep dive that we jump right into with Luis.

[00:05:16] Elisabeth: This season, as you all know, we’ve been exploring complex traumas and attachment wound and looking at how relationships impact our nervous system health and our overall health. One of the topics that is really interesting for us to explore is the trauma responsive Fawning and how that affects our nervous system.

[00:05:30] Elisabeth: One of the thought leaders in this field, though I feel like that’s kind of a loaded term, but someone that I am constantly inspired by Instagram when I see these posts, is joining us today. I am really excited to dive into this topic with you, Luis and hear more about how you came to understand so much about the trauma responsive of Fawn and where some of these insights are coming from.

[00:0:58] Luis: Hmm. Thank you. Yeah, it is really nice to be with you. As you’re saying that, I’m noticing everything that I teach, I can only teach if I’ve experienced it. So I am so well experienced in the Fawning response, like incredibly. So when I learned about it, it was this kind of mind blowing moment for me of, ‘oh, this thing that I’ve been doing my whole life has a name and there’s a purpose’. And a lot of shame and guilt, and even embarrassment, faded away. I just understood and then started teaching about it and learning more about it myself. So it really comes from my own history.

[00:06:32] Elisabeth: Yeah. I find so often it’s the things that we want to heal in our own life that lead us into the big insights that really shape work and can make such a big impact for others.

[00:06:45] Luis: That’s right.

[00:06:47] Jennifer: Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say. I mean, I go to school, I get as much as I can to learn from people, but my education, the value in what I have healed in my own life is what I bring to the table to support others. It’s been the greatest education. Although that is a new perspective for me to take.

[00:07:10] So understanding that these outputs are protective, especially as we are gonna move into Sexual Fawning- that in of itself just lifted a ton of weight off my shoulders and was immediately like, ‘Okay, there’s nothing wrong with me’. But there is still, especially in Sexual Fawning, I noticed there are still some Parts of me that do have some shame around pleasure and do want to hide from sex.

[00:07:33] So I’ve been in this place for about two years exploring celibacy again because I really needed to heal these wounds. I wasn’t only healing my attachment style, but what I’ve learned from you is that I was healing the uncoupling that came with the early adverse childhood sexual experience because it was a relational experience. So it was really confusing for me to develop sexually. I went through all of the dissociative sexual encounters to some Parts even feeling like liberation. But can we explore how someone with early childhood sexual trauma could couple fear with intimacy and threat with arousal?

[00:08:17] Luis: Absolutely. So I’ll explain somatically first over-couplings- it’s like when you think of Pavlov’s dog or someone says something’s Pavlovian. An over-coupling is a somatic training in response to something happening over and over again usually. It can also happen once, like one big thing, but it’s usually chronic experiences.

[00:08:36] What an over coupling is- it’s a body association. It’s essentially a guarantee to the body where it expects this is going to be the outcome because it has been before. So when you have sexual trauma, especially developmental sexual trauma, which means happening throughout the course of your development, not just one experience, but many experiences.

[00:08:56] Even as I say that, I just wanna add, it can be one experience that goes so deep that it also affects your development, even if it only happens once. So when you’re developing and there’s some kind of compromise, let’s say to your sexuality or your sexual experience, or even your sexual organs, you said the word protective- the body will start going into a constriction. A somatic response ’cause it expects something in relationship to arousal or to touch or to the bedroom. Anything where the situation takes place is expected to be a threat or a violation. So over a couple years of the body expecting that, even if it’s not happening, the body’s practicing over coupling, let’s say threat with arousal. The body can practice over coupling shame with pleasure, especially if something felt good that “shouldn’t have”. It’s so nuanced, but essentially whatever the meaning your body or subconscious made from your sexual experiences, especially the traumatic ones, that becomes over coupled and then that becomes your physiological response to arousal.

[00:10:02] Elisabeth: I think a lot of people are gonna hear that and it’s going to bring so much compassion, but also just understanding of what is happening. I think it’s important dots for people to connect that these things are not just cognitive, but they’re really a physiological reaction inside of the body that is driving my experience, my behavior, my ability to stay Present. Understanding that opens up a whole new lens of how to create change, but also just how to relate to yourself in those moments, which I think is so important. 

[00:10:37] Just to back up a little bit about Fawn response in general, I do wanna reiterate for people, we’ve talked about Fawn on here before, but reminding folks that it is a reflexive, protective response that happens inside of our body that is a behavioral adaptation to placate a predator, to create safety. Then it manifests in all these ways in our life that might be hard to recognize because we’re not in what you would think of as traditional threat. But then we go into people pleasing or compromising ourself in order to maintain our social connections, which are real survival needs for us as human beings. So I love the way that you talk about this. Would you just elaborate a little bit on how you look at Fawn response from a somatic lens?

[00:11:30] Luis: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Fawn response is the body’s, just like you said, reflexive way to belong. It’s how a body finds belonging with other bodies. There’s two layers to that. There’s like a social layer of just, I want to agree, I want to fit in, I want to be loved, so I’m going to laugh, I’m going to smile. I’m going to placate. Again, reflexively, we’re not consciously thinking this, it’s just happening as we’re there. So it’s one way the body’s trying to, just like we’ve talked about attachment theory, it’s how the body’s trying to secure attachment. So if a nervous system or a body is coming from let’s say an insecure or an anxious attachment style, Fawning is gonna be a way it can almost guarantee a security of friendships because the body is just pleasing the bodies around it. Most bodies are gonna want you to be around because of that. So there’s that piece. 

Then there’s the belonging, like I wanna stay alive. That’s the really interesting one. So we can even say the root of Fawning comes from primitive survival strategies when your life is dependent on another being. Their ability to like you, their ability to spare you, their ability to find compassion for you when your life is actually dependent on that other being. The funny mechanism kicks in. 

And this is so prevalent in sexual assault, in cases of people being robbed, kidnappings, hijacking- these are situations where literally your life is in someone else’s hands. So you go into this reflexive, ‘I’ll do whatever you want just so you calm down.’ Then let’s say the predator’s body starts to relax and that ensures your survival. If the predator’s body is getting more aggravated, that doesn’t ensure your survival. 

So if we go ancient, it’s primitive, it’s animals even- and you’re walking through the woods and there’s a wolf and you stop. You’re like, nice wolf, nice when you’re smiling, you’re Fawning with an animal. So it’s not just human to human. And it’s not just societal or created from civilization. It’s a very old way to survive relational threat. So that’s really where the two stem from. But the goal is to survive and to belong.

[00:13:46] Jennifer I find that so fascinating. I’ve heard you talk about that before, the predator’s nervous system escalating and then ours adapting in a way that the body knows how to redirect the energy because it knows that we can survive the situation. But the shame still comes, doesn’t it? In either situation. So can we talk a little bit about shame and how that another protective mechanism keeps us assured with our herd? Can we talk about shame a little bit and how shame comes in both ways?

[00:14:17] Luis: Shame is so interesting to me because especially when we’re talking about Fawning, like having shame because you Fawn or your body Fawn. Shame in this case a response to identifying with the response. So Fawning is reflexive. No one consciously writes down how they’re gonna Fawn and goes and does it. It’s just in there and it’s happening in a nanosecond, and usually we’re unconscious to it until afterwards.

[00:14:44] Most people will say, why didn’t I yell? Most people will say, why did I agree to go out with them? Most people think, why was I laughing at that joke the whole time? Why did I stand there smiling when I just wanted to walk away? So it’s an afterthought because in the moment you’re not conscious, you’re dissociated. And that’s how trauma responses work. The body takes over the mind, it moves away. So I just think that’s an important place to start because when you identify with the trauma response, something that’s reflexive, that has nothing to do with you. It affects you, but you’re not choosing it, you’re not conscious of it. When you identify with that shame is one of the results because you think, what’s wrong with me, what it comes down to, or I should have done this.

[00:15:27] When you understand the reflexive nature of these responses Fawing, in this case, you, you just don’t even identify with it anymore. It almost becomes comical, like you see yourself doing it and you get it like: oh, my body is feeling scared, it’s feeling anxious, it’s doing that thing it does to ensure belonging, but you don’t take it personally. And so the shame can’t manifest from that. What’s interesting about shame is, if we were gonna organize in a trauma response, it’d be Freeze or collapse. You know, shame really calls you to constrict and pull yourself in. You don’t want to be seen, you don’t want to be touched, you don’t want to connect.

[00:16:02] So in terms of just shame as a response to things we go through in life for things that our bodies do. The physiology of shame is a Freeze and a numbness and a further dissociation of the self. So when I teach people how to work with these things and we start to uncouple shame from what the body did and actually people start to positively over couple, let’s say gratitude- oh, thank God, I was laughing ’cause I relaxed that person I got out of situation there’s no room for the shame. And without the shame there’s no Freeze. And when there’s no Freeze, the energy can move through your body. It’s not being constricted.

[00:16:38] Elisabeth: Yeah, that’s an incredible reframe to recognize the protective nature of something or to just have the altitude to step back. A lot of times we talk on here about things being outputs. We get inputs to our nervous system, our brain integrates that information and it generates an output.

[00:16:56] And that output is always survival driven first. Whether that’s a social need or survival need. And just that, as someone with a lot of childhood trauma that for so many years of my life was really hard on myself about being a people pleaser and would go into having these conversations with my business partner, whoever I was gonna set the boundary, I was gonna do the thing and I just couldn’t, I would lose my voice. I would agree with them. I would sign on to things that were totally out of alignment with me. Then I would beat myself up about why I couldn’t have a voice. And then really understanding, man from such an early age Fawn and Freeze were the most adaptive responses. As a little kid that can’t Fight or Flight in that situation, I’m either gonna flop or I’m gonna Fawn and that just gets baked in. And then it shows up over and over again. I can start to think about: how can I work with my body and my nervous system to create a new experience inside so that that energy can move through, so that I can have a new output. But it’s not gonna come from just cognitively overriding, like you said, no one plans to go into a situation and Fawn.

[00:18:10] Luis: That’s right. And you said something important about when there’s childhood trauma, especially childhood relational trauma, when the person in charge of you, or in control of your environment, is part of the disruption, you don’t have the agency as a child to Fight or Flight. There’s times as adults even the agency isn’t there, but children especially not. So Freezing and Fawning. They are the primary strategies for children. So if you have a chronic, stressful environment growing up, or an abusive environment or just traumas that occur, you’re also chronically developing in a Freezing and  Fawning body. Right? And just like you said, it’s protective. I bring it all down to sneezing. It’s the same difference. It’s literally the same difference. It’s a biology, it’s a reflex. No one chooses it. You can kind of feel it going on. You can’t do anything about it and it happens. The whole purpose is to protect you, is to propel something out of your nose that could make you sick. 

That’s all trauma responses are trying to propel something away that could hurt you. So if we understand how impersonal it is, how it’s so not about you. It so has nothing to do with you. It just becomes so simple to be with now that that’s not easy to get to that place of not taking it personally, but when you get there, it’s brilliant because it is a pure biology.

[00:19:30] Jennifer: It is. But I think what’s confusing, and I think what’s fascinating also at the same time is that when our bodies develop in that biology, they also become dependent. We’re back to the over coupling.

[00:19:43] Luis: That’s right. When you say dependent, you mean with other people?

[00:19:46] Jennifer: Yes, on the thrill, on the fear,

[00:19:49] Luis: Yeah, that’s right. Well, what’s interesting about that- if we think of, like if we go back to sex and the over couplings there, even when you say thrill. If you had experiences developmentally where sex was inherently thrilling or something horrible could happen. Where you could be exposed, where you could be hated. Something that was not even good or bad thrill, but just like a huge level of sensation. Your body practiced accessing arousal through thrill, right? That’s when these fetishes and things emerge. That’s the only way we’re able to have a full orgasm, let’s say, or feel like a huge amount of pleasure or get an erection, have some kind of physiological sexual response.

[00:20:27] Because the over coupling now actually becomes the doorway to the arousal and the pleasure itself. So that’s exactly like you’re saying. And this is what you were saying too, Elisabeth, you can have this concept, you can know all this cognitively. And if your body has practiced thrill and sex for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, it’s a doorway now that it relies on to get there.

[00:20:53] Elisabeth: When you’re working with people and say cognitively they’re starting to identify their Fawn patterns. What are some of the first things you would do with someone to help them start to move through this? Definitely identifying that it’s a protective response and having that gratitude for it in the body. Are there other practices that you would start to weave in with people initially to begin to re-pattern this a little bit?

[00:21:18] Luis: Absolutely. The number one is to embody the response. And so that can’t happen in the moment usually until you’ve practiced a lot. But let’s say they’re in my office or I’m on a screen with people, we think about the moment, right? We think about the time we Fawned this week, or we think about someone we’re going to see that we usually Fawn with. And just the thought of the person immediately brings up sensations.

[00:21:43] Everyone listening can do this. You can literally pause this and think of someone that you don’t know how to say no to. Someone you people please, someone you feel really burdened to please or make happy. The moment you think of them there’s a constriction. It’s usually in the gut or it’s in the chest, or it’s in the throat. And some people even notice numbness, right? The loose sensation, which just means there’s a lot of sensation. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing. It means there’s too much to process, so we go numb. So embodying where in my body does my Fawning actually unfurl from is the first step, because that’s your signal that’s like your helper.

[00:22:17] The moment you know, oh, my stomach constricts right before I start the reflexive laughing, let’s say. Then when I’m out somewhere and I start to feel my stomach do that, I have this system, this kind of relationship to this part of my body that says, oh, constriction- that means you’re going into that protective place, and that’s when I can start. Really, when we talk about redirecting it or rewiring it, we’re talking about pausing and doing something different. So how can I pause if I don’t know what I’m pausing? 

So let’s say I feel the constriction. I pause, I go to the bathroom instead. So it’s not even like a jump to a boundary of saying no to the person, that can be too hard for people, but just, oh, I’ll be right back. I have to use the bathroom. And you take space for a minute or two and you feel the tension, ease in the stomach, and then you go back. And you’re teaching your body. Like that exact example would be a Flight response. So instead of going into my Fawning, I go into my Flighting and I use the energy to walk away to the bathroom and close the door and feel my distance with you. That will settle our animal bodies. Then when you go back you’ll have more space inside. You won’t go right into Fawning. You might feel it coming again, and then you interrupt it. So it’s really about embodying it. Then from there, there’s so many practices of playing around with that redirecting.

[00:23:31] Jennifer: We talk about that a lot. We would refer to that as the loop, the patterns in play and how can we interrupt that in any way, like do anything else. And excuse yourself, get back into your body. And I think that also really cultivates trust in listening to our bodies when we have been dissociated for so long and not be able to feel the sensations or even take those moments to pause in safety with the body.

[00:23:57] Luis: Mm-hmm. Even when you say trust, you know, you’re speaking to what I teach about the sovereign body. Like what’s the trust? Who’s trusting who? The body’s trusting your consciousness. Even as you’re saying that, it’s pointing to this initial place when I was saying it’s impersonal, it’s biological, it’s not you doing it, your body’s doing it. You are becoming this witness, this friend, this guide with the body. 

Then yes, the body starts to trust you and then you start to trust your body. Then when you go out into a social situation, or a sexual situation, you don’t go right into your old mechanisms ’cause you have you, rather than being oriented toward the Other for your safety. You have it within you already. 

And there’s that distinction, you brought it up earlier Elisabeth you were saying like a traditional threat. There’s threat, which is like my life could end here, and then there’s trigger. Which is it reminds me of a time my life could end, or I’m expecting my life could end. 

I’m not gonna go into the depth of those differences unless we want to, but those two things like trigger and threat are so important, because biologically trigger feels the exact same as threat. The biology and the hormone response is the exact same. So even getting to notice the difference of getting triggered by this person compared to ’em, actually threatened by them- yhat gives the body more agency. Otherwise we’ll be in Fawn because we’re being triggered all day feeling threat and then Fawning with people, even though we’re totally safe to say no or walk away.

[00:25:24] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s an incredibly important distinction to make. I’m definitely happy to explore it more because there is this way that yes, the threat was in the past and it lives also in the present moment with the trigger because it is real. It’s really happening. It’s really changing the way that our brain is functioning, the lenses in which we’re taking in information, what information is even making it up to our frontal lobe if it is at all, right? Or have we blocked all of that out with dissociation and the physiology of what’s happening inside of us. So even though it’s not occurring in the present, it is still trauma lives in the now because it happens with the threat and can happen continuously, depending on how our system is set up to perceive all the stimulus that’s coming in.

[00:26:18] Luis: That’s exactly right, and that’s a good distinction of just the trauma happened, let’s say 10 years ago, the experience happened. What’s happening now in the room isn’t the experience, but the experience in my body, it’s like a biological reverberation. It’s literally an echo that comes through high blood pressure and extra adrenaline and neurotransmission- physical things are happening on a biochemical level in remembrance of what happened. So it tricks the body to think right now you are threatened and when you learn to be this guide with your body, you’re able to notice, ‘okay, I am looking around, I can see that right now I’m safe, yet I feel different.’ And you can, you can identify the incongruency much more easily. Then you start doing this thing where you’re kind of showing your body, the parts of your body, where you are right now, and you’re waiting for those parts to update. It’s not like a hack where you’re forcing them to come here. You’re showing them. Let’s say your stomach’s really tight, you’re showing your stomach- here’s a plan. Can we just sit with this plan? And you’re waiting for your stomach to respond. It starts settling and it’s like these little puzzle pieces start coming back to the room away from where they were in the past, or you know, the imagined future.

[00:27:23] Jennifer: I just wanna pause for a moment and say, I just loved the visual that I got when you said that it’s an echo in remembrance of what has happened. Like that just really hit me. That really touched me. It felt like an echo moving through my body when you said that.

[00:27:44] Can we explore also a little bit that there’s activations happening from the reflexive responses, but also that sex is a physiological activation also within the body? And how can one start determining which activation is which? Am I being activated by threat, by pleasure or the mimicking of pleasure through the pleasure activation.

[00:28:14] Luis: Beautiful question. Right before I answer, I just realized I haven’t really said about Sexual Fawning. We’re talking about Fawning so much, I just wanted to kind of pin that and just say that just like we’re talking about Fawning, Sexual Fawning is as the name suggests, you do things sexually to please the Other. More often than not, Sexual Fawning comes from safe, long-term committed relationships, not one night stands and not sexual assault. I mean, obviously those things kind of go without saying, but the more insidious, the more common Sexual Fawning comes from people you really love and feel safe with and you just don’t wanna hurt their feelings. Or your body’s been practicing Sexual Fawning as a way to connect sexually that doesn’t even know another way. So it’s just what it does. 

So what you’re saying is really important because yes, the actual biology of arousal is an activating biology. Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure increases, you become adrenalized. So if you’re already living with PTSD or a lot of stress hormones or a lot of charge in your body, and then you get aroused, you’re getting even more activated and that can let’s say tip you over that threshold of tolerance and you can go into your trauma responses just from beautiful, healthy sexual activation. The difference is, like you were saying about navigating those differences, you can notice, ‘okay, my blood pressure is building, my heart’s getting a little faster, I feel warmer. I can feel my physical body shifting and arousal based on, you know, anatomy and what that feels like’. Then I can notice, am I breathing? Then I can notice, is my stomach soft? Are my hips clenched or are they soft? Is there an unfurling relaxation happening in response to the sexual activation? Or is my whole body, my jaw, my hands- everything- clenching and Freezing in response to the sexual activation? That’s an interesting phenomenon ’cause you have the body itself having a trauma response to its own internal activation sexually.

[00:30:13] Elisabeth: Yeah, that all really resonates with me. I’m in a very safe, committed partnership and I also have lots of sexual trauma history. And one, can definitely identify with slipping in and out of Fawn just in terms of wanting to keep a connection and make somebody else feel valued and good and not hurt somebody else’s feelings. And the nuances of even knowing what that is for myself has been such a journey to know when I’m going in and out of that. Then in moments of intimacy too, I have noticed a lot. My biggest telltale is I’ll realize I’m really clenching my jaw. And then realize, oh, it’s, it’s also in my hip. Then can I breathe into that and relax into that a little bit more? And sometimes I can’t. Then I just have to kind of roll with that too and say, okay, there is a bracing and there’s this other experience and it’s such a wild journey to bring this kind of healing that we’re talking about into a really safe space to explore intimacy is just very different.

[00:31:28] Luis: Mm-hmm. I really appreciate those examples and how you say bracing, because somatically for the body, bracing means protection. So any part of the body that’s constricted or braced, like animistic, emotionally characteristically, it’s a place that’s scared. It’s a place that’s expecting something to go wrong.

[00:31:48] So anyone listening, again, you don’t have to know somatic psychology, you can just notice. My jaw is clenched. My fists are clenched. My hips are really tight. Wow. My knees kind of come together and my toes start to clench when I get aroused or when my partner’s touching me who I love. It’s exactly like you’re saying those are those nuanced signals that you completely miss before practicing embodiment. Then you go right into Sexual Fawning because it’s just the strategy the body’s used to to get by.

[00:32:14 Jennifer: I can really see how my sort of taught Fawn response started to develop like hugging people. I didn’t wanna hug as a little girl or not being trusted when I said I don’t wanna be around this person, or I don’t like this person, or whatever. Whatever those words were, whatever that was that taught me how to override my intuition and my needs. Then I can see how the smiling and just be quiet, be the nice girl, you know? Then moving that into my adolescence, my twenties, my thirties, the Sexual Fawning, and how the hyper vigilance even in the room of knowing this man is looking at me. I know these people are looking at me and they’re sexualizing me. I oversexualized myself. It was a very confusing mixture of hiding and oversexualizing myself.  But that hypervigilance in the room of people and understanding that the Fawn has already happened. I can witness it now in reflection. I had none of this language back then.

[00:33:26] Luis: And yet you had such an awareness and you’re speaking to those really early stages of the social rewarding with Fawning. Fawning is the most highly rewarded trauma response if you are, like you said, if you’re smiling, if you’re nodding, you’re the good girl, you’re the good kid. Everyone wants to be the good kid. So you learn, and Gabor Mate has this great phrase, you learn to bypass authenticity in order to achieve attachment. That’s the Fawning mechanism in a nutshell. It’s my body does the opposite of what I want to do, so I can belong with you. So you applaud.

It starts at two or three years of age. In preschool, it starts by sitting still at reading time, not getting up to use the bathroom. Really learning how to disorient from your body and then get rewarded. And the children that have a hard time controlling or dominating their body are the troubled children.

[00:34:26] Societally we have this setup of the bodies that Fawn and dominate themselves are the good ones. The ones that don’t Fawn, the ones that don’t dominate themselves are the bad ones. So that’s an important point for people to hear. Because even if you’ve never had sexual trauma, you could be innocently taught how to please other people against your own boundaries, hugging your uncle you don’t want to, being in a room with someone you don’t wanna be in. Then by the time you’re 13, 14 and you’re considering being sexual with someone, even earlier for a lot of people, you have no clue about your boundaries ’cause you’ve been taught to bypass ’em for years.

[00:35:07] Jennifer: Then I just also can see myself in all the immobility once we are in the action. It’s like, ‘oh, I’m not actually up for this.’ (laughing)

[00:35:18] Luis: I’m glad you said that because another piece of Fawning that’s important is it always has Freeze attached to it. So it’s one of the hybrid responses where you’re never just Fawning, you’re always Freezing.  Cause the part that wants to run away or say no, that part Freezes and then the other part performs. So two things are happening at once with Fawning. That’s also why people who Fawn have the highest prevalence of chronic illness, autoimmune issues. Gabor Mate’s book The Myth of Normal has an incredible chapter all about this. I think they just called them people pleasers in the chapter. He’s talking about this German hospital where I think for a decade or longer they did this kind of large study where they’re able to say, this person’s going to get this type of cancer because they’re a people pleaser. And they were always right. I mean like hundreds and hundreds of people, maybe even thousands. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it’s interesting that that would happen because a part is Freezing, a part is performing and all this charge is building up. So it physically impacts your body. More than almost any other one.

[00:36:24] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think we talked about that a little. We did a recent episode on boundaries as well. And looking at the ALS personality and the MS personality that is so linked with the development of disease. MS runs in my family and so does sexual trauma. So there’s some dots I can connect there.

[00:36:44] There was something that came up in the boundaries conversation that I was thinking about as you were talking that I wanted to revisit. We were talking and it came up as sometimes when we have the inability to set boundaries and/or to receive them, there can be this, I think the term was used in the episode like a quiet manipulation. And it hasn’t set well with me, thinking about it as being a manipulation because it seems so cognitive to say that we’re  manipulating people when we’re Fawning or when we don’t have the ability to set boundaries when I feel like it’s so much more of a physiological, bodily response. You had a really interesting post on Instagram recently where you were talking about lying as a trauma response. I was reading people’s comments and how different people reacted to that. I think it’s a really interesting reframe that I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about that.

[00:37:42] Luis: Absolutely. So when I’m talking about lying, I’m talking about people’s inability, let’s say low capacity, for truth. So whether it’s their own truth to speak it or what their truth is gonna do in the world right when they say it. That rupture that will inevitably happen when a lot of people speak a big truth they’ve been hiding, is something that those bodies don’t have capacity for. So lying becomes this way to kind of pause the eventual rupture or avoid it altogether. I mean, there’s people whose entire lives are lies and they die and then you find this whole thing out about them. It’s a compassionate lens. I’ve learned there’s nothing more controversial than compassionate because you’re really supposed to- and this is a trauma response too- you’re supposed to put things in a black and white category or right or wrong and all these things. And it’s just not how life works for me. There’s always a reason someone’s having a behavior. It doesn’t justify their behavior. I’m not saying have the person over for dinner or bring them into your lives, but there’s a reason behind it and in most cases, it’s capacity.

[00:38:47] It’s the same thing with Sexual Fawning. It is great that you brought lying in because Fawning is this unconscious lie. You know, when you say manipulation, technically the way the word suggests it is a manipulation, but it’s not cognitive. You’re absolutely right. So to call a manipulative would overcouple it with someone being  sneaky or tricky or malicious. It’s not that at all. It’s just the body is unconsciously mirroring what this person wants to. It’s where the manipulation comes in. Have them see you in the light that they need to, not who you really are. So you’re actually hiding behind a mirror of the other person. It’s quite psychedelic because they’re not able to see who you are yet and you want that. 

[00:39:32] I know for years my body Fawned, the last thing I wanted was to be seen in front of a person. I wanted them to see a version of themselves, and that’s what Fawning does. The mirror neuron is instant. And you are an incredible reflection of the person’s behavior in front of you. So it’s interesting you brought the lying in because there is an element of that in Fawning where the truth isn’t coming through something else, something more contrived is coming through. It’s not a conscious, malicious thing. It’s not to hurt the other person, it’s to save yourself. When I’m talking about lying, essentially, that’s what all lying is to save yourself and it can hurt other people. Why do people lie? That is the somatic reason I’ve come to find.

[00:40:12] Jennifer: We laugh about that a lot in our personal lives, and also with our clients, in our community that when you start understanding the nervous system and you start offering that grace and compassion to yourself, it does go onto the other bodies that you are near or even could be strangers that you start giving that grace and compassion to ’cause you’re like ‘that person’s dysregulated.’

[00:40:36] Luis: That’s exactly right. Yeah. I did have a really hard, really hard time judging people. Do I get irritated and overwhelmed? Of course I have a body, but I have a really hard time actually like actively having judgments about people because as you learn in the nervous system, it’s so obvious what’s happening. And it’s hard to go into story about people anymore.

[00:40:56] Elisabeth: It is wild to think about how controversial compassion can be. And we say a lot on here, everybody does the best they can at the level of their nervous system. That’s not to undermine anything that anyone has gone through as well. And/or to say that you have to take certain behavior because that’s also part of having a healthy nervous system and being able to dialogue with your body and hear the signals it’s sending you, it gives you the ability to also give yourself the space from the people that are damaging your nervous system or causing dysregulation that you need to. And at the same time have compassion for them, right? Like, I need this space. This is the space I need to take care of myself and to still have compassion for you. I think that it is wild for people to start to grant that compassion to others and even more so to themselves. I just find a lot of resistance from clients about being gentle with themselves or having curiosity around these things when they’re so used to pushing into performing or overworking. That definitely carries into people’s healing where they just want to do it right and they wanna do it in a certain timeframe and it’s a really different way of going about it.

[00:42:17] Luis: Hmm. Yeah. I look at that a lot. I call it the capacity for joy. It’s similar to the capacity for compassion and pleasure because these experiences of joy and pleasure and compassion, understanding, forgiveness, gratitude, all these things, these are just words for the body opening. These open your body. And earlier when I was saying that when the body braces, it’s in protection mode. When you are chronically braced, that’s what we call traumatized. This is what we call PTSD. It’s a body that’s constantly constricted ’cause it’s just expecting a threat all the time. Try to tell a body like that to relax, try to tell a body like that to find compassion; that’s the last thing it wants to do. Not because it doesn’t believe in compassion, the belief is there, the understanding is there, but the physiology of what compassion brings is a gooeyness, it’s a melting. Those boundaries are there for a reason.

[00:43:10] So it takes time for those boundaries to renegotiate their history. And they’re Present and realize, ‘oh, I can soften right now into compassion.’ When the moment comes where I have to brace, I can brace again. I don’t have to live just in one or the other. I can be fluid. But I find it to be a really kind of unexplored physiological root of why we are so averse to compassion and things that are really opening ’cause the openness itself is scary.

[00:43:35] Elisabeth: I really feel that. For so much of my life, I have been very, very braced; very, very pushing hard. And people would tell me to be gentle with myself and it would literally make me nauseous. I felt sick when someone said, you should be gentle with yourself. And my nervous system and my body were so opposed to it that I would throw up a little and be like, no.

[00:44:10] So it’s been this really gradual unfolding of, ‘yeah, it’s okay to be easy’, as my body has come out of that constant hypervigilance, that constant bracing. It very slowly becomes safe to be gentle with myself.

[00:44:18] Luis: Even when you say that, when you say easy and hypervigilance and embracing it’s again literally building the capacity for ease. Because cognitively ease and joy and peace and gratitude, like yes sign me up. It takes capacity. It’s biologically able to handle how it feels to get calm. That’s a terrifying feeling when you’re used to being hypervigilant. I totally relate to that myself.

[00:44:43] Jennifer: Well, we say this a lot here too, a well-worn pathway is a well-worn pathway. Whatever your protective mechanism is for threat, it’s coming for joy too. Because then joy becomes the threat. I like to always say, I kind of dip my toe in and I start to learn my thresholds for large groups, small groups. And what I know what my capacity is, what I’m capable of in those moments. And I do have a question about Sexual Fawning. When we engage in Sexual Fawning are we breaking a body boundary violation with ourselves in our sexual organs to our bodies? Is it adding onto the damage that has already happened in a sexually abusive place?

[00:45:34] Luis: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. This is a great question that shows an example to what I said earlier when I was saying about developmental sexual trauma. I said things that happen chronically, well, in addition, it can be one event that goes so deep into your body that then you develop with that feeling and that trauma response and that way of managing.  What you just said is exactly right because Fawning inherently breaks your boundary. It’s designed to. If your boundary is to say no and that boundary might cost you your life. Your body’s gonna make you break that in order to save your life. That’s why we Fawn. So when you get in the practice, ’cause just like you said a well-worn pathway, these are all practices, whether we’re conscious or not. When we’re in the practice of Sexually Fawning or connecting sexually through a Fawning mechanism, we are in a practice of constantly breaking a body boundary.

[00:46:24] Now, what happens every time a boundary gets violated, especially sexually, it gets violated to me, I broke it. And the other person violates it without even knowing it. I’m talking about consensual, loving relationships, not assault obviously. But someone you’re with for a long time and you adore and you’re telling them how much you love them and you’re pretending to be into it or your body’s pretending to be into it. They’re breaking your boundary without knowing. So there’s this double violation happening too, especially in this case, the sexual organs. So it’s super nuanced and complex in that way because now you have this, let’s say this root thing. I’m thinking of myself 10 years old, this huge sexual trauma. There’s the root thing, if we could say that. And then 20 plus years of Sexual Fawning from that root thing. Every time I practice Sexual Fawning, my body just experienced another violation. So even though it wasn’t aggressive, it wasn’t an assault, it wasn’t malicious, no violence- in these other situations, the body still became traumatized sexually. That’s why people can be in relationships, really beautiful ones, and have a ton of sexual trauma without even a history of assault or any kind of actual perpetration. And they can’t figure out why is this happening? Same thing happens with birth because it’s physically traumatizing the sexual organs in those areas of the body. Intent means nothing when it comes to trauma’ how the body experiences, it means everything.

[00:47:52] That’s why two people can have the same experience and one person can leave totally fine, sleep at night and the other person has insomnia for 20 years. It’s how the body experiences it. I forget who said it, I think it was Elisabeth, based on everyone doing their best based on the capacity of their nervous system. That sentence, the capacity of your nervous system, that’s what dictates if you get traumatized or not. Breaking a boundary sexually lowers your capacity every time it happens.

[00:48:20] Elisabeth: Yeah, it makes so much sense. Thinking about how unique and individual we all are and how that capacity is just so different based on everybody’s past experiences. We talk a lot about deficits in the nervous system here, so little deficits in your eyes and your breathing and the balance system in your inner ear; all these things that add up to increase that threat load over time. I think that, again, it provides this framework of increased compassionfor yourself because it is just so different from person to person.

[00:48:54] Luis: Mm-hmm. It really is. And the thing I love about capacity is you start to learn that there are ways you influence it.  And there are ways you can’t do anything about it. And especially before you have the knowledge, you can’t do anything about it because you don’t know. When you’re a child growing up, there’s no way. So you can’t even go into shaming yourself for your capacity, because it’s beyond you. It’s something you respond to and you notice, but you’re not even in a hundred percent control of your capacity at any age, regardless of what you do. Your blood sugar, how much sleep you got, hormones, seasons- there are so many reasons the body changes and we don’t have control of most of those changes.

[00:49:32] Jennifer: I’m feeling that in my hormones today. (laughing)

[00:49:39] Elisabeth: It’s a big truth. Honoring our capacity, it’s a real next level thing for me to be able to have that relationship of trust and truth with my body, to honor my own capacity and know that that fluctuates and that it changes. Now that I have awareness and tools, there are things I can do to increase my capacity. And there are times when I have to simply honor it.

[00:50:07] Luis: Mm-hmm. Just feeling that with you.

[00:50:09] Elisabeth: Yeah. I would love for you to just tell people a little bit more how they can work with you if they feel called, if they’re resonating with this conversation, and what are some of the best ways to find you and to explore your work.

[00:50:20] Luis: I think the best way to work with me right now is my six week course. So twice a year I do a live six week course, me and my team. And it’s very immersive and you get lots of tools and lots of audio exercises and practices and live sessions and guidance and support through the whole six weeks. It’s a great initiation into learning somatics and to learn self-inquiry.

[00:50:45] Even when we were talking about capacity earlier, how simple things like nutrition, the way you set up your room completely, change your biology and your ability to handle stress and metabolize it. So my course is probably the best way to work with me. Then once people take the course, we give them an invite to our membership space, and we do a lot of weekly practices in there with a beautiful global group of people who have already taken the course. So that’s mostly how I’m doing it now. I’m doing some in-person retreats next year. Nothing else this year, but mostly my course at the moment.

[00:51:19] Jennifer: Awesome. It’s been really beautiful to be here with you, and it just feels so warm.

[00:51:25] Luis: Me too. I literally feel warm sitting with you too. It feels nice. (laughing)

[00:51:30] Elisabeth: It’s really, really such an honor to get to talk with you and have you on the show. I just think that the work you’re doing is really, really important. So thank you.

[00:51:40] Luis: Yeah. Thank you both.

[00:51:42] Jennifer: Thank you.

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