S2 E59

“Are you a self-proclaimed people pleaser? Do you have a hard time setting boundaries? Or maybe you set boundaries and then you find yourself overwhelmed with panic, migraine pain in your body? It feels just really scary and uncomfortable. That’s what we’re gonna be talking about today, the trauma response of Fawn. 

Fawn is a behavioral adaptation. It’s a reaction to those physiological stress responses that go on inside of the body. It’s often referred to as people pleasing, and it can be misinterpreted as a personality, but Fawn is reflexive, it’s protective, it’s adaptive.” 

-Elisabeth Kristof, Podcast Co-Host, Founder of Neuro Somatic Intelligence Certification and Founder of Brain-Based Wellness 

This episode opens with Elisabeth brilliantly explaining how the Fawn Trauma Response develops in early childhood. We bet that light bulbs will be going off in your head as you gain clarity about how behavior patterns like people- pleasing and setting boundaries can get baked into an adult life.

If you identify as someone who over gives, is a perfectionist or workaholic, people pleases, cycles through harmful relationships and has a hard time setting boundaries then we’re here to tell you that you’re not weak or bad. Your brain and body have been stuck in Fawn because they are trying to keep you safe, trying to protect you. Now that your life has changed, your system needs new tools to create safety.

Good news, there is hope for change with NSI tools and community along with a hefty dose of self-compassion.

Episode highlights to look forward to:

  • Jennifer shares an eye-opening story about a 15 month old baby going from Freeze to Fawn 
  • Elisabeth shares her personal history of Fawn and how it led to harmful work and intimate relationships 
  • Jennifer describes how having our boundaries broken over many years due to Fawning can lead to inflammation and disease. 
  • Learn the ways we repattern Fawn in our daily lives and how it increases the threat level in our body
  • Why speaking our Truth can lead us deeper into Fawning
  • Jennifer discusses how Fawning can be passed down through generations
  • Where Fawning shows up in the body and how to rewire it
  • We discuss sexual Fawning 
  • Jennifer shares about her personal experience with sexual Fawning as someone who also has sexual trauma and how it can be re-traumatizing 
  • Elisabeth explains the importance of cultivating safety in our bodies so that we can become aware of our desires and then be able to express them in healthy ways
  • How Fawning moves from being adaptive and protective into being harmful to our bodies and relationships

    Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE

    [00:00:00] Elisabeth: Are you a self-proclaimed people pleaser? Do you have a hard time setting boundaries? Or maybe you set boundaries and then you find yourself overwhelmed with panic, migraine, pain in your body it feels just really scary and uncomfortable. That’s what we’re gonna be talking about today, the trauma response of Fawn.

    [00:00:22] Remember that trauma responses are reflexive, meaning that they are automatic, they happen below the level of our consciousness. A trauma response is something that happens when your body reacts to a threat without your consent, without you making a decision. We often hear about Fight, Flight, Freeze, but there is another trauma response, Fawn, which is a behavioral adaptation.

    [00:00:43] It’s a reaction to those physiological stress responses that go on inside of the body. It’s often referred to as people pleasing and it can be misinterpreted as a personality trait. But Fawn, again, it’s reflexive, it’s protective, it’s adaptive. So explore that with us today. 

    [00:01:04] Welcome back to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about trauma, how it gets stored in the body and what you can do to start healing. 

    Jennifer: I’m your co-host Jennifer Wallace, a neuro somatic psychedelic integration guide, bridging the work of Neuro Somatic Intelligence into your plant medicine healing spaces.

    [00:01:21] Elisabeth: I’m your co-host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Brain-Based Wellness- a virtual platform that trains the nervous system to be more resilient, to process stress, to handle emotional processing and to change behavior. If you wanna get started with two free weeks today, go to rewiretrial.com and you can join us live on the site to work in community with Jennifer and I to help your nervous system begin to heal, to have greater capacity and to start to create lasting change.

    [00:01:55] Jennifer: I’m excited to carve out Fawn and really unpack it because I didn’t really ever identify so much with being a Fawner. I thought that was probably the lowest of my score of the four F’s, but it’s actually probably the highest. It definitely could be one of the highest. I found so much of myself in Fawn, so I’m excited to share this.

    [00:02:22] Elisabeth: Yeah, me too. I’ve been doing a lot of work on Fawn, and I think it’s one of the least understood threat responses and it drives so much behavior that I think people will really recognize themselves in as we talk about it today and just help us have a deeper understanding of some of the things that we look at like: workaholism, people pleasing, all these responses and see that they really are reflexive and they’re part of a physiological reaction in our body. And so we have a deeper understanding of our behavior and the root causes of that behavior, which can be super empowering and give us compassion for ourselves, which is so important. 

    [00:03:02] Jennifer: Yeah, I find it really interesting. It’s the only one of the trauma responses that you engage with your threat. The other ones, you either shut down and run away. In Fight, you may engage as well, but Fawn is so different because it’s you trying to modulate the other person’s experience to make yourself safer in front of them. It all begins with perceived danger. 

    [00:03:29] Elisabeth: Yes, it sure does. And I think that’s the most important thing to understand about trauma responses is that all of these behaviors, really all of our behavior, is based on survival first and foremost. And they are coping strategies that our brain has learned to keep us safe and to ensure our survival at a very instinctual reflexive level.

    [00:03:57] When we talk about the four F’s, Fight Flight Freeze and Fawn, it is important to understand that these things are not happening at the level of your prefrontal cortex, your higher order thinking systems. They are really a reflexive old brain and emotional brain response that is conditioned in your early development.

    [00:04:20] And they are patterns that then replay throughout our life. When our brain is triggered by situations that remind us of things from our past, from our development.

    [00:04:33] Jennifer: It’s really interesting. You have no ability to turn this off or shut it down. Your brain makes the decision at the threat and then throws you into one of those responses. You get no choice in it. 

    [00:04:46] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think it’s important to let’s. Let’s always remember as we’re having these discussions, that our nervous system is plastic and it’s always changing to the stimulus that we put in it. So even if it’s a well-worn path to engage in this trauma response and we don’t have any cognitive ability to override it in the moment, remember that it is possible with time to provide our brain with new stimulus and with a felt sense of safety in the face of the perceived threat so that we can start to change our behavior.

    [00:05:20] So we’re not doomed to always stay stuck in these responses. But the first thing, just like you talked about, is awareness of the behavior, awareness of why it’s happening and what it is so that we can start to look at it with altitude and see our behavior from more of a lens of curiosity and compassion and understanding. Then learning new practical tools to create a different felt sense inside of the body, felt sense of safety, so then we can not be triggered over and over and over again into this pattern that we don’t want to engage in. 

    I think first let’s just talk a little bit about what Fawn response is and why it develops in the first place so that people can have an understanding. Then we can even give some examples from our own life and from the life of our clients of how this shows up. 

    [00:06:11] Jennifer: Where do you want to start this? 

    [00:06:13] Elisabeth: Let’s look at the most basic way that it develops as a protective response during development. Because all of those are true, there are different ways that it presents, but at its very essence, Fawn is a protective response that happens in our early development when our bodies are trying to avoid potential threat by: people pleasing, or agreeing, or sacrificing our boundaries and our sovereignty, or maybe mirroring other people (we can talk about that a little bit more too) to ensure social connection and co-regulation. What I mean by that is it truly is a need, a human need, to have people around us, especially our caregivers to help us soothe and regulate our nervous system. This is what’s called co-regulation and it’s when a parent can hold or rock or just be in the presence of their child and have a regulated nervous system.

    [00:07:14] Then this helps the child’s nervous system process stress and learn how to regulate itself, learn how to soothe itself. This is a basic need for survival because nervous system regulation is a survival need because if we don’t have the tools to regulate our own nervous system, which we don’t as little beings, then our nervous system stays stuck in a state of chronic stress.

    [00:07:45] This is really dangerous for our heart rate, for internal processes, for our digestion, for our inflammation and for our immune system during development. So just like sleep is a human need and eating food is a human need and having shelter as a human need, so is connection, social connection, and co-regulation and engagement.

    [00:08:10] We need all of these things in order to ensure our survival. So as we’re these little beings that have this real human need for connection, when we don’t get that from our caregivers for a number of reasons- maybe they’re really stressed out, maybe they actually neglect us, maybe they actually abandoned us, or maybe we just perceive it as abandonment because they’re really preoccupied or their stress level is so high that it actually dysregulates our nervous system instead of co-regulation, it’s co-dysregulation. For whatever reason we’re not getting the connection and co-regulation that we need so as a survival adaptation we learn to try to help other people stay regulated and stay safe.

    [00:09:00] We start to take on too much responsibility for their emotions. And we start to feel safer ourselves if we do things to ensure that that connection stays matte like telling them what they want to hear or performing for them so that we feel that they’ll stay connected to us. This becomes a reflexive trauma response when our body automatically goes into that social engagement and appeasement to really mollify the people around us to make them feel happy with us, to make them feel safe with us, maybe even to delight them and to ensure that we get this social connection and safety. So we learned that very early to get that very real human need met and then later in life, that pattern stays baked in- that it’s not safe to tell somebody something that they don’t want to hear, to tell somebody something that’s going to stress them out because we will lose that connection that we didn’t get as a little person that needed it.

    [00:10:11] Jennifer: I watched a really interesting little video about a 15 month old little boy who was sitting in his mom’s lap. The woman across from the table was playing a game with him. She would put something in a jar, cover it up and then pass it. He would open the jar. He was making eye contact with her.
  • [00:10:27] He was smiling. He was really engaged with the lady in front of him. Then what they referred to as the Emoter comes through the room. She had a really angry voice and at the next exercise when she put a necklace of beads in the jar and it made what that noise would sound like, the Emoter got really angry at the person holding the test and the little baby in that moment freezes. He’s looking at the Emoter and he’s looking at the person that he felt safe with. Then when the person he felt safe with passed him the beads to do the same, to copy what she had done, he wouldn’t do. He was too scared now because the person who had walked in was now threatening to the activity where he was feeling really safe with that person.

    [00:11:16] It was really interesting to see such a young young child try to- first of all, he shut down and froze. Then in that moment he chose to make the Emoter happy by not doing the exercise in front of him, because he was scared for his safety. He was threatened by that.

    [00:11:36] Elisabeth: Absolutely. So can be so Fawn response can be coming from a couple of things, right. In a more extreme example. We can do it to avoid conflict, right? If you live in a household that’s pretty turbulent and where there’s a lot of conflict or perhaps violence. Then we start to revert to people, pleasing to diffuse conflict. Conflict seems really, really scary and threatening to us. It can also happen if you’re in a situation where you get abandoned or neglected, or perceived abandonment and neglect, because then you’re not getting that co-regulation that you need. So it can be much more subtle. The thing that causes it is just that your person is maybe checked out.

    [00:12:24] An example of that would be, for me, I grew up in a household with a single primary caregiver. I was raised primarily by my mom, single mom, working all the time, living under a really high stress level. She absolutely did the best that she could. And again, we’re not putting any blame on anyone here. This is not about blame and it’s not about parents doing a bad job. 

    It’s just that was the situation that we were under. Her threat level was really high all of the time, because she was trying to balance working and taking care of me and had her own past history of violent relationships and childhood stuff that she had to deal with.

    [00:13:05] So as a little person, my nervous system has the ability to read her stress. Our nervous systems are constantly speaking to each other without words, without communicating. We are always reading each other and our nervous systems have their own communication with each other. And we understand that even at a very early age.

    [00:13:26] So I was able to feel her stress as a little person. And I could also feel that that stress level got higher when maybe I expressed my desires or I expressed needs that I had that were too much for the limited capacity that she had at that time. And that would elevate her stress level even more. Then she might dissociate, kind of leave her body and check out of the situation. 

    As a little person that felt inside of me like abandonment. So I learned, okay, if I express my needs, if I express my desires, that’s too much for people and I get abandoned. So it’s safer for me to hold all of that and keep my own needs minimized and do what I can to help other people meet their needs so that I stay safe. Then that pattern, that deeply held pattern, has played itself out over and over and over again throughout my life.

    [00:14:27] Jennifer: MmmHm. And how did you find that that worked in when you moved into your work environment? 

    [00:14:33] Elisabeth: Oh, I mean, it led me to have really harmful work relationships and intimate partnerships. Because I was at this deep instinctual level, always putting everybody else’s needs above my own. Cognitively, I understood a lot about boundaries. I’ve done a lot of therapy and I would even work with a spiritual advisor at the time. I was in a work-relationship, in a business partnership for a long time where I could see that I wasn’t upholding my boundaries for myself. And then I wasn’t asking for what I needed in terms of monetary compensation, in terms of sovereignty in the business. I would work with my therapist and I would work with my spiritual advisor and we would recognize all the places where I needed to have a difficult conversation and set some boundaries and speak my truth.

    And I would agree to it. Yes, I need to do that. Yes, I see that. Then I would go into the situation planning to have this conversation with the person and I couldn’t. I could not open my mouth and get the words out. I would try over and over again. And I would Freeze really. Now what I know looking back is I was Frozen.

    [00:15:47] I couldn’t bring myself to set those boundaries to have that conversation that might cause conflict. I would try and I would try and I try and I just couldn’t get myself to do it. It was incredibly frustrating because I’m 30 years old at the time. And it’s like, why as a 30 year old can’t I do this? And I would feel so much shame for not being able to do it. So much so that then I would even go back to the therapist, back to the spiritual advisor, and eventually just say, ‘Yep, I did it. I had the conversation.’ And I didn’t. Then I was people pleasing on two different levels. I was telling them what I thought they wanted to hear. And I still wasn’t having the difficult conversation with my partner and it eventually led to a business partnership that was really harmful to me. It ended up costing me a lot of money. I ended up having to dissolve the business partnership, losing my community, losing a business that I spent 12 years building.

    [00:16:41] Maybe that would have been different if I’d had the capacity to have those difficult conversations early on, but I just didn’t. Because I didn’t understand at the time that my survival brain had been triggered, that I was in a trauma response and that I couldn’t override that cognitively.

    [00:16:58] What I really needed was tools to regulate my nervous system and create safety inside of my body before and after I had that conversation so that I could do it.  But I didn’t know that at the time so I couldn’t. It ended up leading me into really quite bad situations in many relationships in my life.

    [00:17:18] Jennifer: It’s interesting you brought up boundaries because every time we Fawn we break our own boundaries and the person we’re Fawning at breaks our boundaries also. It’s like the expression of your truth and threat get coupled up and then you Fawn. And your safety because you feel that moment in your body when you Fawn. There’s noticeable constriction in your body. That’s one of the primary reactions when we go into Fawn. And your body remembers those threats. If you are someone who is Fawning as a lifestyle, you have a boundary and need that is being broken and suppressed all the time. Which comes with a huge emotional underlying of  repressed, likely anger, rage, that is going to build up over time and express as inflammation. You get all the toxic hormones that are- well, not toxic and in their need but toxic over time when we’re dealing with adrenaline and cortisol- and then you’re going to express as disease. 

    [00:18:27] Elisabeth: Yup. Absolutely. It’s so important to remember that our ability to set boundaries, they live in our body and our nervous system not just our cognitive mind. So again, like during development, we develop these coping strategies that are learned to avoid conflict and secure survival by getting the attention, care, and connection that we need.

    [00:18:48] Then that pattern presents as people pleasing, over-giving, perfectionism, working to exhaustion and then shutting down, repeating harmful relationship patterns, being unable to ask for the space and the care that we need. And none of these behaviors are bad. We’re not bad or weak people for having those behaviors. This is a protective response. It’s a reflective response because we’re social animals and we need our herd for safety, for play, for co-regulation, for shared experience, for emotional processing and cognitive development. That’s why inside of our body it feels really scary. It feels impossible to step into conflict and to stand for our worth or to ask for time or to protect ourselves.

    [00:19:31] It’s normal to know that we want to set a boundary, we want to take a new action. Then even if we do it, what happens is that we do have that difficult conversation or we set the boundary or speak our truth or whatever it is, we move into a different relationship pattern. Then afterwards we experience a protective output like insomnia or obsessive thinking or pain or fatigue or digestive issues because we still haven’t worked with the body and the nervous system to convince it that it’s safe to take this new action. These survival run really deep. 

    So we, if we want to change that boundary setting behavior, and we want to make it possible to take that new action without moving into protective output, we really need new tools, tools to regulate our nervous system tools to create safety in the body. And then we can do that without experiencing those protective responses.
  • If this episode is resonating with you and you find yourself thinking, ‘yeah, it is really hard for me to set boundaries. It feels really scary in my body, or I experience protective outputs after I do. It’s so hard to move out of these behaviors of people pleasing’. Then join us on the site and get started training your nervous system to handle more of this stress without reacting in the same way. You can go to rewire trial.com to get two free weeks of working live with me and with Jennifer to help heal the deficits in your nervous system, create a greater capacity to handle stress and to start to change your behavior. So go to rewiretrial.com. We would love to work with you live on the site.

    [00:21:21] Jennifer: It’s really interesting in social situations because saying yes when you mean no, agreeing graciously like nodding all the time, complimenting out of anxiety, but if you speak, or say something controversial or powerful and then follow that up with a laugh or a big smile or maybe over apologize after you’ve said something and be like, ‘oh no, I just…’ kind of brush yourself back off.- you’re re patterning the Fawn to you because you’ve done something really powerful, felt that intense rush of truth in your body. And that is really threatening, Tte joy of that is really threatening to stand in your shoes. 

    [00:22:05] Elisabeth: Absolutely. A lot of time, the closer we even get to our truth, as we step closer to expressing our truth, before we even do it maybe, we’ll move into this Fawn response because it feels so dangerous to really express ourselves in this way. Again, like you said, early on in the episode, sometimes that can come from ancestors-that it wasn’t safe to express our truth and our power. So that’s passed on and on especially for women stepping into their truth. That can feel really dangerous or because we grew up in a home environment where that wasn’t safe. So we just reflexively move into this pattern and there’s all kinds of little ways that it shows up- laughing and smiling after we speak our truth like you said. 

    I had a client that I worked with recently who had a habit of mirroring people. She would pick up little sayings that they said or mannerisms and find herself replicating them all of the time. It drove her business partner crazy, but she couldn’t stop doing it. The activation of mirror neurons takes place within us when we begin to mirror another person’s movement. It actually has been shown that as our mirror neurons light up and theirs do too this allows for a greater connection between two people. Our mirror neurons actually activate some of that connective feeling and understanding. It allows the people, both who are being mirrored and mirroring, to feel a stronger connection. So what she was really doing was trying to create a deeper connection. 

    Then when we looked deeper into it, she grew up in a household where she felt that her sibling was always favored over her. Her twin and her mother were really, really close and they just were more similar people and had a stronger relationship. So she was the one that always felt left out. So she always experienced a little bit of that being pushed out of the herd. So she had developed this deep mirroring “personality trait”- it’s not really a personality trait, but she thought it was- as a way to try to enhance connection with people because she had always been deprived of it in her development, in her deepest family.

    [00:24:28] Jennifer: Like we were saying before getting into generational and ancestral trauma- it can be passed down generationally if your ancestors had to appease other people for their survival. In the context of the client that you just spoke about, there’s contextualized versus decontextualized trauma, right?

    [00:24:53] When it’s contextualized, you know the backstory. Like  if you know that your mom was raised in a violent household and was Fawning for her survival to her parents, let’s just say. Then you understand the context of her behavior. It’s the idea of seeing your caregiver as their survival versus seeing them as giving and caring.

    [00:25:23] If you have a Fawning caregiver, you could see that as a small child- look at their behavior and as you want to mirror that and mimic that you think your mom is being really caring and really giving if you don’t know the context of how she feels. 

    [00:25:39] Elisabeth: Yep, absolutely. There’s so many ways that this gets baked in really deeply. When we can sometimes see these patterns in ourselves, but we can’t break them. And the problem with that is, that not only is it frustrating, but it can actually start to harm our health. It was an adaptive response, but later in life what was an adaptive response that served us well to get the connection and attention that we needed can become harmful to our health because it leads us into situations and relationships where our own boundaries are constantly being violated. And it’s putting too much stress on us over time. It can lead us into workaholism. It can lead us into perfectionism. It can lead us into being into a social situation and being so hypervigilant that we’re constantly focused on making sure everyone else in the room is having a good time and feeling safe. While it was adaptive, at one point, it actually can turn on us and start to really increase our stress load as we grow and expand our lives and adulthood.

    [00:26:56] Jennifer: Getting back to constriction. Let’s just talk about some of the ways that the body is actually holding on to that Fawn. What is happening in the body?

    [00:27:07] Elisabeth: Like I said, for one you can start to develop these patterns of mirror neuron activation, and actually copying other people. Gosh, what a boundary violation that is, right? You’re really giving up your own mannerisms and your own words to take on other people’s. It’s a really blurry boundary between yourself and the world.

    [00:27:30] You can also create a lot of tension in your throat. A lot of people when they experience this threat response,  if they actually dropped into their bodies while they were doing it, like say before you have a difficult conversation. That difficult conversation may be something as simple as telling a waiter, ‘Actually this isn’t what I wanted. This food that you brought me is not the food that I actually wanted.’ Even that, for someone who has that Fawn response, can feel really scary. Say if in just that little situation you closed your eyes and dropped into your body. What are you feeling? You probably feel a lot of tension in your throat. Your mouth dries out, right? Our throat is actually constricting. Tension in your jaw? A lot of people with difficulty speaking their truth and setting boundaries also have TMJ dysfunction, which is where you clamp down at night and you create a lots of problems with that. So there’s all of this held energy in our throat and our mouth and our jaw that is our body really reacting to hold all of this.

    [00:28:43] Jennifer: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. I did notice, I was doing an exercise around doing a visualization and remembering the last time that I did that I Fawned when I didn’t keep a healthy boundary. Ao I sat and I visualized myself in that experience. Then I noticed my body was radiating from my jaw. So for the drills that I did through that- well, first I did some Tapping to release the feelings that were coming up as I was noticing this response in my body, Then I started doing a hypoglossal nerve for my drill, because I was having a hard time at that point swallowing. Then noticed that the saliva had completely drained out of my mouth. Here I’m just in my living room visualizing the threat, that perceived threat, I was safe at the time. So it’s really interesting to experience that, but I was able to release it and get some good somatic releases through the Tap and drills. It gave me a lot of elevation on sometimes the way that I show up in the world. Being that I was a server for like 25 years, I’m really good at serving people. I have very sometimes leaky boundaries when I’m serving clients, because I just want to serve them- I want to make sure that they are feeling safe. Then at some point I’ve compromised my own boundaries. 

    I think it’s only until we seek a level of that kind of altitude and awareness it’s like, ‘okay, I’m here now. And I can recognize it and witness myself in this’. Because it’s really a loss of what do I need and what do I want when you’re giving over control of the space to someone out of your survival. 

    [00:30:36] Elisabeth: Yeah, when we’ve done this over and over and over again for our whole life it’s so difficult to even identify what are my desires, what are my needs?  Because we’re so used to pushing them down we don’t even know. Because we work with a lot of people, I’m able to see a lot of these patterns. So very, very often people that have this Fawn response as one of their go-to protective responses have TMJ. They have difficulty swallowing. I found a lot of benefit from working with those areas of the body, doing neural resets for the jaw, doing proprioceptive work for the jaw, neural resets for things that affect the vocal cords and tension in the throat. 

    As we repattern those, they release a lot of that energy and if they can use those drills and exercises in that moment of stress response to create safety and help repattern a new response in the body, it becomes easier over time to set a boundary, to speak their truth, because they’re going from the body up. They’re creating a different felt sense inside of the body. Then they can take a new action without trying to just cognitively make their behavior.

    [00:32:00] Jennifer: I think it’s really important because when we think about what we do we get better at, people who are chronic Fawners, you are forcing and pushing through the constriction to do the opposite of what your body actually wants to do. You will just keep baking that behavior in much deeper.

    [00:32:20] Elisabeth: Yep. I have another client that I’m really thinking of right now as we speak. Her mother was sick a lot when she was a kid, she would get migraines. This would put her out for days at a time, when she was a really little kid. And as a little kid, we don’t have the ability not to make things personal. It’s always about us. It’s always something that we did. Then people reinforce that too. Like and say, ‘be really quiet. Mom’s out with a migraine. Don’t be too loud. You’re stressing mom out and now she has a migraine’. So that they actually kind of put it on the kid. That disappearance of mom for a couple of days feels like abandonment again. And it feels like that very primal need for co-regulation and attachment is not getting met.

    Now this same client fast forward four decades in her forties. has a very difficult time in social situations not being super stressed out about everybody else’s emotional wellbeing. Is everybody else having a good time? Does everybody else feel safe? Scanning the room, going way out of her way to make sure that every single person feels okay. If they have a need, that need is getting met. To the detriment of her own wellbeing and safety inside of herself, but also to her own needs.

    [00:33:49] Who cares if she’s having fun? Who cares if she’s having a good time. It’s just about ensuring her safety and making sure everyone else’s okay. And this very same client clenches her jaw so intensely at night that her teeth are cracking and has all kinds of dental problems because of that.

    [00:34:08] You can really see that correlation. Again over time as the pattern is repeated, what we do we get better at. All of that gets more and more severe until we learn new tools at the level of the body and the nervous system to start to interrupt that. So now she goes into the social situation and is going to practice letting other people have their own emotions, letting other people have their own experiences, reclaiming her own Presence and ability to have fun in a social situation.

    Before she goes in and tries to practice doing that differently, she can do some drills to help her jaw release, to help her throat, to make her body feel safer and not move into this same response. Then after the social situation, she can do the same thing. So she’s practiced this new way of being. Then she works again with the body and the nervous system to create a new state inside. Over time you do that over and over and over again and you’re rewiring the pattern. You’re creating a different experience internally and then that starts to change because what we do we get better at.

    [00:35:17] Jennifer: Yeah. It’s going to be a beautiful journey for her to explore. The more she works with these drills and she gets more comfortable speaking her voice,  it’s going to be a completely different experience for her as she moves through the world. 

    [00:35:32] I really feel like it’s important too to talk about sexual Fawning because I really found myself in this. I just think it’s important to not leave this out because it’s the same thing. It’s about when you have sex with someone and you don’t want to, but you’re just doing it to make someone happy. Sometimes for some people that does feel like survival for them. Fawning sexually always happens with someone you don’t feel threatened by. Your life isn’t threatened by them, but it’s uncomfortable for you to make them uncomfortable. So you just say, yes. It’s a huge body boundary violation and it lives in the body like sexual trauma although it’s not a sexual assault, because the key is that you didn’t want to do it. 

    [00:36:27] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think there’s so many reasons why this happens. We were talking earlier about it can happen if your financial livelihood is tied to the person and you feel like you need that for your survival in that way. But also for a lot of us, we learn at an early age that the way to get connection and intimacy with a partner is through sex. Especially if you have sexual trauma and that’s coupled with attention and love. Then it becomes very much like I have to use sex in order to get the attention, the love and the co-regulation that I need. And it doesn’t matter how I feel right now. It doesn’t matter what I want. I don’t even know how to tap into my own pleasure and my own desires. It just matters that I keep this relationship safe and intact because I need it for my connection. I need it for my connection need. So you just sacrifice. You don’t even know what you need.

    [00:37:33] Jennifer: Yeah, and it’s a mechanism, it’s like sneezing. You start to Fawn and it doesn’t matter in what place you put yourself at or with which person. I think the light bulbs for me in this sexual Fawning is knowing that I do Fawn. And I also have sexual trauma outside of sexual assault trauma, outside of the Fawning. Then I Fawn sexually. So on top of Fawning sexually, then I’m sexually traumatizing myself again in the Fawn response. 

    Elisabeth: Lord, it’s such a loop. 

    [00:38:05] Jennifer: It’s such a big, deep loop.

    [00:38:09] Elisabeth: Such a big deep loop. It really takes the altitude that you have right there to look at all of that is he first, most important step of being like- ‘I have these things. I see this, I see the pattern, I see the loop’. Maybe we don’t get out of it for a while, but just being able to recognize and see it is step number one.

    [00:38:36] Then step number two is- can I start to cultivate a relationship with my body? Can I start to make a practice of feeling safe in my body so that I can even start to identify what I want and when I want it. 

    Then step number three would be to actually express those desires in the world or express when you don’t have those desires. And keep creating safety in your body and your nervous system around the expression of that, around saying, ‘no, this isn’t what I want right now. Or yes, this is what I want right now. This is what I like, and this is what I don’t like’. But that’s a process.

    [00:39:16] Jennifer: Yeah. And really getting down to the beliefs that you have to rewire about valuing ourselves so that you don’t repress your own needs to make somebody else feel safer so that you ultimately survive. It’s really interesting. Then like getting back to that sexual Fawning. The shame that comes with sexual trauma and then you’re experiencing that in relationships with people that you love. That shame creates disconnection- disconnection from self disconnection, from other relationships. 

    [00:39:50] Elisabeth: Yeah. It’s tough because what we’re doing then is… Again, it goes back to what we were saying before about how the response is adaptive early on, but eventually it starts to really hurt us. So it was adaptive, it was ensuring our survival, but now it’s actually, re-traumatizing us and causing disconnection in the relationship. So as we move into that response, yeah, we become disconnected from the very person that we’re trying to ensure connection with. And we also become disconnected from ourselves. 

    [00:40:25] Jennifer: Yeah. 

    [00:40:26] Elisabeth: And then we aren’t getting connection anywhere.

    [00:40:29] Jennifer: Then we’re not getting connection anywhere. We’re just completely cut off. Yeah. People pleasing as seen as a personality trait can often get confused with manners. So I think it’s really important to say- manners are: I see you. I respect you. I honor you. Thank you. Versus Fawning which has something to do with forcing your body to do something it doesn’t want to do. It’s that mechanism, it’s that automatic response and that’s completely different from having good manners. 

    [00:41:02] Elisabeth: Absolutely. It’s compromising your own wellbeing, your own health, your own safety, your own energy to ensure somebody else’s. It’s whenever you put anybody else’s safety, health, well-being above your own. And you’re actually taking away from your own wellbeing for another person. Again, it goes to ensure their survival, but it ultimately becomes really harmful for you. It’s not just a personality trait, it’s a trauma response. 

    I had another client recently- and I see a lot of myself in this too- that had always identified as a workaholic. The more we got into this and dove deep into the behavior, she was able to see, ‘oh man, I’m not really addicted to work. It’s not really like the adrenaline and excitement of work that I’m addicted to. What it really is is Fawn response, it’s people pleasing. I think that this is expected of me. I don’t want to disappoint other people. I don’t want to have conflict. And so I over-do, over-perform, over-give at work in order to ensure my safety. Not because I’m addicted to work, but because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t live up to other people’s expectations.’

    [00:42:21] Jennifer: Yeah. Well, you’re always going to choose security over authenticity. 

    [00:42:28] Elisabeth: That’s right. So it’s really about, again as we talk about so often on here, how do we create safety for ourselves. Then just continuing to learn the tools and the practices- taking the time to train our nervous system to be more resilient, to learn tools for self-regulation and to learn what activities our nervous system likes to regulate itself. Even if it’s as simple as putting your feet in the grass or taking a hot bath or taking some straw breaths. Then continuing to train and work with the nervous system regularly so that you can create safety inside of yourself because that safety has to come first and then we can start to move out of these protective responses when we create safety.

    [00:43:11] Thank you so much for joining us today as we continue to explore the four Fs and the different trauma responses. If you’re finding yourself in these conversations and you wanna jump on the Brain-Based Wellness site with us, you can get two free weeks at rewiretrial.com. We meet on the site live three times a week. You can work directly with me, directly with Jennifer, and in community to train your nervous system to be more resilient, to handle more stress, to start to react differently in these same situations. We’re there to answer your questions and you’ll find a really supportive, inclusive community. Get started on your journey today to create a foundation of change at the level of your nervous system at rewiretrial.com