I’m hoping this will be a massive encouragement to anyone who suffers the fawn response trigger in the face of danger. I’m hoping to show that it is a very common response, more common than most of us would care to imagine.
We don’t think in these ways typically, but these days we acknowledge trauma responses more than ever before, which I’m personally very thankful for. As a society, we are gaining a better awareness and grasp over these issues that are common within the fabric of our humanity.
Trauma and its responses are prevalent in all societies.
The fawn response is so common that we hardly even bat an eye when we see it. I saw it today when I tuned in to an online church service, and saw someone on stage introduced, and the way they moved and responded to the other person was an example of the fawn response. They were simply told to move forward a step, but because the person felt awkward being on stage, plus with another person telling them to move forward, their implicit skip of a step forward showed their fawn response – to please and appease the one they were doing it for.
Hardly anyone would have noticed it, but it looked awkward.
To be honest, we see the fawn response in so many people so often we hardly notice that it’s a trauma response. I think it’s the most common trauma response, and it’s especially present in Christians. Those of us who want to be kind, who want to be patient, who want to be gentle, find ourselves entrenched in a world that is anything other than these three qualities, and we find ourselves fawning. Without a choice. It’s instinctive.
How very sad it is that a trauma response is initiated simply through wanting to be kind and patient and gentle with people, and that it comes out most of all when people are unkind, impatient, and harsh with us.
The fawn response is the automatic reaction we give when we sense there is a threat to our safety. And imagine that this response seeks to protect the person and serve that person who is a threat! Imagine extending such grace to someone who would not give you the time of day. That’s how it is with the fawn response.
You give someone the blessing of your gentle and kind and considerate nature, and they either spurn it, manipulate you, or take advantage of the situation some other way. This is how the world works. The vulnerable are taken advantage of. Those who are inherently safe to be around, those who find their life purpose is to love other people sacrificially, are unsafe around unsafe people. Because love is always manipulated and kindness is always abused by narcissistic people.
The commonness of the fawn response in everyday life is striking.
If we said that a third of the population were capable of manipulating people, and generally entered into that behaviour, you could say that another third would be fawners, and that these are the manipulated. Those who are the godliest in society are probably most prone to being fawners, especially when we acknowledge the prevalence of trauma in all our societies.
There ought to be no shame in a person who finds themselves triggered by a manipulator that causes them to respond in submission, which does no harm to the manipulator.
But that gentleness, patience, and kindness is costly for the fawner. They must bear the cost of knowing what it feels like to submit under aggression. It’s demeaning. And the manipulator not only doesn’t care about what it costs the fawner, they get some sick pleasure out of having such aggressive power and control over them.
I want to say to the fawner that you know you wish nobody any harm.
You would rather be harmed than harm. To harm is unconscionable for you.
The opportunity ahead is simply to notice the initiation of fawning, to not judge it, to accept it as preferable over abusing a person (better to be abused than to abuse), and even to imagine that you’re being a blessing in your loving the other person despite how they may treat you.