I’m deep into the heart of Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD at the moment about which I have been sharing a little on my recent blogs.
Today I have been reading about the four F responses to trauma. Fight, flight, fear and fawn. The truth is that we don’t just adopt one style or response of being, indeed two or more responses can oscillate or work together to set up particular defences against the pain of being traumatised.
I relate very deeply to the Fawn or co-dependent response. It explains to me my hyper-vigilance around watching others so intently to read their cues, moods and feelings. According to Walker the Fawn type or co-dependent response is a result of being raised by at least one narcissistic or emotionally unavailable parent (it also occurs to me that that parent may also have been busy, busy, busily in flight from their own unresolved childhood wounds.)
Many fawns survived by constantly focusing their awareness on their parents to figure out what was needed to appease them. Some became almost psychic in their ability to read her parents moods and expectations. This helped them to figure out the best response to neutralise parental danger. For some, it even occasionally won them some approval.
Survivors now need to deconstruct this habit by working to stay more inside their own experience without constantly projecting their attention outward to read others. Fawn types who are still habituated to people pleasing, must work reducing their ingratiating behaviours. I have noticed over the years that the degree to which survivor strains to please me reflects the degree to which his parents were dangerous.
(they need to) decrease the habit of reflexively agreeing with everything that anyone says …(and).. reduce inauthentic mirroring….i.e. acting amused at destructive sarcasm, acting loving when someone is punishing, acting forgiving when one is repetitively hurtful.
This is what fawn types most often DO NOT DO. We can tend to feel the truth like a knife in the gut but then roll over like the proverbial dog, collapse or freeze under attack especially if the nasty words or behaviour are followed with a something like a laugh and the words : “what’s wrong with you, can’t you take a joke?” or “well you know what your problem is? You’re far too sensitive (thin skinned, serious etc etc.)”
Such emotional invalidation should make us fawn types angry. We should feel that anger and know it is a sign that we need to walk away or set a boundary with the person, not collapse again, deny our true response or laugh it off.
Walker goes on to explain also that it is not necessary for us to mirror someone else’s mood as a way of showing empathy. We can feel empathy with a sad person but we do not have to take on their sadness. I remember when my sister had been going through serious depressions over the past few years, I felt for a while guilty to be feeling happy in my own life when things were going well and she was feeling sad, that I should sacrifice my own sadness. I even refused to buy a lovely dress I liked as I felt guilty to be having something that was source of joy for me when things were so painful for her.
By the same token we can feel glad for a person who is happy without having to throw a wet blanket all over their happiness if we aren’t feeling that great on the day they share their great joy with us.
I guess at heart what recovery is about for the fawn types amongst us is this : being authentic. It may be hard to do at first if we have been confused as to what our authentic feelings truly are, but the cost of not having them, of not honouring is to be stuck in unhappiness.
I nearly cried when I read the subsection in Walker’s book on the Fawn response/co-dependence which deals with the fawn-freeze response which occurs as the unhealed fawn type begins to be frozen into lifelessness, avoidance and depression after consecutive years of going on, giving up and collapsing to keep the peace and abandon the self over and over to find a love which never comes, could never be earned in this way. I could really relate to this sad state of being and my heart broke all over again for myself as I was in this state so badly frozen just over fiveyears ago
Over the past few years I have learned to collapse less, to stand up, assert myself and fight for my rights more. I have learned to use my reader only to assess who is safe and who is not so as to take action to leave a situation before becoming stuck in place by an endless diatribe or monologue from a self obsessed person. I think of the long hours I spent on the phone listening to my ex’s diatribes of “the world did me wrong” of the way I as I small child I learned to revolve around my mother and try to meet her needs before she could even speak them. I think of the succession of partners who didn’t understand when the soft compliant me turned into a raging, angry loony in the face of being minimised, taken for granted or abused. I know in my heart now I deserved much better than this and in the end that the best one to give it myself was me.
I think of the long quest to find therapists who would allow me to set the agenda to meet my needs, instead of trying to force me into a schedule and timing that did not suit me, who would understand, empathise and make sense of my at times extremely painful feelings without shaming and silencing me. I remember what a long, long, long journey that has been with so many painful stops and starts.
It feels to me as if I am on the brink of something, of a deeper understanding and sense of power that has taken so long to achieve. I realise more and more what it takes, that I must continue to honour myself and my feelings centred in my body and bring the centre of my radar deeply within me to feel my own feelings and insides, for it is here that the answers lie, not anywhere outside me. It is only when the environment most deeply accords with what I know to be right for me inside that I should agree. And the collapsing I should do now is the collapse of resting cosy within my own skin inside the place and space that most feels like home.