top of page
  • Katie McKenna

Trauma and The Fawn Response

If you have come to this blog it is because you have heard me talk about the Fawn Response on the radio or on my social media and you want to find out more.

Welcome, thank you for being here and thank you for sharing all your experiences and messages with me. It is my passion to make this content as accessible and available to everyone.

Now let’s dive in ….

The Fawn response is our fourth Trauma Response, the other 3 well known Trauma Responses are Freeze, Fight and Flight.

As the The Fawn Response is a trauma response, we need to look at Trauma and identify what is Trauma?

When people think of Trauma they usually think of something terrible happening to a person but that’s not the only trauma there is.

There is another type of trauma.

Every child has two fundamental needs.

The first is attachment. Children need to feel an attachment to their caregivers in order to feel safe. Children come into this world pre-programmed to form attachments with their caregivers. This is absolutely non-negotiable, it is fundamental in the child’s development.

“The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals is a basic component of human nature” John Bowlby 1907-1990

The second need is that the child has the freedom to express themselves. To be real or genuine in other words, that the child can be authentic. Our second need therefore, is simply, to be us, be ourselves, our truest self.

And herein lies the problem, in order to meet our attachment need we will forfeit our second need and it starts from the time we are born.

Take a moment and reflect, we are born into the world whole and complete but our earliest experience form the template of who we believe we are, how we see other people and our place in the world. We are trained very early and nearly all of this is happening subconsciously, not by parents who are malice or have any ill intension, but by unconscious parents who are emotionally supressed, non-nurturing or abusive. The child needs to form an attachment but in order for the child to do this, the child has to adjust to who the parent is. They have no choice but to adjust, and this adjustment is disconnection from who it is they truly are.

This is emotionally painful for a child and when the pain is present and there is but no one there to share it with and the child has limited resources to deal with that. What they learn to do is disconnect from themselves, disconnect from their emotions, from their body from their gut.

When you disconnect from yourself, you no longer have yourself, you’ve lost yourself, and therein lies the trauma.

Therefore Trauma is fundamentally a disconnection form self.

Renowned author and trauma specialist Dr Gabor Mate states that

“We become disconnected because we learned it is too painful to be ourselves”

The Fawn Response

That conditioned response then becomes a lifelong personal dynamic in our interpersonal relationships.

The Fawn Response is a conditioned response associated with a need to avoid conflict and trauma by appeasing others. It was a learned response in childhood because is wasn’t safe to be any other way.

We are hard wired for connection, as children we need attachment and you learned it was the only way that you could behave to get the attachment you needed, but the cost was great, you had to abandon yourself. You had to disconnect from yourself, subjugate your own wants and needs, bury them, disconnect from yourself. In your adulthood you may have become aware how you avoid conflict as much as possible and silence your voice ultimately denying your truth in an attempt to make those around you feel comfortable. You base your worth, not on who you are as a person, but what you can do for someone. Your sense of identity is therefore based on what you do for other people and you need other people to approve of you in order to feel worthwhile.

“Fawn types seek merging safety with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they subconsciously believe that the price to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights prefrences and boundaries”

Pete Walker

If your parents were emotionally unavailable. If you had to take care of your parents emotional breakdowns. If you felt you had to walk on eggshells to keep under the radar. If you had an overly critical parent or were constantly yelled at and put down. If you received a message that you weren’t wanted and felt excluded;

Then what happens in order to survive, what response can you have to form an attachment?

You became the “good child” the “quiet child” one that never disappoints or cause any problems. You made yourself needed because if they needed you there was less chance of them rejecting you. This became highly addictive because that’s how you got your validation and sense of worth.

A higher expectation is then generally placed on the child emotionally, socially or academically. When you were a child you may have been told “how mature you are for your age.”

Then, when the child doesn’t meet the unrealistic expectations of the parents, the parent is disappointed, blames the child, directly or indirectly and withdraws love and affection, leaving the child to feel unsafe. (When I talk about safety in childhood and the child feeling safe, I do not mean threat of abuse. Safety is not the absence of threat but the premise of connection.) When you feel unsafe and believe you are unlovable and feel abandoned. Frightened, your Fawn Trauma Response kicks in and you appease, you bend, you shapeshift, you agree and conform because you learned that it was too painful to be yourself.

Psychotherapist and complex trauma expert Pete walker coined the term “fawn” response to describe a specific type of conditioned response resulting from childhood abuse and complex trauma. Walker asserts that trauma-based co-dependency is learned very early in life when a child gives up protesting to avoid retaliation. Understand, for a child it’s not possible to think that their parents might be depressed or have anxiety, have addiction or their own trauma. No, when their parents are sad, angry, anxious - the child feels unsafe and tries to make sense of what is happening and turns inward and thinks “there must be something wrong with me and how can I fix it”.

Your Fawn Response was not a personality trait but a survival mechanism which developed as a means of coping with a non-nurturing or abusive parent in order to form an attachment and feel valued.

The problem is you become so conditioned in childhood you stay in your Trauma Response into adulthood, thinking this is just who I am.

Trained by your caregiver to repress your emotions and deny your thoughts and wants requires a tremendous amount of energy. You learned that true self-expression is not acceptable over time you became so disconnected from this part of you. You may be so focused tending to the wants and needs of those around you, to prove your value and worth, that you have lost touch with who you are at the most basic level, to the point where you might be feeling depleted, angry and exhausted most of the time without ever realising it because of your chronic people-pleasing ways.

How can i change?

So now that I am aware of my behavioural patterns and possible causes how can I change?

If you were thinking that very question, my dearest human being, you do not need to change because that would imply that there is something wrong with you. The trauma is the disconnection form self. You have become habitual in your beliefs that you subconsciously believe that the price to any relationship

Is to forfeit all you rights, needs, preferences and boundaries in order to feel loved and accepted.

Instead, what would it be like to imagine reconnecting to that part of yourself that you became disconnected from. Reconnect with yourself, your body, your emotions, your wants, your needs. The child within you that instinctively new what needs he wanted me. He wailed when he was hugry, cried when he wanted comfort. I want you to reconnect with your body and the next time you fear fearful I want you to pause and ask yourself

“what is I need right now?”

Reassurance/Validation/Connection/Empathy. Your parents weren’t attune to your needs therefore this will take practice.

Fear - A Primal Response

I want you to visualise your body in two states.

The first in a state of fear and hyper alertness, on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now visualise your body in a state of acceptance, a sense of safety and trust.

Did you notice a difference?

When you feel fear, you are in your Fawn Trauma Response.

When you are in fear of not being accepted, your body is responding in the most primitive of ways. People usually underestimate how primal the response is. It is a primal and directly linked to our survival. Our body physically reacts when we feel threatened.

When you fear rejection, in order to survive in your environment, you adjust. The child has no choice but to adjust. You can yell scream or fight. Or, you can suppress your voice, your anger, your authenticity, your self.

In adulthood, you have brought a template of who you are into your relationships. You’ve been trapped in a script, a script that was written for you. You now have the choice, to break the cycle by having a different experience than your conditioned response.

When you reconnect with your self. You can reconnect to that part of yourself was was silenced and attune to it. If you have the courage to listen to it, to reconnect with your gut and allow it to drive you.

When you do, there will be no going back. It is powerful beyond measure and you will be amazed at its strength and beauty.

You now begin to rewrite the script.

Katie McKenna

(If you would like to receive an email when I have another blog post available on the fawn response, sign up and leave your email address)

3,467 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page