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Understanding Fawning: A Blended Nervous System State and Its Impact on Behavior

In the realm of psychological responses to trauma, fawning is a complex and often misunderstood behavior. It is a survival response that blends elements of both the freeze (dorsal activation) and the fight/flight (sympathetic activation) reactions. This unique combination can make fawning challenging to recognize, as it often feels like a normal, albeit subtly anxious, state of being.


The Nervous System Dynamics of Fawning

At its core, fawning involves mild activation of both the dorsal and sympathetic nervous system circuits. This means that while we experience a "soft freeze," which disconnects us from our inner feelings and needs, we simultaneously endure a subtle anxious energy driving us to focus on others' emotions and desires. This dual activation allows us to appear calm, present, and cooperative on the outside, while internally, we are motivated by a deep-seated need to please and appease others for our own sense of safety.


Origins of Fawning

Fawning originates as an intelligent reflex of the nervous system to perceived threats, especially in situations where no other options are available to ensure safety. It is not a consciously chosen behavior but rather an automatic response that often develops early in childhood. Children in adverse home environments, whether mildly or severely abusive, learn to fawn as a survival strategy. This behavior can even be inherited through generational and cultural patterns, making it deeply ingrained and often unnoticed.


Recognizing Fawning in Behavior

Fawning can be particularly hard to identify because it presents subtly and often seems like a positive behavior. Here are some key characteristics:

  • Soft Freeze: This mild form of dissociation disconnects us from our inner experiences, such as feelings, needs, and self-knowledge. Instead, our focus shifts outward, primarily towards the people around us.

  • Subtle Anxious Energy: The mild activation of the sympathetic nervous system manifests as a constant, low-level anxiety. This keeps us vigilant and hyper-aware of others' emotions and desires, aiming to accommodate them to feel safe and accepted.

  • Appearing Calm and Cooperative: From an external perspective, fawning can look like we are genuinely calm, present, and cooperative. However, this apparent calmness is driven by an underlying fear and need to avoid conflict or rejection.

  • Blending with Ventral Mode: Fawning can mimic the characteristics of the ventral nervous system mode, where we are typically relaxed, engaged, and socially connected. The key difference is that in fawning, our engagement is fear-based, driven by a need to please others to avoid perceived threats.


The Impact of Fawning

The main challenge with fawning is that while it can involve some genuinely positive qualities—such as kindness, calmness, and cooperativeness—these qualities are often hijacked by fear and unconscious survival patterns. This makes fawning a deeply ingrained behavior that is not intentional and often goes unrecognized.

Living in a state of fawning can have significant impacts on our well-being. It disconnects us from our true selves, leading to a lack of authentic self-expression and fulfillment. The constant vigilance and anxious energy can also contribute to chronic stress and anxiety, affecting both mental and physical health.


Moving Towards Awareness and Healing

Recognizing and understanding fawning is the first step towards healing. By becoming aware of this pattern, we can start to reconnect with our inner experiences and needs. Therapeutic approaches such as mindfulness, self-compassion, and trauma-informed therapy can be incredibly beneficial in this process. These tools help us to gradually shift from a fear-based response to a more authentic and self-connected way of being.

In conclusion, fawning is a complex survival response rooted in our nervous system's intelligent reflex to perceived threats. By recognizing and addressing this pattern, we can begin to heal and reclaim our authentic selves, moving towards a life that is not driven by fear, but by genuine connection and self-awareness.


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