I thank blog commenter, Gingercat, for the heads up about the important work of Pete Walker, M.A. on Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (cPTSD).  I have found my way to one of his web pages of information that is concerned with an additional “F” he has added to a list of stress responses:  Flight – Flight – Freeze AND – FAWN

Walker’s description of this FAWNING response bears some serious consideration.  Please click on this link to access Walker’s writing on the topic:  Codependency, Trauma and the Fawn Response.

I can tell within my first moments of reading about Walker’s work that he has a focus that FEELS both specific and accurate to me about the experiences that survivors of severe child abuse have as emotional reactions that reappear often ‘out of nowhere’ all through our lives.  I don’t mean to in any way discuss the information that is contained on the web pages HERE – there is too much for me to read and consider this late in my day (and perhaps even this late in my life now that I am 60).

I do recommend that readers take a look at Walker’s work – but PLEASE BE CAREFUL.

Very very few people who suffered severe early abuse can access the kind of therapy – or therapist – that we need to work on the ‘issues’ that Walker is describing.  When we pop in and out of web page universes such as the one you will find if you follow these links above, we are opening far more than the proverbial ‘can of worms’.  We can easily fall into what seems like a bottomless pit full of deadly vipers.

It is essential that we trust our inner wisdom about how much we can tolerate of this kind of information at any given time – no matter how accurate and ‘helpful’ it might actually be to us.  We are bound by the fundamental limitations of BEING HUMAN BEINGS – LIMITS being the key word here!


What I have read thus far about this ‘fawning’ response lets me know the concept is of value – very probably of great value – to many survivors.  My first reaction personally is that ‘fawning’ was NOT one of the stress responses I was ALLOWED to use as a child – not even as far back as Walker is describing (toddlerhood).  My unique abuse situation for the first 18 years of my life let me know from the time I was born that NOTHING I could do could possibly avert the terrifying and terrible abuse that was continually aimed at me.

But I also know that my abuse situation was, most fortunately, very unique in many significant ways.  My mother, who was my abuser, was severely mentally ill with a psychosis toward me that defied any attempt by anyone to name in any kind of ‘reasonable’ way in our family.  Nobody even tried.  There was no way for me to avert what happened to me – and from what I am seeing of Walker’s description of ‘fawning’, an attempt to control what is happening to the child in the environment is the end-goal of this stress response.

I knew my situation was hopeless.  I cannot even describe here in simple words how profoundly I knew this fact.  I was never fooled.

So in this very brief post I am simply encouraging readers who experience intense emotional responses, or ‘emotional flashbacks’ to take a look at these pages at the links above.  Every abuse survivor has to define for their own self what fits, what rings true, for them.  I am sensing that ‘fawning’ was possibly a response more characteristic of my siblings who suffered ‘witness abuse’ by being in proximity to the abuse perpetrated against me.

Walker is presenting information, concepts, descriptions of dynamics, and (in my real world) some rather fantastical suggestions for healing that seem based on the assumption that a survivor can access the kind and quality of therapy/therapist that Walker seems to be.  True, for most severe child abuse survivors, only in some fairy tale world.


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  1. I really wanted to jump in a plane and meet this guy!
    Shame – that is so interesting to link it to fawn – it really fits well.
    Kids are so amazing and really our rsponses to abuse are in a sense pure because they
    Just are what they are. I actually wonder if these 4 fs are different responses to the message
    Given – fight – could also be a refusal to being shamed – fighting it off with
    The intention of prooving that the messgae is not true? The fawn could then be a shame based yet
    Maybe also a fighting against the message by identifying with the abuser. I always get back to shame
    With all the fs somehow. I like the fact that there are variations of the fs as well..

    Funnily enough, in SA we say “shame” to show when we are sorry for another!

    No chicken at kfc – weird – I suppose they just sold lots of coleslaw.

    I think situations in life which invoke how we have been lied to or deceived is horrible – or set up. I react badly
    When situations remind me of this – the clever body brain.

    Take care and thank you for sharing more insights – it is so helpful. This is just the beginning
    For me – its only been a few years of gradual awareness.


  2. Wisely said alchemynow. I’m so glad you said that about trusting one’s inner wisdom. I find that when I’m feeling brave I jump where angels fear to tread.. I
    Didn’t really think about how some may feel on reading the site. We really do need to protect ourselves from things according to our personal contexts.

    Sounds like you have a good internal sense – I still don’t trust mine and its definitely a part of sense of self!

    • Yes, we do all have our context – and mine just responded this way – nothing ‘thoughtless’ on your part! I am very glad you mentioned Walker’s work – There is something ‘strong’ about what he says, like he has examined deeply what he has looked at. This morning I am thinking that what he is describing as the ‘fawn’ response is deeply tied to the physiology of the shame response in the Central Nervous System as developmental neuroscientist Dr. Allan N. Schore describes. It is a sort of ‘belly up’ response that acknowledges a profound ‘rupture’ in an attachment relationship – where the ‘victim’ is attempting to ‘repair’ the rupture.

      Except in safe and secure healthy attachments little people are dependent on their caregiver to recognize the rupture when it happens and are responsible for repairing it – not the little person. I liked that Walker is writing about toddlerhood – such a critically important developmental stage that moves forward for a child along the course of development that was established in those first 33 most important months of life (conception to age two).

      Anyway, yes, Tucson was a wonderful journey yesterday with my friend. I noticed my irritability arising several times, not something I am pleased with in myself. It is tied to depression, and is itself a kind of ’emotional flashback’. For me it is tied to my sense of entitlement and to what I perceive as justice vs injustice.

      These little irritations can pile up for me as they create a kind of negative chain I lay upon my own self as I react to others. Little things! Like the other day buying on sale 5 boxes of Rice’a’Roni white and wild rice mix, taking it home and finding as I went to prepare my curry dinner that there was not one grain of wild rice in one of those five boxes! How could that happen?? Meaning irritation to me, a need to return all boxes, etc.

      Little things then remembered in this chain, like the time a year ago when I went to Kentucky Fried Chicken in a town near here and ordered a chicken breast. “We don’t have any chicken,” was the response from the person behind the counter – like that was OK?

      Wanting to simply buy pretty whole cashew nuts at Trader Joe’s in Tucson yesterday – none in the store – trying to convince myself without irritation that buying bags of chopped up ‘pre-chewed’ as I called them cashews instead was just fine.

      Then becoming most irritated with myself that I became irritated!?!? When so many in the world have such terrible difficulties they face, and me being irritated — at what??

      Some part of me responds to my self queries with, “I could never express an instance of disappointment of any kind, or of irritation for my first 18 years. I am going to feel and express irritation NOW because I CAN!”


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