At some point in our lives we have learnt that people are in some way dangerous, whether it be emotionally, psychologically, physically or spiritually. These experiences leave us feeling on guard, hypervigilant and with the idea that in order to survive we must be perfect in our relationships. Most people at the best of times do not like conflict, however fawns have an extreme aversion to conflict or any kind of interpersonal difficulty. We have learnt that we must avoid conflict at all costs in order to exist in the world. When the body goes into survival mode, extra adrenaline and stress hormone cortisol is pumped around the body, suppressing the immune system. Digestion slows down and blood pressure rises. The long-term effects of constantly being in survival mode puts chronic pressure on the whole body’s overall functioning, leaving us at risk of both emotional and physical burnout. The following three signs are indicators you may be at higher risk of emotional and physical burnout.
1. You have relationships in your day to day life that trigger anxiety: You might notice some relationships are particularly anxiety provoking and intense for you. The other person may have no idea they are triggering you as you are very good at masking your true feelings and fawn for the sake of safety in the relationship. Every time you are not able to express yourself freely, stress is activated in your body and you can go into survival mode. Our everyday relationships with the people in our lives can cause these stress responses to keep firing. It may be a partner, parent, family member, boss or friend or all of the above to varying degree. This puts your health at serious risk by keeping the body perpetually in survival mode, causing greater wear and tear. Psychological literature and therapeutic modalities are now placing more emphasis on the importance of somatic healing due to the body’s physiological reaction to stress and trauma.
2. You have chronic physical issues that can’t be explained: Maybe you have noticed headaches, migraines or digestive issues that can’t be explained, back aches, tension and sore muscles. This is the price we pay for our fawning behavior. We give up who we are and hold all the stress of these experiences in our body. Spending time with people starts to leave us feeling depleted and empty. You may notice particular people in your life are energy draining after spending time with them. Without a healthy release or free expression of ourselves we store our stress and anxiety in our body. This has nowhere to go but to materialise in physical issues and in the words of Dr Bessel Van der Kolk ‘our body keeps the score’.
3. You over burden yourself with taking on too much for others: Not only do we fawn and carry the physical burden of our stress response in our body but we often overload ourselves with doing things for others. When you take on more than you can handle for others or don’t let others do what is their responsibility, this can easily lead to increased stress. Sometimes we can take on real or imagined high expectations of other people’s needs in our relationships, making the stakes higher and our load heavier rather than talking, making space for growth, mutual responsibility and sharing. Not being able to say no can lead to over extending yourself, pushing yourself to your limits and not being able to centre and recharge. You don’t just lose out on time you need for yourself but you also have less time for things you really need to do. To get the bare essentials taken care of, you might end up working longer hours or going without sleep, eventually facing physical consequences of worry and stress.
Do any of these signs sound familiar to you? I want you to know dear friend that you are important. Everyone deserves to love, care, attention. Looking after yourself mentally and physically is not a last priority down the bottom of your list of life is a basic right. Our minds and bodies are interconnected, not speaking your truth or expressing yourself authentically can be detrimental to your physical health. However knowledge, insight and understanding is power. We can rewire the effects of childhood trauma based fawning and learn new ways of being. It’s as easy as starting right now in this moment by doing something simple and kind for yourself and your body… I am going to make myself a cup of herbal tea.