A lot of times, these traumatic events happen when we're children. We learn how to survive in a moment but that's all we ever learn. We never get to go through that process of letting all the terror, all the fear, all the scared, lonely anguish of, "I'm alone, no one is helping me. I don't know what to do" flow through in a healthy way.
If no one ever helped you heal, to return to that calm, centered place inside, all you’ve ever known is survival. All you’ve ever known is how to respond out of fear.
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
- Mindsight, by Dan Siegel, M.D.
- Try Softer, by Aundi Kolber
- More on healing from trauma and the 4 Fear Responses: The Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God, by Dr. Alison Cook
- How to Reclaim Your Inner Alert System
- 7 Ways to Increase Your Support
- Resources for support
- Episode Transcript
- More Episodes
Episode Four: Psychology Buzz Words The Best of You Podcast 4th August 2022
Listener's Choice Edition. With Dr. Alison Cook
Alison: Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
< Music >
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Hey, everyone. Welcome to this new series, Psychology Buzzwords Part Two Listeners' Choice Edition. So this time I'm going to cover the words you selected.
I ran a poll in my Instagram Stories last week, and you gave me so many great ideas. In fact, you've given me so many ideas that now I have my content scheduled, pretty much, for the rest of this year.
If you don't hear your favorite topic in this series, keep checking back. You asked some great questions and I'm going to get to all of them over the coming months.
So for this series, I'm going to focus on the top-five vote-getters. Starting with the four fear responses, especially the fawn response.
But before we get started, I want to remind you to sign up for my two-part August webinar series Five Toxic Behaviors, and How to Protect Yourself. The first one is August 11th. It's live with me via Zoom. I'm going to go deep into five toxic behaviors that we haven't yet discussed on the podcast.
These are important for everyone to know. They're behaviors that people often don't understand, and how can you protect yourself if you don't even understand what you're walking into?
I'm going to teach you how to detect what's happening and how to respond in a way that is strategic, effective, and practical. It's hard to engage toxicity when you haven't been taught how, but these are skills that you can learn.
This is one of my bonus gifts for you when you pre-order my new book, The Best of You. So go order the book now anywhere books are sold. Save your confirmation number. Then go over to my website, dralisoncook.com/book. That's dralisoncook.com/book, and sign up for the one-book deal. And you'll get entered into this two-part live webinar series in August, where I will answer your questions and you'll get practical strategies to address toxicity.
You'll also get a whole bunch of other bonus items, including the first three chapters of the book. Now, I really appreciate, so much, how many of you are showing early support for The Best of You. It means so much to authors. And since I can't get the book to you until September 13th, this is my way of trying to get resources into your hands now.[00:04:18] < Music >
Today's topic was one of your most-requested topics, and I'm not surprised. It's a topic you're hearing about everywhere, and it's really important to understand. So what are these Four Fear Responses? And, especially, what is this fawn response?
Now, a lot of people call these trauma responses, anxiety responses, survival responses, stress responses. I like to call them fear responses because these are ways that our bodies have been wired to respond, in the face of danger. When you're confronted with any sort of danger outside of you. Whether it's a physical threat or an emotional threat, your body is equipped to respond to protect you.
Something happens outside of you that stirs up fear or stress on the inside of you. And this triggers your brain and your nervous system to respond, in one of four ways to protect you. It's actually a beautiful part of your God-given design.
And the foremost common that we talk about, you've probably heard the most, are number one, the Fight/Flight response. And number two, the Freeze/Fawn response, those ones aren't talked about as much. We're going to touch a lot on that fawn response today.
But here is an overview, when you sense danger your inner alert system kicks into high gear. Your heart rate quickens. Your palms might grow sweaty. Your body grows tense, as if it's positioned to fight or positioned to flee.
If you tend toward fight you might get louder, physically act out, or run head first into the conflict. You feel the anger rise and you might lash out or engage.
If you tend toward flight, your body is still similarly activated, The blood is rushing to your muscles. Your heart rate quickens. But instead of running into the confrontation, you might run away, hide, or simply just avoid. Do everything you can to get away from what's happening.
So in both of these fight/flight responses, your nervous system is activated. This is the same mechanism within your nervous system. You might even feel some of the same physiological things, such as the sweaty palms or the tense muscles. But instead of moving toward the conflict, which is fight, you run, as fast as you can, away from the threat.
Now for more on the neurobiology of what's, actually, happening in your body during this response, check out two books.
The first is Mindsight by Dr. Dan Siegel.
The second is Try Softer by Aundi Kolber.
They go through the mechanisms of this, in the nervous system, in great detail. If you're interested in learning the neurobiology of this. But, in short, cortisol, courses through, which is the stress hormone. There's cortisol adrenaline that are coursing through your nervous system, and this is a good thing in a moment.
If you are really in danger, if somebody is really threatening you, you want your nervous system to kick into high gear. You want that shot of adrenaline, to give you what you need to survive in that moment.
Now, the next fear response is called— The Freeze Response. The freeze response is really interesting in that it's when you shut down, altogether. And what is really happening is both your hyper arousal, your sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system, the one that causes you to rest or tone down. Both of those are activated at the same time, causing you to feel stuck, trapped. You might disconnect from the emotional cues in that moment.
So a lot of times dissociation can occur when you freeze. You're frozen, you don't know what to do. You're immobilized. And, in many cases, you dissociate from the emotions, the anger, the anxiety, the feelings that you have in response to that threat. You sort of leave your body and don't even feel those things, you're just frozen or trapped in that moment.
Now, dissociation is really an interesting survival response. Because, if you think about it, something really painful is happening to you or around you, and instead of feeling the appropriate emotions.
The terror, the anxiety, the rage, because you have nowhere to go with those emotions. You've lost control in that moment. You're in danger. And, so, something really interesting happens where you dissociate from those emotions. And if you think about it, this is how you survive that terrible thing.
You don't experience those emotions, instead, you freeze. Your whole system freezes, and that allows you to tolerate this awful, painful thing that's happening to you or in front of you without being overwhelmed by what you are feeling.
In the face of a real threat, these responses are adaptive. This fight/flight/freeze response, they allow you to survive in the moment. They're there for a reason. They help you cope in a moment of trauma. They're a way that God designed your body to allow you to survive. It's quite amazing, really, what our bodies can do.
When you witness something terrifying, though, here is the thing: it's appropriate to feel a whole range of emotions, and these emotions need to be processed. These emotions need to be allowed to flow through you. The anger, the terror, the fear, and the grief, the rage, the pain. All of these emotions need to be able to flow through you after the traumatic event.
So in the moment of the traumatic event, these fear responses come in to help you survive, and that's good, that's helpful. That's a constructive thing in that moment.
But what happens is after the fact you need a process to heal. You need a process to help you let all of those emotions flow through you. So that you can return to that calm, clear, centered place inside. Where the best of you, the wise, discerning place, where the Holy Spirit lives.
Dan Siegel calls it "The window of tolerance". I call it the best of you or the spirit-led self. That place inside, where you're operating from that homeostasis. That best part of who you are. That calm, clear, centered place inside, and you can't return to that place inside until you've processed what's happened.
So let's say you have a traumatic event. It might even be a medical event. And I remember when I had a medical crisis two years ago, that was terrifying, I write about it in my new book, it's when I had a stroke.
And I remember as I flowed through it. As I came out the other side and I realized I was going to be okay. My whole body was shaking, and I started crying, and I started laughing, and all of these emotions started to come out of me, and it was a bizarre experience. Because it was a whole bunch of emotions all at once.
It was the terror. It was the relief of having survived. It was the fear, the grief of having something terrible happen that I didn't expect. It was the feeling of what it's like to be out of control, and then all of a sudden to realize you're okay.
There's a lot of complicated emotions that have to be processed after a traumatic event. You need a process to heal. So these fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses are adaptive in a moment. They help you survive.
But you need a process, after the traumatic event, to help you get those emotions out of your body, to flow through your body. So you can reengage back into that calm, centered place inside.
And here is the problem, a lot of times, these traumatic events happened when we're children. And, so, we have that fear response. We have that survival response. We learn how to survive but that's all we ever learn. We never get to go through that process of letting all the terror, all the fear, all the scared, lonely anguish of, "I'm alone, no one is helping me. I don't know what to do."
None of that gets witnessed. None of that gets healed. No one comes along side of you, to help you allow all of those emotions to flow through. And, so, you then feel what it feels like to return to a centered, calm place inside.
All you know is what it feels like to survive. All you know is what it feels like to bounce between a fight/flight/freeze or fawn, we're going to get into fawn response, where you experience a lot of hypervigilance.
You're always on alert. You're always on guard. Your body is tense. You might feel constantly irritable. You might feel a lot of shame. Because nobody ever taught you how to soothe your nervous system and how to come back to that centered place.
And, in order, to do that you have to reengage all those emotions that got trapped in that moment, and this is why it's so important to get help. And we'll walk through some steps to help you heal that, at the end of this episode.
But first I want to move into what is this Fawn response?
Now, this is the response that I see most often in my work with women and, especially, women who are raised in faith communities.
And the reason is the fawn response appears like being nice. The fawn response is often affirmed, especially in faith communities. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're a child, and growing up in your home there was violence around you. Maybe your parents fought. Maybe your sibling and a parent fought. Maybe your sibling was cruel to you. Maybe a parent was cruel to you.
Any number of things can happen. You felt anxiety. You felt distressed. You felt fearful inside. You didn't know what to do. So instead of getting the care that you needed, nobody came alongside of you. You learned how to take care of everybody else.
You learned how to clean up after the mess your parents made after their fight. You learned to try to follow your older brother, your older sister around making them happy, so they wouldn't bully you. You learned to try to bend yourself over backwards to make your dad feel good, feel happy, so he wouldn't lose his temper. Do you see where I'm going? I know a lot of you relate to this.
It's a very common childhood way of coping with fear, with anxiety inside of us. When we're not getting our own needs met, "I'll take care of somebody else." Guess what happens? Guess what they say to you? "Oh, you're such a good girl."
"Oh, thank you for helping me out."
"Wow, what a nice kid."
"Oh, wow, man, you're so helpful to me." You start to get this positive conditioning. “You're never a bother.” “You're never a problem.”
You make yourself invisible.
You work overtime to make sure everyone around you is happy so that no one can hurt you, and you get that hit of love. You get that hit of connection. You get that hit of affirmation. And that feels like connection, it's not actually connection, it feels like the connection you desperately crave.
And, so, your nervous system, your body learns a powerful message. "If I can only make everybody else feel good, I can feel like I'm connected with them. I can feel like I matter, I can feel like I'm on the team. I can get the love, the attention, the care that I need."
But here is the problem, you're not actually getting the care, the attention, the connection you need. You're betraying yourself. You're shoving aside your own actual needs, and it's not your fault, this is what you've been conditioned to do.
You're shoving aside your own actual needs, to make someone else feel okay. So that then they will affirm you. You learn how to get those needs met through shoving your actual needs aside, and it works. It works. It can keep you out of the fray. It can keep you from other people's anger. It can keep other people liking you.
But here is the problem, you're not, actually, getting your needs met. And when you get conditioned to fawn, this is what it means to fawn, it's the fawn response. It's pleasing other people as an anxiety response, to deal with our own anxiety, our own fear, our own insecurities. We work overtime to make other people feel good, feel okay, like us, it's a survival response.
"I'll win you over then you can't hurt me."
Think about it. Think about how often we do that. "If I can make you like me."
"If I can be pleasing enough, kind enough, helpful enough, perform enough, produce enough, then you can never be mad at me."
It's a very adaptive survival response. Here is the problem, if this is the only way you've learned to connect with other people, nobody is connecting to the real you.
You're not getting your real needs met. You're not showing up in your relationships as your true self. You're denying yourself, bypassing yourself, pushing yourself aside, bending yourself over backwards. Doing mental gymnastics to make sure other people are happy.
But you wind up in relationships you don't really want. You wind up exhausted, burnout, lonely, and invisible. I call this the armor of invisibility in my new book. I write about this a lot in my new book, The Best of You— The Armor of Invisibility. It keeps you safe and it also keeps you invisible.
If no one ever helped you heal; if no one ever helped you return to that centered place inside, All you've ever known is survival. All you've ever known is fear. And, so, your nervous system is constantly being amped up. The first thing you've got to do is take a deep breath. This is in your body, your nervous system is firing. You can't conquer that with your mind, you've got to conquer that with your breaths. Slowing down. See if you can count to 10, just give yourself a pause.
Take that deep breath, when you feel that instinct, that impulse to fawn, in particular, is the one we're talking about right now. Take that deep breath. Take a step back, give yourself 24 hours if you can.
Give yourself as much time as you can to listen, "Wait, what's going on inside of me, am I scared?"
"Am I afraid of losing their love?"
"Am I afraid of their anger?"
"Am I afraid of rejection?"
"What's actually happening inside of me?"
"Am I afraid of walking into this room full of people, what if they don't like me?"
"What if they hurt me, the way I've been hurt in the past?"
"What if they don't see me?"
"What if who I am isn't enough?"
These are the fears that are going on. That cause us to amp up the pleasing, performing, and producing. These are the fears that are going on. You got to be tender with those fears, and those fears aren't ready to bring into that room full of people or into that relationship, that challenging relationship.
These fears need you. They need your presence. They need God's presence. They need the presence of a safe witness, maybe a friend, maybe you phone a friend. You pause, you take a minute. You ask yourself, "What is happening inside of me, am I afraid?"
"What am I afraid of?"
And then, "Who is safe?"
"Who can I talk to, that's outside of this situation?"
"I notice that when I walk into this room full of people at church, or at my kid's school, or at this party that I was invited to, or in my own family, I just go into overdrive. Trying to please everybody, and I exhaust myself, and I wear myself out. And I'm realizing that I'm terrified. I'm terrified to show up just as myself. I'm terrified about that."
"People have been mean to me."
"I've been rejected, I've been hurt."
"My mom didn't love me."
"I was bullied."
"All I've learned is if I show up as my true self, I'm just going to get shoved aside or hurt, and that's terrifying to me." Name that to somebody. I want you to think about right now, who is someone who feels safe?
And if you don't have someone get a counselor, get a spiritual director. Get a mentor and say, "I need someone to talk to because I got to change, I'm exhausting myself. I'm wearing myself out. My nervous system is fried from all this that I'm trying to do to please other people. And what I really need to learn to do is be seen in my own pain for a minute. Is to share what I'm afraid of, for a minute, with someone who's safe."
And in the context of that safe relationship, you start to heal. Your nervous system starts to go, "Oh, wait a minute, this person sees me. This person accepts me. This is what it feels like to be real, and to be seen, and to be held and loved." And you feel a little bit stronger, and then you decide, "Okay, all right, I'm going to walk into this room full of people."
Or "I'm going to walk into this relationship."
Or "I'm going to walk into this family gathering, and I'm just going to be quiet." Don't go for the biggest thing. Don't be like, "I'm going to just show them who I am."
Just be like, "I'm going to practice this new muscle of just being quiet. Just not offering to fix everybody's problems. I'm just going to listen today."
Start with baby steps. "I'm just going to listen today."
"I'm going to see what that feels like."
"What if I just show up quietly?"
What if, when someone asks, "How are you doing?" Instead of immediately turning it on them, "I'm great. How are you?" Which is an anxiety response half the time. What if we say, "You know, I'm learning a lot right now. I'm in a process."
You don't have to share all of your deepest, darkest secrets. But what if you just answered a little bit authentically, "I'm going through something right now, thanks for asking."
"I'm working on some new skills, thanks for asking."
"I'm a little nervous to be here today, thanks for asking."
You don't have to, again, give them everything, but something authentic about you. "I'm tired, but I'm so glad to be here." You might say, at a family gathering, "I'm just in listening mode. I just enjoy listening to everybody."
Again, you're giving yourself permission to just show up a little bit more authentically. This is how we begin to heal that fawn response. This is how we begin to heal those conditioned responses.
We, first of all, number one, we have to name them to ourselves, understand what's happening. "Oh, this is a fear response."
"This is an anxiety response."
Okay, "Let's just name that. Let's just get curious about that. Let's show ourselves compassion for that."
Number two, how do I inhabit that just a little bit. To pause, to take a breath, when I feel it.
Number three, who is someone's safe I can talk with about it. I can name it and try to understand what the fear is. What the wound is underneath that.
And then number four, arm yourself, equip yourself with some scripts. When you walk into that situation, where you're tempted to fawn. Where you're tempted to deploy this conditioning, practice small, tiny steps of authenticity.
"I'm so glad to be here today. I don't have much to share." There's so many different ways you can just, quietly, be authentic.
Now, as you grow the muscle, you'll learn how to say what's really going on in a healthy way. But at first, just take a baby step of authenticity, baby steps, all right?
So this is a little primer on the fawn response. I go into this so much more deeply in my new book, The Best of You, you can pre-order it now. And when you pre-order it now you will get access to this webinar, which goes into more of these buzzwords. And really what it goes into is more of the strategies for how to respond to other people. As we become more and more aware of our conditioning.
So go check that out dralisoncook.com/book. Thank you for being here today. I can't wait to see you next week for the next buzzword we're going to talk about in this series. Have a great week.
Everyone, don't forget to notice what brings out the best of you.[00:28:38] < Music >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it, if you go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out.
I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.[00:29:16] < Outro >