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What Are Fawn and Freeze? The Two Misunderstood Trauma Reactions

Trauma responses instinctively kick in when your brain senses physical or emotional danger. Unfortunately, perceived danger doesn’t equal actual danger. In many cases, our responses are out of proportion to the situation. After experiencing trauma, the entire nervous system can become compromised in the long term. The experience can cause a fight, flight, fawn, or freeze response.

Exploring Fawn and Freeze

Have you ever heard of fight-or-flight? You might have heard these terms in high school health class. They’re considered the basic responses to trauma. Evolution built these responses into your brain to protect you from danger.

Fight-or-flight isn’t the only response involved in the sympathetic nervous system, however. Fawn and freeze responses can also occur when stress hormones flood your system. For many years, the fawn and freeze reactions weren’t well studied. We now understand how fawn and freeze work. Let’s explore them further.

Fawning to Protect Yourself

When you’re traumatized, your brain goes into whatever trauma response it believes you need to survive. Sometimes, that means fawning over your traumatizer. Fawning includes any of the following behaviors:

  • Changing yourself to be more agreeable
  • Over-apologizing
  • Making yourself as unnoticeable as possible
  • Struggling to say “no”
  • Burying your personality and values
  • Inability to set boundaries
  • Developing codependency
  • Agreeing with someone to appease them
  • Feeling responsible for the emotions and thoughts of others
  • Not knowing who you are

Eventually, when you’ve experienced enough trauma, you may default into fawning toward anyone. You may not isolate the response to people who have caused you trauma or people who cause high stress. The extension of symptoms applies to both the fawn and freeze responses.

Freezing During Trauma

If you fall into freeze mode, you experience a dichotomous state. Your window of tolerance shuts down. You can become simultaneously hypervigilant and stuck. While your mind may be racing, you might not get your body to move. This can extend to your voice box. Your ability to verbalize could fail or be extremely limited. You could feel buzzed and energetic internally. Physically, your heart and breathing may race.

Additionally, there’s one more sign of freeze — dissociation. Dissociation occurs when your brain experiences too much stress. It’s similar to jumping out of a plane. You’re panicking. Adrenaline rushes. Then, you pull the rip cord, and you’re floating away from the danger. Dissociation causes severe emotional and mental distance. You may feel disconnected from your body and mind. Ultimately, your brain just freezes from the trauma and stress.

When you’ve gone through intense trauma, you may find yourself reacting in unusual ways. You might fight someone, or you could flee the scene. As discussed in this blog, you also may find yourself fawning over your traumatizer or freezing up. It’s important to address trauma sooner rather than later. Symptoms become more intense the longer that trauma remains unresolved. At The Guest House, we understand that trauma predicates mental illnesses and addiction. Our trauma-specialized staff is prepared to help you heal. When you’re ready to change, call The Guest House at (855) 483-7800.