Fawn Trauma Therapy Program

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Understanding the Fawn Response

The term “fawn” comes from the natural response of a deer faced with danger. It freezes, lowers its head, and attempts to escape danger by running away. If none of these options are available, the deer will submit to and appease the predator so that the predator won’t attack it.

The fawn response is an adaptation that a person takes on in order to survive abuse, particularly in their childhoods. It is a coping mechanism that can help you manage when you are afraid of neglect or abuse. You may find yourself soothing emotional pain by pleasing others to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, the response is learned through experience, and it creates maladaptive behavior that becomes automatic in adulthood.

Who Is Likely To Become a Fawner?

Someone may manifest fawning behavior through excessive compliance, sarcasm, guilt, or self-deprecating humor. Fawners are likely to have grown up with many of these risk factors:

● A chaotic family life including frequent moves, financial instability, parental divorce or separation, and stepsiblings

● Living with a large family with many siblings and other family members like grandparents

● Domestic violence including physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence

● Substance abuse in the home, which may include the child’s addiction to drugs or alcohol as a young person

● Other traumas including recovering from a serious illness, witnessing violent crimes or tragic accidents, and enduring natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes

● Parental neglect

Signs and Symptoms of the Fawn Response

If you or a loved one are exhibiting the following behaviors, you are likely employing a fawn response:

• Self-abandonment: The victim abandons themselves, often by denying or minimizing their own thoughts, needs and emotions by saying things such as “It doesn’t matter what I need.”

• Over adaptation: The victim adapts to the environment of the abuser, even when it means sacrificing their values or integrity. They end up getting an “I’ll do whatever you want me to do” attitude.

• People-pleasing: The victim focuses on pleasing others to avoid conflict. They will bend over backward, compromising their own needs, to make people happy.

• Compliance: The victim obeys others’ requests and complies with what others want, often at their own expense.

• Lack of boundaries: A person with fawn trauma lacks personal boundaries and cannot tune in to their feelings and intuition enough to know when they are being violated or harmed by others.

• Lack of self-protection: The victim doesn’t stand up for him or herself and is unaware of when they are being threatened or harmed verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually by another person. They lack the voice and strength to fight for themselves.

Other signs include:

● Feeling anxious when people are angry with you.

● Avoiding eye contact, especially with those in positions of authority or power.

● Apologizing excessively for simple things like being late.

● Over-functioning to gain approval and acceptance from others.

● Feeling guilty for speaking up for your needs or desires.

● Being overly accommodating and compliant to avoid conflict.

● Feeling anxious when people are angry with you.

In children, the signs include:

● Not being able to understand their feelings or the feelings of others.

● Being easily overwhelmed, especially in situations where they feel unsafe.

● Having difficulty making and keeping friends, especially if they are perceived as weak or vulnerable.

● Having difficulty in school, especially with authority figures who are overly critical or harsh.

● Not being able to trust peers and teachers.

What Are the Long-lasting Effects of the Fawn Response?

The fawn response is a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, it does not work when it comes to abusive relationships. A healthy relationship is based on mutual respect and equality between partners. The fawn response destroys this balance by inhibiting the abused partner from speaking their truth, leading them to compromise their true feelings to appease the abuser. The behavior can create a feedback loop and keep you stuck in an unhealthy relationship. The fawn response can also lead to other negative consequences for mental health:


People who are constantly fawning over others may start feeling worthless because they believe they do not deserve love or respect from others. They may also feel depressed because they are not honest with themselves or anyone else about their feelings.


Anxiety is the fear that something terrible will happen, and it can take two forms: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic attacks. If you live with generalized anxiety, you may constantly be on guard against threats, real or perceived, to your safety, health, or well-being. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, and nausea. People exhibiting fawn trauma often feel extremely anxious about upsetting others, and a loved one’s adverse reaction can lead to a panic attack.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Those who experience PTSD get flashbacks of their traumatic event. They may also experience nightmares and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

How Can You Break the Pattern?

There are a few ways to start healing yourself from the fawning trauma. The first step is simply acknowledging that you’re engaging in this behavior and the outcome.

Recognize It

Pay attention to how you respond when someone points out a problem with your work or challenges your beliefs. Are you immediately contrite? Do you apologize even if you don’t think the problem was your fault? Take a moment to identify the emotion and feel a positive affirmation to say to yourself. For example, “I’m not in danger right now” or “I don’t have to fix this.”

Respond Instead of React

Take a moment to separate yourself from your emotions, and think about how you want to respond before actually responding. You’ll never be able to control someone else’s behavior, but you can choose how you react to it. Rely on your strength rather than trying to change someone else’s feelings about you to feel better about yourself.

Confront People Who Trigger Your Fawn Response

It can be scary, but it’s essential that you let those triggering your fawn responses know how their actions affect you. It’s possible they don’t know what they’re doing, and they will stop. Unfortunately, they may not change the way that they relate to you, but either way, it’s empowering for you to speak up for yourself.

Practice Self-care as Often as Possible

Find things that help reduce your stress and make you happy, and do them often. Meditate, read books, or watch shows that make you feel excited. Also, develop self-compassion. It is one of the best tools that you have for healing yourself. It can help you shift your focus from self-criticism and negative thoughts that keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns.

Treatment For The Fawn Response Trauma in Brandon, Mississippi

At Defining Wellness Centers, our primary treatment therapy for fawn trauma is trauma-based therapy. This is an umbrella term for various approaches to trauma treatment and may be offered in both inpatient and outpatient settings. The therapies are geared towards allowing individuals to process their trauma in a safe environment with the help of a therapist.

Some forms of therapy encourage people to talk about their experiences while others focus on creative expression or physical activity. Our board-certified psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists will teach you evidence-based strategies to help you cope with traumatic memories. Here are just some of the therapies that you may encounter.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)

In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the individual is taught how to recognize which thoughts and feelings are irrational or harmful and then change those thoughts and feelings into more rational or more positive ones.

The person who has a fawning trauma response needs to learn that their guilt and shame are based on false perceptions of themselves. The therapist will reassure a client that their actions have been based on self-preservation rather than malice towards others.

CBT also involves facing situations that cause anxiety. Your therapist might start by asking you to describe what happened during the trauma in detail, which is called “exposure therapy.” Together, you’ll work up to facing your fears in real life. The idea is to confront your feelings rather than avoid them in each case.

The person with fawn trauma response also needs to learn assertiveness skills to stand up for themselves in an argument. They will also know how to say no when they do not want to do something.

Dialectical-behavioral Therapy

Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) focuses on the psychosocial aspects of therapy. It emphasizes the importance of a collaborative relationship, support for the client, and skills for dealing with highly emotional situations. DBT has four main components: core mindfulness skills, distress tolerance skills, emotion regulation skills, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.

DBT focuses on acceptance and change-oriented strategies for the client. The therapist aims to help clients increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states. They learn coping skills to apply in the sequence of events, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to help avoid undesired reactions.

Experiential Therapy

This type of therapy involves having clients reenact experiences in their past to gain a better understanding of what happened and how they felt during those situations. One of the more common experiential therapies is equine therapy, in which a therapist works with a client using horses to help bring on emotional responses. In this type of therapy, clients sometimes use the horse as a surrogate for another person or situation.

When working with someone who experiences the fawn response, experiential therapies can also be used with modalities like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which is often used in treatment for trauma.

The client benefits because our therapists allow them to practice being assertive in a safe environment that is creative and non-verbal. They can explore their coping mechanisms and defenses without identifying or directly addressing them verbally. It is important because many people who fawn are reluctant to talk about their reactions to past abuse and trauma.


The fawn response is a survival response to an overwhelming threat or danger. The brain responds using its built-in nervous system by activating fight, flight, or freeze responses. Thankfully, we can treat this response with new technology that can retrain the brain and shift these responses to a more adaptive level. Our program uses evidence-based wellness technology, known as heart rate variability training (HRV), as part of our treatment program for fawn trauma response.

HRV training helps individuals develop skills to switch out of their sympathetic nervous system and into their parasympathetic nervous system. It enables them to take a step back from their fight or flight feelings and make rational choices about their behavior and responses to stressful situations.

Fitness and Nutrition

Fitness and nutrition are also used in the treatment of fawn trauma response. Fitness has been shown to improve both mental and physical health. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase feelings of well-being. It also helps people cope with stressful situations by decreasing cortisol levels and increasing endorphins. Nutrition plays an essential role in regulating moods, improving sleep patterns, and reducing anxiety levels. A balanced diet can help reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aftercare and Alumni Programs

The aftercare and alumni programs are essential components of our treatment model. We recognize that the recovery process is not a finite journey but a lifelong process. As such, we offer many opportunities for continued participation in the Defining Wellness community after clients graduate from our program.

It is never too late to seek treatment for fawn trauma response. Seeking out treatment can begin with simple steps like getting an evaluation, speaking to a therapist, or reaching out to friends and family. As you learn more about this condition and the automatic responses it elicits, you can work towards resolving it to the best of your ability. As many people discover, this process can be highly empowering and can foster a newfound sense of self-awareness. Give us a call today for more information about how we can help.

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If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.