Nature has endowed humanity with mechanisms to manage stress, fear, and severe trauma. We can survive childhood rejection by our parents, our peers, and ourselves.
There are two mannerisms that we inherited through evolution meant to keep us safe, but that might alter our lives negatively. The freeze/fawn responses are when we feel threatened and do one of two behaviors. We either freeze and cannot act against the threat, or we fawn try to please to avoid conflict.
We shall examine the freeze/fawn response and how it is related to rejection trauma.
Rejection Trauma and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Long-term rejection by family or peers in childhood can cause extreme feelings and trauma. The child may decide that they must be worthless or worse. Children need acceptance to mature correctly, so without their parents and peers showing them they are wanted and valuable, they shrivel and later grow to be traumatized adults.
One consequence of rejection trauma is the formation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). CPTSD forms in response to chronic traumatization, such as constant rejection, over months or years. Other causes occur because of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, domestic violence, living in a war zone, and human trafficking.
It is unusual for an adult to form CPTSD but not impossible as when an adult is in the position where they are captive (such as a prisoner of war) or in domestic violence, it can form.
Rejection trauma is often found with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Both conditions are highly damaging to the social lies of those who experience them.
The Freeze Response
Like I said in the beginning, evolution has given us methods to escape or hide from predators. Freeze is one of four recognized responses you will have when faced with a physical or psychological threat. Included with freeze are the fight/flee/and fawn responses.
When we freeze, we cannot flee but are frozen in place. This leaves us vulnerable to a human predator as we become incapable of fighting off or escaping.
Children are completely at the mercy of the adults in their lives. People who have survived childhood trauma remember freezing to keep the abuse from being worse than it was going to be, anyway.
Freeze is accompanied by several biological responses, such as
- A sense of dread
- Feeling cold or numb
- Pale skin
- A loud, pounding heart or a decreased heart rate
- Feeling trapped
- Heaviness in the limbs
- Restricted breathing or holding of the breath
When a child feels rejected by their parents and faces a world that is cruel and cold, they may exhibit these symptoms without knowing why. As adults, these responses are troublesome, leaving people confused and having problems with intimate relationships.
Those who exhibit the freeze response are also in the grip of CPTSD.
The Fawn Response
The other evolutionary gift humanity has been given is the fawn response, which is when people act to please their assailant to avoid any conflict. One might use the fawn response after unsuccessfully attempting fight/flight/and freeze and is typical among those who grew up in homes with rejection trauma.
For instance, if you grew up in a home with narcissistic parents where you were neglected and rejected all the time, our only hope for survival was to be agreeable and helpful.
The problem with fawning is that children grow up to become doormats or codependent adults and lose their own sense of identity in caring for another. These adults never allow themselves to think of themselves pursuing activities that please their partner for fear they will be rejected by them.
Fawning has warning signs you can watch out for identifying whether you are exhibiting this evolutionary behavior.
- You cannot say no
- Your values are fluid in intimate interactions
- You have guilt and anger together
- You blank out emotionally
- Your emotions erupt unexpectedly and in unusual ways
- You feel responsible for the reactions of others
- You feel like no one knows or cares to know you
Fawning combined with CPTSD can leave an adult in the unenviable position of losing themselves in the responses of their partners and friends. No one can know you because you are too busy people-pleasing to allow them to. You may believe you are unlovable and for this reason, you fear rejection more than anything in the world.
Overcoming the Freeze/Fawn Response
Pete Walker in his piece, “The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex Trauma” states about the fawn response,
“Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs, and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.”
It isn’t difficult to see how those caught up in the fawn response become codependent with others and are open to victimization from abusive, narcissistic partners.
Also found in the piece is Walker’s description of the Freeze response:
“Many freeze types unconsciously believe that people and danger are synonymous and that safety lies in solitude. Outside of fantasy, many give up entirely on the possibility of love. The freeze response, also known as the camouflage response, often triggers the individual into hiding, isolating, and eschewing human contact as much as possible. This type can be so frozen in retreat mode and it seems as if their starter button is stuck in the “off,” position.”
Walker explains that out of the four types of trauma responses, the freeze type is the most difficult to treat. The four reasons are below.
- They are extremely reluctant to form a therapeutic relationship with their therapist because they relate positive relational experiences with rejection. Also, the people who overcome their reluctance to trust their therapist “spook” easily and end therapy.
- They are harder to educate about the causes of trauma because they are unconscious of their fear and their inner critic. They project the perfectionism of their inner critic onto others rather than themselves, then use this for justification of isolation.
- Freeze types are experience denial about the consequences of seeing their life through a narrow lens. The freeze response ends in the collapse response believed to be unconscious, as though they are about to die and self-medicate by releasing internal opioids. Freeze types are more likely to become addicted to substances to self-medicate.
While both freeze and fawn types appear tightly wound in their problems and buried under rejection trauma, they can and are treated successfully by mental health professionals. With treatments such as EMDR, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or old-fashioned talk therapy, many will find the help they need to escape what nature and nurture have trapped them into.
Ending Our Time Together
If you recognize yourself from the brief descriptions given in this piece of rejection trauma, or the freeze/fawn responses, it is critical that you seek help. If you find you are in an abusive relationship with someone, please consider leaving immediately. Your life is worth more than allowing someone else to hurt you.
You are valuable to the world and all who inhabit it because you are you. There will never be another you, and that makes you invaluable. Please, try to remember this as you fight to gain peace in your fight against childhood trauma.
“Have patience with all things, but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are a perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person, simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.”- Saint Francis de Sales
“Life isn’t as magical here, and you’re not the only one who feels like you don’t belong, or that it’s better somewhere else. But there ARE things worth living for. And the best part is you never know what’s going to happen next.” – O. R. Melling
Help to Find a Therapist
If you are a survivor or someone who loves a survivor and cannot find a therapist who treats complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please contact the CPTSD Foundation. We have a staff of volunteers who have been compiling a list of providers who treat CPTSD. They would be happy to give you more ideas about where to look and find a therapist to help you. Go to the contact us page and send us a note stating you need help, and our staff will respond quickly to your request. Go to https://cptsdfoundation.org/help-me-find-a-therapist/
Are you a therapist who treats CPTSD? Please consider dropping us a line to add you to our growing list of providers. You would get aid in finding clients, and you would help someone find the peace they deserve. Go to the contact us page and send us a note, and our staff will respond quickly.
CPTSD Foundation Awareness Wristbands
Official CPTSD Foundation wristbands to show the world you support awareness, research, and healing from complex trauma.
The official CPTSD Foundation wristbands, designed by our Executive Director, Athena Moberg, with the idea that promoting healing and awareness benefits all survivors. We hope you’ll consider purchasing one for yourself and one for a family member, friend, or other safe people who could help raise awareness for complex trauma research and healing.
Each purchase of $12 helps fund our scholarship program, which provides access to our programs and resources to survivors in need.
Weekly Creative Group
Do you like to color, paint, sew, arts & crafts? How about drawing, model building, or cross-stitch? Whatever creative activity you prefer, come join us in the Weekly Creative Group. Learn more at https://cptsdfoundation.org/weeklycreativegroup
The Healing Book Club
Today, CPTSD Foundation would like to invite you to our healing book club. Led by Sabra Cain, the healing book club is only $10 per month. The fee goes towards scholarships for those who cannot afford access to materials offered by CPTSD Foundation.
Should you decide to join the Healing Book Club, please purchase your books through our Amazon link to help us help you.
All Our Services
As always, if you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:
- Daily Calls
- The Healing Book Club
- Support Groups
- Our Blog
- The Trauma-Informed Newsletter
- Daily Encouragement Texts
All our services are priced reasonably, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to www.cptsdfoundation.org/scholarship to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.
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My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.