You’ve probably heard of fight, flight, and even the freeze response to trauma.
But there are some newer defense responses – ones that experts have only recently begun to name and understand – that are critical to our clinical work.
One of those defense responses is “please and appease.” You may have also heard expert practitioners call this the fawn response to trauma.
But because researchers and experts are still learning about this response, there have been some misconceptions about it.
In the video below, Stephen Porges, PhD shares one common misconception about patients who “please and appease.”
Stephen will also explain how polyvagal theory can better inform how you work with this trauma response – and points out a well-intentioned approach that might actually do harm to these patients.
Have a look.
So, to me please and appease is really this miraculous synergism of the social engagement system, which is what we use to cue others that we are connected, but literally putting it into a more voluntary mode, and with another underlying physiology, which had hopefulness, still had a desire to live, had a sufficient amount of energy. So it was, in a sense, relatively well-regulated.
So, appeasement comes out of a very resilient nervous system. It’s not available to everyone who is in, let’s say, these difficult situations. So, when you read the books of or meet the people who have done these things, survived it, you’re basically in awe of how their body enabled them to function under those situations.
So if we start to say that we treat people who have an appeasement issue by telling them to be assertive, we might be missing the dynamics of the relationship and of the history of relationships that the client has gone through. And we may be missing the, in a sense, valiant attempt that the client’s nervous system has made which enabled them to navigate this very complex world. Because appeasement for many, if they don’t appease, there’s injury on the other side of the equation. And not just verbal abuse – there’s injury, physical injury. Verbal abuse could be enough, but I’m saying physical injury as well.”
The more we learn about emerging defense responses to trauma – like the “please and appease” (or fawn) response – the better equipped we can be to work with them.
If you’re looking for more ways to work with this trauma response, as well as many others, more skillfully, you can get some of the top strategies in our Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma.
In this program, you’ll hear more from Stephen Porges, PhD, along with Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Peter Levine, PhD, Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, and other leading experts in the field. Just click here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. How might you use Stephen’s ideas when working with patients who please and appease in response to trauma? Please leave a comment below to let us know.