Let's Kill "Fawn"
There are 2 types of stress responses: Learned and unlearned. The first one we learn and is shaped by our environments/nurture. The other is shaped by how we're wired as individuals. Unlearned stress responses are found in all types of animals and are based in "nature", or the bodies ‘built in’ response to high stress, life threatening situation.
The 3 F’s are a great example of an unlearned coping skill and includes fight, flight or freeze. This psychological theory has been around for over 100 years, Every living creature has one of these 3 reactions when faced with a dangerous event. Some goats and all possums will freeze when scared. Gazelle’s always run from danger (flight) while animals like the elephant, rhino’s and grizzly bears will face danger head on…74ish percent of the time.
Our brains main job is to keep us safe. In order to attain this, it's placed the amygdala is in charge of memory, decision making, emotional responses and in this case; how we automatically react in high stress situations. The amygdala is one of the OLDEST parts of the human brain meaning it was formed early which was good because living creatures need it to survive.
Side note - ever wondered why people sometimes will pee their pants when they're scared? You can blame that one on the amygdala, too. Here's why: the amygdala that over-rides the other two parts of the brain responsible for urination control which is why you MIGHT unexpectedly….wiz in high stress situations. Plus, the high stress alarms from the amygdala warn our body to get ready for action by sending more blood to our major muscle groups and away from our digestive system which causes the bladder to relax. No worries, though – you’re in good company. Unexpected ‘micturition’ in the animal kingdom can be found in rats, cats, dogs, gazelles (not Dorcas Gazelles, though because they’re in the desert and can’t afford to waste the water) and many others.
Enough of that, let's get back on point. Let’s talk about learned stress responses. These are behaviors humans have learned to do in stressful situations to alleviate anxiety. Some people will lower their voice and speak calmly. Another tactic would be to match the energy of the stressor in hopes to then lead into a more decreased state of stress. There are even “F”s involved in learned stress responses. Some people ‘flirt’ to decrease stressful situations while others will have an urge to fu…copulate. Humans with our big brains, have come up with ways to cope with stress that are all very interesting and - unique to our species.
A favorite learned stress response of mine has been around for almost 3 years. I discovered it just last week while researching “fight, flight or freeze” or, the 3 F’s. Imagine my surprise to find that there was a 4th F that I’d never heard of. Apparently (as of a few years ago), a social worker DISCOVERED another “F” called fawning. To “fawn” is where humans become overly agreeable and helpful in hopes to gain favor with others which decreases the overall emotion of stress that’s felt.
This sounds familiar and not a new concept in the least. The 4th F (haha) or fawning is actually a rebranded aspect of attachment theory. Specifically, ‘anxious attachment’ which has been heavily researched and cited for over 120 years.
John Bowlby is turning in his grave right now.
Is this possible? Can someone just add to a proven psychological theory with nothing at all to back it up? Apparently. It’s absurd to me especially when I tried to research the origin of this whole bambi thing and only found maybe 3 online articles (no academic journals) over the past 3 years which…cite themselves or another non-sourced article. In other words, someone just made this shit up. Where it surprises me is that with no scientific method or research involved, other psychologists are signing off on it. I am not.
Stress response has many masks and being agreeable is valid coping mechanism (although fawning seems like a stretch to find a word that started with “F”). I just didn’t realize a ridiculous and false concept could be introduced out of nowhere and be accepted as a psychological discovery! If that is the case, I would like to throw my hat in the ring with THE 5th F that nobody knows about AND it hasn’t already been discovered and titled in attachment theory by John Bowlby over a century ago.
Flatulence (with an “F”).
When in extreme and sudden peril, animals often fart to survive. They do this automatic and unlearned stress response honed by evolution that has a 2-fold effect. First, it distracts themselves from the immediate crisis involving natural disaster which lowers their stress, allowing them to breath better which, in turn gives them a greater chance for survival. Second, if the animal is being threatened by another animal, the passing of wind will often deter the attacker, giving whoever cut the cheese, a higher chance of survival. Honestly, this notion that took under a minute to invent has more foundation to be an "F" than Bambi's re-brand of anxious attachment; fawning.
I expect this actual 4th "F" to be implimented immediately. Furthermore, it needs to be accepted by the psychological community without question (please, no questions). Next, have this unresearched and non-proven joke of a concept mounted right alongside the most distinguished and notable psychological findings of the past 2 centuries. Lastly, I am hereby to be called, “The Grandson of Psychology” (who is rumored to be even greater than the founder of psychology).
Remember, sometimes people get it wrong.
Jed Thorpe, CMHC
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