A Defense of The Fawn Response

Maggie Truelove, SEP
13 min readDec 8, 2020

What the Somatic and Trauma Fields are Missing

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

In the somatic, trauma and nervous system regulation field, practitioners are taught that fight, flight and freeze are the three fundamental, hardwired human stress responses. Fight and flight are sympathetic and movement-oriented, self-protective motor programs designed to do things and get us places. Parasympathetic freeze causes stillness, hiding, waiting, disappearing, contracting, dissociating and collapsing.

A UCLA study by Taylor, et al, published in 2000 by the American Psychological Association, argues for an additional stress response, called “tend-and-befriend.” The authors “propose this theory as a biobehavioral alternative to the fight-or-flight response…which has dominated stress research of the past 5 decades and has been disproportionately based on studies of males.” In reference to tend-and-befriend, the APA dictionary of psychology states, “Neuroendocrinal evidence from research on both human and nonhuman animals suggests an underlying physiological mechanism mediated by oxytocin and moderated by female sex hormones and opioid peptide mechanisms.”

In this study, tend-and-befriend behaviors include “caring for offspring under stressful circumstances, joining social groups to reduce vulnerability, and contributing to the development of social groupings, especially those involving female networks, for the exchange of resources and responsibilities.” In these ways, female social groups maintain relationships in which individuals come to each other’s aid in defense against largely male aggressors, forming alliances that protect the vulnerable. Taylor, et al write, “…Female responses to stress are also characterized by affiliation with social groups because group living provides special benefits for females.” (Note: I do not believe that these behaviors and their biological or social causes are limited to women or a gender binary.)

I suggest that the behaviors listed above are the tend-and-befriend “ideal” in the context of group living, which is our evolutionary heritage. Joining together to protect against aggressive conduct is something that happens in a group. This poses the questions, “What happens to humans who are so socially isolated (as in industrialized society and the nuclear family) that strong social networks are often not a…

Maggie Truelove, SEP

Somatic Practitioner: body-based sustainable change, mindfulness, and empowerment. www.maggietruelove.com