I’ve found out that when trauma has occurred in early childhood (0-7yrs), the dissociative symptoms can be elusive and can challenge me as a psychotrauma therapist, and as a human being, to extremes again and again.
Figth, Flight and Freeze we all know, but the fourth “Fawning” is less well known, which as far as I’m concerned can best be translated as “adapting to the other”.
Adaptation is a survival reaction and people who suffer from it often have no choice, because they have learned in the past that the world was too unsafe to tell their personal truth. The reason why someone adapts is very simple. It is to maintain the connection at all costs. Loss of connection works on an existential level. Loss of connection is life-threatening and can literally lead to fear of death or disappear into the black hole of trauma. Someone therefore does everything possible to prevent this, often at their own expense and even if their own limits are far exceeded. Someone who suffers from this has learned to be a master of ‘faking’ the truth and to do very convincingly exactly what he or she is doing that completely bypasses himself or herself. In this way, someone can build up a relationship or a career that feels very sincere to the environment but is in reality a bitter illusion. Especially for the person himself.
In the therapy setting it is challenging to work with people with this survival strategy. You are constantly put on the wrong foot. In this way your sessions seem to get a very optimistic picture of someone’s recovery, while in reality a great drama takes place in the deeper layers of the mind. Even if you realize that someone is adapting, there is still no finger to find out what’s really going on.
In the therapy I give there is still, sometimes after a long time, an opening to be created. And the person can reluctantly learn to indicate what he or she really wants or needs. As a therapist, but especially as a human being, it can feel as if this person has been fooling you all this time. As if you’ve been taken for a ride.
This can do all kinds of things in the (counter)transfer, such as anger, disappointment, distrust etc. I have to confess that this sometimes happens to me.
In spite of that, this is also exactly the moment that healing and growth is possible. The healing happens in the relationship with all the chaos that comes with it. The movie “Good Will Hunting” illustrates this in a beautiful way. As far as I’m concerned, this is the moment when you as a therapist (which is just a role) embrace your ‘being human’, show yourself honest and pure (without becoming destructive of course). That you are able to recognize your pain, to communicate but also have the intention to restore the relationship, just like in a ‘real’ relationship. Then a new balance can be found. The person can then experience that ‘pronouncing oneself’ may be stirring, but that it can actually improve the relationship. Even more important, staying true to oneself, respecting one’s own limits and needs gives peace in the system and heals the traumas that are on the attachment.
This is what makes my work so fascinating. Heavy sometimes but above all very satisfying and also healing for myself.