E063 - Squirrel vs Neighbor

boundaries fawn self-regulation Mar 25, 2024

Picture this: a tranquil morning on Toronto Island, the sun lazily peeking through the windows, casting a soft glow upon the scene. Our protagonist (me), nestled comfortably on the couch, observing the island's morning rituals unfold. 

Suddenly my neighbor, clad in a white dressing gown with hair to match, bursts out of his home, broom in hand. With bulging eyes, he launches the broom at a squirrel dangling upside down on his bird feeder, indulging in a morning snack… 

He missed. His rage spent, he turned and looked around him as the red mist dissipated. A sheepish look came over his face when he spied me through the window, watching this all unfold from my couch.

And before I knew it, I’d popped outside to reassure him. I told him of my father’s ongoing feud with the squirrels that had emptied the bird feeder when I was a child. While my dad had admired the tenacity and problem-solving ability of these “rodents with great PR” (as he called them), he remained committed to the cause, greasing the cable down to the feeder and even trying a greased bungy cable to prevent their raids on the bird food. 

But I digress.

Me popping out to reassure said neighbor that my dad had a similar ongoing ‘debate’ with the local squirrel population was a conditioned ‘fawn response.’ I was taking care of my neighbor’s feelings, seeking to soothe discomfort (his and my own). 

This is a relatively harmless version of the fawn response, but this response has had some catastrophic effects in my life too. As Peter Walker writes in Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, “Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs, and demands of others. They act as if they believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences, and boundaries.”

This can take many forms. Walker describes one of the ways I learned to fawn: “Some codependent children adapt by becoming entertaining. Accordingly, the child learns to be the court jester and is unofficially put in charge of keeping his parent happy.”

And so I'm curious. Do you have a tend-and-befriend or fawn response, where you take care of the emotions of others instinctively? The real kicker is that this kind of ‘trying to reduce friction’ is really an ‘I’m in danger and how can I make this safe for me’ kind of reaction. 

I shot a video about the fawn response. It’s still relevant, even if my hairstyle is not.

If you’re a fawner but long to be more of an outspoken squirrel defender, mail me with ‘squirrel’ as your subject line and let me know!