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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Merlin

Fulfilling Cat-versation: Recovering from Fawn

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

The recovering fawner in me questions if writing a more personal blog is unwise or if I’ll be perceived as dramatic or weak. However, my personal story and experiences shape very much of how I want to and have now chosen to work with cats and people, so it is very relevant. Regardless of if it’s relevant or not, pleasing everyone is like “trying to nail jello to a tree,” and I’m going to leave it at that!

Many millennials and Gen Xers labeled or diagnosed as anxious or depressed kids now recognize that some of our anxiety and depression stem from trauma and/or neurodiversity. I’ve spent decades thinking and being made to feel I was damaged. In reality, society was damaged in how they think about people like me.

I don’t feel at this moment it is necessary to delve deeply into my childhood trauma. Still, some of the major highlights were bullying, emotional abuse, and emotional unavailability from other kids and caregivers.

It wasn’t until recent years that I heard about the 4th trauma response known as “Fawn” and realized that I was a serial fawner because of my childhood trauma. When you’re made to feel inherently inadequate your entire existence, you will go to any lengths to avoid even the most minuscule amount of rejection, judgment, and criticism.

Fawning seeped into every essence of my being to the point that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. Masking my true self to please others was instinctual for me as breathing. Anytime the real Stephanie came out, it felt like there was always someone to tell me that there was something wrong with her. So why bother?

I’ve been in therapy for over a decade, and trust me; it’s taken this long to work through this very thick armor. I have several layers to go, but I’ve shed a lot!

One of the first true Stephanie things I ever did was decide I wanted to work with cats in 2017. It was the first time I allowed myself to pursue something I was genuinely passionate about without allowing someone to tell me it was foolish. It was pretty freaking brave of me because working in cat behavior is super unconventional, and I was going to do it anyway.

Even though I pursued my passion, good ol’ Fawn reared its ugly head here. Fawn came up when I felt I needed to:

  • Follow a specific path in cat behavior practice

  • Have consults, write-ups, follow-ups look a certain way or include certain things

  • Add more to my already overwhelmed client load because I got a desperate email from someone or a referral

  • Prioritize cat parent’s requests over the cat’s needs

  • Keep silent or continue to work with people or places where cats or myself were not respected

There are plenty more I could add to that list, but I fell into the trap of Fawn even following my passion. It took me about 3 years to hit rock bottom. I was burned out, had an overwhelming amount of compassion fatigue, and was resentful. Honestly, “was” is not the right word. I’m still working through being burned out, having compassion fatigue, and a ton of resentment.

My rock bottom has been a transformative time for me. I met two extraordinary ladies, Jaime & Tori, fellow cat behavior consultants who welcomed me into their study group. What started as a study group turned into a fast friendship and one of the first friendships I’ve had in my adult life where I feel I can 100% be myself. These ladies support and encourage me unconditionally, and I am forever grateful.

Through beginning energy healing and acupuncture and having a solid support system, I’ve started to confidently nurture the parts of myself I repressed and masked because of Fawn. Energy work has helped me break through a wall of myself that desperately needed to be broken. It has helped me make bigger strides in traditional therapy, where I felt stuck, and I’m unlearning loads of toxic programming and learning about myself for the first time.

Let me tell you, it is terrifying to speak my truth and stand up for myself. I still fear presenting my authentic self to the world. It’s been a process. I still fear embracing and exploring my intuitive and empathic side and making that part of my practice when helping cats and people.

I have a massive fear of using words and phrases like intuitive, energy healing, holistic, crystals, etc., in my business. I’m saying them now! Go me, yet I’m terrified of being rejected by colleagues, friends, and people who may think I’m woo-woo, phony, or fraudulent in helping cats by using these modalities.

I can’t be anyone but myself, though. I have been there and done that. It sucks. This personal journey of self-love and acceptance reflects my work in helping cats. I can’t do the work I’m so drawn to do the way I feel best serves people and cats if I give into Fawn. I can’t be authentic or live the life my soul intended. It’s a daily, sometimes hourly battle, but I’m doing my best to shed and stand up to Fawn.

Wish me luck!

Love & Meows


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