Fawning is about being big on pleasing people and engaging in pacifying behaviors. In fawn trauma response, the victim prioritizes appeasing people and receiving approval. We know it feels great to be liked by the people around you. But it is utterly useless if you are losing yourself while at it. And this is what fawning is all about; people abandon themselves to get the validation of the people around them.
Fawning often happens when you don’t feel seen. This way, you will go to any lengths to get noticed and validated while leaving behind your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations.
What is Fawn Trauma Response?
You must have heard of fright, flight, or freeze responses to trauma. These are the most talked about, and they happen when you are faced with potential physical danger. However, a less known response to trauma is the fawn trauma response.
If you find yourself overly concerned with the needs of others while forgetting your own, then you are fawning.
According to Pete Walker, a marriage family therapist, a fawn trauma response is all about being more appealing to the threat. And one easy way to know you are fawning is when you have a problem saying “no.” This happens when you lack firm boundaries in your relationships or cannot create them.
Why Do People Fawn?
People fawn to avoid disapproval, criticism, judgment, and rebuke. Think of this situation; you offered to babysit a friend’s child on some weekends. However, one weekend, you have tickets to your favorite musician’s concert, and you had already made it a routine to help babysit on Sundays.
Now you are stranded and afraid to turn down your friend. So you must cancel your trip to the concert because of what your friend will think or say of you. Yes, they can babysit their child this one Sunday, but you feel like you have to do the duty to avoid disapproval or appear to be friendly and caring.
And this is all about pleasing your friend and being afraid of breaking your relationship; or being seen as the not helpful friend. It is not about you wanting to help genuinely. This exemplifies how you can forfeit your needs, thoughts, boundaries, and preferences.
Research shows that a fawn trauma response often develops after a child grows up in a shame-based environment and has to take up parent roles. Fawning doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple as not mentioning your favorite restaurant when a group of friends selects where to dine. To avoid disapproval, you are better off always dining in their favorite restaurant.
Note: Do not confuse fawning for compassion, kindness, or selflessness. These acts are not at your cost. However, if you fawn, the action affects you negatively, but you keep doing it anyway.
What Type of Trauma Causes Fawn Response?
A single event such as an accident does not cause fawning. Repeat events such as childhood trauma and complex trauma, especially where the child had to keep appeasing the abuser, result in fawning. Fawning is often associated with relational trauma or trauma that developed in a relationship context.
Signs of Fawning
Below are both common and uncommon signs of fawning:
- Denying your pain, trauma, discomfort, complaints, and needs,
- Constantly flying under the radar,
- Changing your thoughts or preferences to align with others,
- Taking responsibility for the emotional reactions of others,
- Over-apologizing, or even apologizing when you have not made any mistake,
- Depression linked to trauma,
- Finding challenges with authentic self-expression.
How to Deal with Fawn Trauma Response?
Breaking the fawning habit can be difficult because it is often linked to childhood experiences and relationships. Here are some ways to unlearn the pattern.
#1: Set Firm Boundaries
It is essential to keep a distinct line between your feelings and other people’s feelings. Start by recognizing that your feelings belong to you and nobody else. And, even more importantly, it is not your job to carry the burden of other people’s feelings. Be in a relationship where you can say “no” when your boundaries are overstepped.
#2: Be More Gentle with Yourself and Validate Yourself
If you notice that you fawn a lot, it is time to be more compassionate to yourself. Observe yourself when around others and try to be kind to yourself. When you notice that you are fawning, do not scold yourself. Just nudge yourself gently and promise yourself to do better the next time.
Validate your feelings and emotions even when people around you are bringing you down. Practice affirmations such as:
- I am valid even if my critics do not see my strengths!
- I am doing better than I did yesterday!
Learn to sit with the anger and disappointment of others because it will happen when you stop fawning.
#3: Go to Therapy
As we have stated, fawning often develops due to childhood trauma. The best way to deal with childhood trauma is to talk to a professional therapist. Attending therapy may help you be more aware of your behaviors. The awareness that comes with therapy may help you manage the following questions well:
- Is what I am doing aligning with my values?
- Am I doing or saying this to appease someone else? And are my actions at my own expense?
- Am I being true to myself, or am I doing this entirely for the other person’s benefit?
Remind yourself to stick to your actual values if you notice you are big on fawning. Step by step, you will get there.
#4: Put Yourself First
Wait until you are asked for help to give help. Sometimes, people want to speak about their problems. They are not looking for solutions. However, in your fawn habit, you may find yourself offering to help in ways that may be beyond your means. Do not offer help until you are asked.
And even more importantly, do not offer help if you do not mean it or if it will overstretch you. In putting yourself first, let your opinion be heard. Do not constantly change your opinion to align with others.