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The Survival Response of "Fawners" (People-Pleasers)

So what is the Fawning effect?

The 'Fawning' effect can best be described as an instinctual response associated with the need to avoid as much conflict and trauma as possible through appeasing, pleasing or being over-agreeable as a means to avoid conflict, or even your situation altogether.

The term 'Fawning' was coined from Pete Walker, an expert in C-PTSD. He stated that 'Fawning' described a specific type of instinctive response resulting from childhood abuse and complex repeated associated trauma. Walker suggests that trauma-based codependency, or otherwise known as trauma-bonding is learned very early in life when a child gives up protesting abuse to avoid parental retaliation, thereby relinquishing the ability to say “no” and behave assertively.

Dr. Arielle Schwatz states that when parents are withholding, controlling, or abusive towards their child in the developmental phases and onward, they fail to help their child develop a healthy emotional 'self'. The child develops in an environment a hyper-awareness to their parents distress and becomes compelled to take care of their parents' emotional needs. This process of abandoning oneself for the sole purpose of attending to the needs of others is called "Fawn Response".

The Fawn Response involves people-pleasing behaviours, which can be directly related back to the exposures of historical trauma and coping survival strategies. When children grow up in homes that do not feel safe and they cope by suppressing and withholding their true authentic emotions of frustration, anger, sadness or loneliness to avoid the potential abusive verbal, emotional or physical reactions of a parent or caregiver, these internalized unrevealed emotions become negative self-directed feelings.

As the child develops in maturation to adulthood, the unresolved Fawn Response then begins to re-enact as over-enmeshment or codependent in relationships with others, somatic experiences, disconnection from body sensations due to numbing and cutting off from their own needs. It can be said that in this state, one is relying on their nervous system to please others in order to regulate, only to end up in a state of exhaustion and burnout.

The Fawn effect is habitual, always on and ongoing, in autopilot and without most of the time conscious awareness. It is part of your inner wiring system. What does this really mean…'s hard to notice it when you're doing it.

What are the clear signs that you are a "Fawn"

  1. Always feeling unseen by others

  2. Having huge difficulty saying "no"

  3. Difficulty managing emotions and find yourself doing emotional dumps on not so close others

  4. Always feeling a sense of guilt when frustrated or even angry at others

  5. You always feel responsible for others reactions

  6. You compromise your principles and values for other by people pleasing

  7. Finally, you might at times dissociate in social situations because your emotional system 'turns off"

What can you do to learn to manage the Fawn Response:

  1. Being Seen: To be seen more in your true authentic self, it means stepping away from "fawning" and appeasing others. Express your voice, perspective, thoughts and beliefs.

  2. Saying NO: By never saying no, you're always saying "YES" or " I don't mind doing this". This leaves you feeling stretched out, overwhelmed, and constantly looking at the big mountain of committed things that you need to do, with never enough time to do it. Put you first, and as much as this will create huge inner conflict initially, your authentic self will thank you down the road.

  3. Emotional dumps on strangers or distant others: By not being able to be real with your closest friends and family, and always wanting to please them, it leaves you venting your frustrations to friendly strangers who now becomes your outlet for your emotional stress. You might even find yourself even releasing your tension over twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Here's your next step, lean into being authentic, real, vulnerable with those closest to you. Consider 'befriending' your true feelings and start learning boundaries to ventilate your unwanted emotions to distant others.

  4. Inner guilt: The inner sense and constant presence of feeling self-guilt and shame when becoming frustrated or angry at others keeps you in the pleasing cycle of those that might be capitalizing on your appeasing kindness. You are internalizing and pushing down your true emotions and choosing fawning. Start your change process by stopping your patterning behaviours of making excuses for other behaviours, choice and their personal outcomes.

  5. Feeling over-responsible: Be aware that your emotions have a misguided GPS system. Your nervous system is operating with an overactive sympathetic nervous system that lives in a highly anxious state of fight or flight. It tells you things in moments that feel too intense "They must not like me" or "I'm not good enough" or even "I think they hate me". Then what might occur is that you start to feel responsible for their feelings towards you based on a fault perception. You try to overcompensate this faulty perception by searching out approval by, go figure, people pleasing and not disappointing anyone. Well you need to check your meter of perception. Fact check your feelings!

  6. Compromising your principles: If you find yourself sitting on the fence, ambivalent, and unable to decide what to do, you are likely fawning. Being unable to take a position which you believe aligns up with your deeper principles and values of how to live your life leaves you always believing that you are a good compromiser, and over agreeable to create peace and being in others 'good favour. Self-reflect on being true to you, your authentic self. Love yourself, and what you know to be right for you and do not compromise this for others.

  7. Turning ON your emotions: Well this is no secret here, Fawners dissociate. Fawners learn at an early age to turn their emotions 'off'. What works best for this is beginning to learn about your brain-body connection. Being able to identify when you are starting to feel these features of dissociation and understanding how to respond with grounding in your body. I would suggest that you learn about Polyvagal theory. Here is a great audiobook that can help you to learn how to "befriend your nervous system" by Deb Dana. This audiobook will begin to really help you unpack your nervous system responses and what moves them into safety and connection or vice versa.

Be well,


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