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What is a Fawning Trauma Response?

Updated: Dec 15, 2023


What is a Fawning trauma response?

If you have ever found yourself taking care of others’ needs and letting go of yours to avoid rejection, then you may have experienced the fawning trauma response. The fawn response involves people-pleasing to the extent that a person disconnects from his/her own emotions, sensations, and needs. 


Fawning is a lesser-known trauma response. This blog post aims to provide an understanding and a sense of validation for people who have experienced fawning. It aims to bring a sense of awakening and realization that your pain and experiences are real and there is a name for what you are going through- fawning trauma response. 


What is a Fawning Trauma Response?


Fawning trauma response is one of the types of trauma response. It may happen when a person faces a situation that feels emotionally (and even physically) dangerous. It is characterized by people-pleasing and codependency. A person is motivated to please someone to avoid rejection and withdrawal.


Many factors, such as gender, sexuality, culture, and race, can influence fawning-like behavior. The behavior may also develop during childhood when a child grows up in a blame culture or if they had to take on some parental roles. 


Fawning is more common in children because the abuser is usually much older and stronger. For example, having a hypercritical parent can cause children to fawn to validate their parent’s critical nature. 


It’s important to understand that fawning, being kind, or being a people-pleaser are distinct concepts that arise from different motivations and contexts. 


Fawning Vs. People Pleasing Vs. Being Kind


Fawning

Fawning is a trauma response. It means you will act like a cute little puppy, begging and willing to do anything to be accepted by your abuser. 


An instance of fawning would be an employee dancing around his distant, cold, and condescending boss, trying to please him. Another example could be when a housewife has a husband who is often critical of her and makes her feel like she’s not good enough. In this case, the housewife may try to please her partner by cooking his favorite meals, cleaning the house, and giving up her hobbies to avoid conflict and tension. 

Being Kind

Kindness, on the other hand, is when you genuinely want to do something good for someone without expecting anything in return. It comes from a place of love and respect for oneself and others. Giving food to a stray dog is kindness. Taking care of your grandma when she’s ill because you want to and out of love is kindness. 


People-pleasing

Similarly, there is a thin line between people-pleasing and fawning. The former is the tendency to prioritize the needs and feelings of others over one’s own. However, it is not necessarily a trauma response. People-pleasing usually stems from the desire to be liked. 


Remember the scene from the famous sitcom Friends where Rachel started smoking in front of her colleagues just to fit in, even though she wasn’t a smoker? This is an example of people-pleasing. 


“Why can’t people just like me for who I am?” “Nobody likes anybody for who they are. That’s why we have to pretend to be better than who we are and then let people find out the truth later.” (Johnson, 2016).


What Kind of Trauma Causes Fawning?


According to licensed psychotherapist Pete Walker, MA, credited with coining the term fawning, the fawn response is “a response to a threat by becoming more appealing to the threat.” 


The fawn response is often associated with abusive parenting and complex trauma, which arise from repeat events, such as physical violence and sexual or verbal abuse. It is a survival strategy where a person’s mind deems that it is best to please the perpetrator to avoid the abuse. 


Symptoms of Fawning 


Recognizing when someone is fawning can be difficult because the person will often be socially engaged. Instead of expressing the common survival responses like being aloof, crying, shouting, or being angry, a person might be smiling, talking, and laughing with others. Therefore, it is unlikely that people will notice someone who is fawning. 


Are you fawning? Or do you think you know someone who is fawning? Here’s a list of symptoms of fawning in people: 


  • Tendency to apologize excessively to others. 


  • Going out of the way to avoid getting into arguments.


  • Being afraid to say what one really wants to say. Saying what you think other people want to hear. 


  • Being overly helpful, polite, and agreeable


  • Tendency to stay in abusive relationships. 


  • When people dislike you, it makes you stressed. 


  • Believing that you deserve not to take care of your needs. 


  • Showing low self-esteem and low confidence. 


  • Constantly doing things at the expense of your own mental and physical health. For example, your “friend” wants you to organize her party. You don’t want to do it. You have a cold and are feeling down. But, you still go out of your way to arrange the party.

What Is the Problem With Fawning?


If you don’t believe that fawning is a trauma response but rather a natural human tendency to please others, continue reading as we beg to differ. 


Fawning is a trauma response. While it can be a coping mechanism for some people, it can also have negative consequences if it becomes a pervasive pattern of behavior.


Fawning can lead to codependency, where a person becomes overly reliant on others for their emotional well-being. This can lead to a sense of helplessness.


Furthermore, fawning can lead to a lack of authenticity in relationships. When a person constantly tries to please others, they may not express their true thoughts and feelings. This can lead to a lack of trust and intimacy in relationships.


Now, let’s imagine a world where everyone fawns over each other. In this world, people would be so concerned with pleasing others that they would forget their needs and desires. They would be constantly walking on eggshells. Everyone will be afraid to say or do anything that might upset someone else. This would lead to a society where everyone is overly polite, but no one is truly happy.


In this world, people would be so focused on pleasing others that they would forget their goals and aspirations. They would be so busy trying to make others happy that they would forget about their own happiness. This would lead to a society where everyone is unfulfilled and unhappy. 


“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Fawning is not a trauma response. It’s just good manners. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people who are constantly trying to please them? It’s not like it’s a bad thing to put other people’s needs before your own. That’s just being selfless and kind. So, let’s all start fawning over each other and make the world a better place!”  


Jokes aside, it is highly important that one does not keep going with fawning trauma responses in line. Rather than telling yourself to keep going (as it is an easier option), striving to live life on your own terms is essential. Why? Because it can help you in the long run and improve the overall quality of your life. Your well-being matters.


How Do You Heal from Fawning?


Do not be upset at yourself!


It is not okay to beat yourself up for what you may have gone through in the past. Do not be upset at yourself for doing what you thought was best to survive. Acknowledge your feelings and believe you can improve in the areas of life you want to. 


By practicing self-compassion, a person develops a positive and self-caring relationship with oneself. They learn to stop the blame game and start valuing the fact that they survived some terrible situations. 


Have a support system 


If there’s anyone in your life you can turn to for help and support, then go for it. If you have a genuine friend that you trust, let them know your symptoms. Talk to them about separating you from the situation and help you calm down.


Many online groups have people with similar PTSD and CPTSD issues. Joining such groups will help you relate your situation with others and help find a way to deal with your trauma. 


Increase your exposure to art, music and books. You can also read books to learn about dealing with PTSD issues. One of our recommended books to help people deal with complex PTSD, including fawning trauma response, is Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma.


Find a therapist


Our trauma experiences may sow the seeds of mental health problems, and fawning trauma response is one of them. It’s not okay to suffer needlessly from your exposure to life’s traumas. 


Treating PTSD symptoms and fawning responses may likely require you to seek help from a therapist. A therapist will help you open up and walk you through what has happened that has resulted in a fawning response. (Read here to learn how to make the most of therapy)


You can choose to live in the present and make a conscious decision to set healthy boundaries for yourself instead of reliving your past trauma experiences whenever you face a trigger situation. 


A therapist can help identify the unmet needs of your inner child and provide you with the care and attention you need. This will help you develop a stronger sense of self and learn to value and prioritize your needs.


Several evidence-based therapies that can be helpful following trauma, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, focuses on processing traumatic memories, and exposure therapy. They help expose people to things they fear and avoid. 


“We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It is up to us to make it good or bad”- Ward Foley.


Take the First Step Towards Healing


People have different ways of coping with past trauma, and mental health professionals have identified one response as “fawning,” or excessive people pleasing. The fawn response involves people-pleasing to the degree that an individual disconnects from their emotions, sensations, and needs. 


Fawning hurts. It’s an act to please someone out of fear and not love. Hence, it is not okay to get along with it. It can be hard to understand how you’re behaving a certain way. That is why people seek counseling. If you or someone you know is struggling with the fawning trauma response, it is essential to seek professional help.


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