The final of my four stress responses in this series is one that is common yet rarely discussed: fawning. The fawn response is often explained as a response to a threat after the fight, flight, or freeze response has not stopped the abuse, so the child becomes perfect. Fawning is an over-agreement and helpfulness towards the aggressor with the aim to stay out of harm’s way by being pleasing and agreeable.
Fawning might be your stress response if in stressful situations you jump to try to make everything better. Your modus operandi is probably, “I’m perfect. I’m fine. I’m lovely…no worries here.” Fawning is when the brain develops the need to please the abuser so that the abuse stops. This is common in women who have been in abusive relationships, as well as people who have experienced trauma in childhood.
How does this translate into our lives? It looks like always people-pleasing, going above and beyond, always trying to make people like us, and tending to not know who we are. Here’s the other interesting thing, it can attach to all the other responses. We often see fawning paired with freeze, flight, and fight.
As with all stress responses and trauma, please ultimately understand that your stress response worked for you! It helped you survive, which is the goal of all stress responses. Recognition of what your go-to response is in stress is the first step! Now it’s time to recognize that it no longer serves you for where you want to go.
When we start denying parts of ourselves to make someone else happy, we must ask ourselves, “Are their wants and desires more important than mine?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and that is ok. Parenting, for example, is full of situations when we have to put our child’s needs before our own. Healthy partnerships also include moments where we can put our partner’s needs before ours and have that reciprocated; however, when you’re up at midnight cooking for everyone at the office even though no one eats it, or you are losing sleep repeatedly because your partner insists on late night conversations…these might be times to really consider why you are complying.
With the fawn stress response, I have 3 tricks for you to begin practicing…
- Stop and breathe deeply. Ask yourself, “Is this the direction I want to be taking my life?” Be very honest with yourself and your answers.
- Find one really close friend that you love and that you know is there for you and ask them for help. Explain to them that you are learning to stop people-pleasing and fawning and ask them to begin asking you for things with the sole purpose of you practicing saying, “No.”
- Stop apologizing. Reserve your “I’m sorry,” for only when you have truly done something that merits making amends. If you’re trying to get your shopping cart around someone in the grocery store, say “Excuse me,” not “I’m sorry.” If you need to reschedule plans or cannot make it to an event, use the phrase “Thank you for understanding,” not “I’m sorry.” Pay attention to how much you are apologizing and stop!
Fawning might be the stress response that takes the most work because you must re-identify and reclaim yourself. It takes awareness and practice to stop working hard to please others. You are worth it, though! Reach out for support; that’s what I’m here for!