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Trauma Responses: Fawning

Richelle is a nerd of all things healing. Topics she loves are: trauma, healing, narcissism & borderline personality disorder.


Before I began my healing journey, I felt an immense amount of confusion in my life. Why am I always feeling as though my relationships are contentious? Why can’t I have “normal” relationships?

I would often have questions such as:

“Why am I saying yes to situations when I really mean no?”

“Why is my mother getting upset and yelling at me because I have to work and miss a family birthday party?”

“Why did I agree to spend more money than others on dinner, just to keep the peace?”

“Why is my aunt upset I called her out on planning a date for my grandfather’s funeral and notifying extended family without asking if the date worked for us first. Then blamed me for being difficult?”

“Why does my boss single me out by giving me more work than others, then criticize me for not getting everything done by an unmanageable timeline? Why didn’t I push back on this?”

“Why does it take me so long to speak up about how a situation makes me feel before I become so enraged I just blow up? Which then makes me seem difficult and unhinged?”

The short answer is: I was traumatized as a child. I learned to “fawn” (people please) or fight (bursts of anger) to get my needs met as a child. I was never truly heard as a child, and thus never expected to be heard in any of my relationships (family, friends, significant others, coworkers).

In fact, I would stay silent until I would inevitably blow up making me seem difficult or unhinged.

I was always confused and unaware of how my childhood trauma resulted in traumatic responses, such as fawning (people pleasing) or fighting (angry outbursts).

Fawning was my Go-To Trauma Response

However, fawning was my go-to trauma response. This resulted in my need to please others to keep the peace if faced with a traumatic experience. I used people pleasing to stay safe.

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According to Healthline, “In a nutshell, “fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to diffuse conflict, feel more secure in relationships, and earn the approval of others.”

According to Healthline, “In a nutshell, “fawning” is the use of people-pleasing to diffuse conflict, feel more secure in relationships, and earn the approval of others.”

However, in adulthood fawning is a maladaptive response to difficult situations.

4 Common Signs you use Fawning as a Trauma Response

Below are 4 common signs you use fawning (people pleasing) as a trauma response:

1. Saying no to Others is Extremely Difficult

Saying no is tough for people pleasers. In fact, people pleasers say yes way too often when they really want to say no. We are too afraid to upset the other person (or people) and fear their reaction if we put our own needs first. If we do say no, we often feel guilty for saying no because we may offend or hurt the other person.

2. You Feel Guilty for Feeling Angry

Speaking of feeling guilty, you end up feeling this way when you are angry or resentful toward another person. You end up making excuses for the other person’s terrible behavior to the point where you may have convinced yourself you aren’t “allowed” to feel angry at them. You then hold onto this anger until you end up resentful, and blow up on this person in very unproductive ways.

3. You Feel Responsible for Peoples’ Reactions

This goes along the lines of feeling responsible for other people’s emotions. We end up afraid if we aren’t agreeable or express our opinions on a subject, people will react negatively toward us. So we avoid speaking up entirely. We feel responsible for their reaction as if their reaction is somehow our fault. This is an extremely hard one for me personally, and hence why I stayed in some not so great relationships for far after their expiration date (both with family and friends).

4. You Compromise Your Values

This is also a tough one to notice at first. As an example, I had a “friend” who believed in family values, and often pointed to the Bible to justify some pretty terrible anti-human rights beliefs. I was pro everything human rights and disagreed vehemently with her on this subject. However, I was too afraid to speak up about my viewpoint even though it was clear to me her views were in direct contradiction to mine. I was afraid it would cause an argument, and I would lose my friend. When I finally did get the courage to speak up, we had a heated argument which then turned into taking some space. For me, this turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy where I felt as if I spoke up about my values, I would lose friends or family in my life.

Trauma is Tricky

Trauma is tricky and so engrained in our psyche it can be hard to notice unless we do the work to understand it. If we develop better ways to cope and communicate our own needs and wants, we begin to live authentically.


Healing Resources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Richelle Marie

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