Trauma is a profound and all-encompassing experience that can deeply shake the very core of your mental and emotional well-being. While many have heard of the fight-or-flight response as a key player in the trauma narrative, there’s another response, perhaps less celebrated but equally important: fawning. Fawning, much like its trauma response companions, emerges as a lifeline for adults grappling with their traumatic past. In this blog post, we’re about to embark on an enlightening journey into the world of fawning as a trauma response in adults. We will uncover its intricate characteristics, origins, and its profound impact on your mental health.
Understanding Trauma Responses in Adults
Before delving into the specifics of fawning as a trauma response, it’s crucial to understand trauma responses in general. Understanding these responses is essential because they guide how you react to threatening or overwhelming situations. These automatic and often instinctual reactions are employed by your body and mind as coping mechanisms. It’s important to recognize that these responses can differ from person to person and may change over time based on your unique history and circumstances.
The most commonly recognized trauma responses include:
- Fight: In the fight response, you confront the threat directly. You may become aggressive, assertive, or defensive. A surge of adrenaline and a strong desire to regain control characterize this response.
- Flight: Flight revolves around escaping or avoiding the threat. This can manifest as physically fleeing from danger or emotionally distancing yourself from a distressing situation. The flight response is driven by a need for self-preservation.
- Freeze: Freeze is characterized by immobilization or dissociation. It’s as if your body and mind “freeze” to protect against overwhelming emotions or sensations. This response can lead to emotional numbness, a feeling of disconnection from your body, and a sense of detachment from reality.
- Fawn: Fawning, the focus of our discussion, is an additional response that deserves attention. It involves an excessive desire to please others and seek their approval. In a fawn state, you may become overly accommodating, submissive, and deferential as a way to avoid conflict and gain a sense of safety.
What is fawning?
“Fawning” represents a trauma response that often lingers in the shadows, overshadowed by the more widely recognized “fight, flight, and freeze” reactions. In the realm of fawning, a compelling urge to please others and gain their approval takes center stage, sometimes at the cost of your own needs and boundaries. This response frequently emerges as a coping mechanism in the face of past traumatic encounters, particularly those moments where your safety or well-being felt perilously threatened. Now, let’s closely inspect what fawning entails:
- Excessive People-Pleasing: When you find yourself in the grip of the fawn trauma response, you frequently embark on extraordinary endeavors to bring joy to others, even if it entails neglecting your own well-being. You may discover that you often say yes to requests or demands, even when your inner voice whispers no. This recurring pattern often leads to overcommitment and self-sacrifice.
- Avoidance of Conflict: The fawn trauma response is branded by an intense aversion to conflict and confrontation. In your fawn state, you navigate great lengths to steer clear of arguments or disagreements, often doing so at the expense of your own emotions and needs. Your tendency to suppress your feelings becomes a shield, wielded to shield others from distress.
- Hyper-Vigilance: As someone who tends to engage in fawning responses, you often experience a heightened state of awareness concerning the emotions and needs of those around you. Your vigilance extends to a continuous monitoring of their moods and reactions, prompting you to adjust your behavior in response. This hyper-vigilance roots itself in your profound desire to anticipate and fulfill the expectations of others.
- Self-Abandonment: Fawning can steer you toward a path of self-neglect, where the needs and desires of others take precedence to such an extent that you neglect your own physical and emotional well-being. This self-abandonment often results in accumulating feelings of exhaustion and resentment over time and is a trauma response in adults.
- Difficulty Saying No: You may encounter significant challenges when it comes to setting boundaries or asserting yourself. The fear of saying no, and the potential consequences of rejection, abandonment, or conflict, can be overwhelming. Consequently, you may continuously prioritize the needs of others over your own.
- Low Self-Esteem: Your experience with fawning responses is frequently intertwined with low self-esteem. You tend to anchor your self-worth to external validation and the approval of others, resulting in an enduring sense of inadequacy or unworthiness that often accompanies this response.
- Approval-Seeking Behavior: When you immerse yourself in fawning responses, you often notice that you’re drawn into approval-seeking behaviors. This could encompass a constant quest for reassurance, a relentless pursuit of validation, or an unwavering drive for perfection. Your intense need for external validation serves as a safety net, a means to feel secure and valued.
- Loss of Authenticity: Over time, as you consistently engage in fawning, you might observe a gradual detachment from your authentic self. Your focus becomes rigidly fixed on adapting your behavior to please others, obscuring your genuine thoughts, feelings, or desires. This loss of authenticity can plunge you into a deep sense of emptiness and disconnection from your own identity.
- Relationship Dynamics: Fawning behaviors wield a substantial influence over your interpersonal relationships. Although these behaviors may initially pave the way for smoother interactions and a reduction in conflict, they gradually sow the seeds of imbalance within your relationships. In these evolving dynamics, one individual consistently places the needs of the other above their own, potentially paving the way for codependent relationships and obstructing the establishment of vital, healthy boundaries.
- Impact on Mental Health: When fawning becomes your enduring coping mechanism, it casts a shadow over your mental health. This can manifest through a spectrum of symptoms encompassing anxiety, depression, and, in some cases, even conditions such as codependency. The ceaseless endeavor to appease others and the suppression of your own needs culminate in emotional exhaustion and burnout, compounding the challenges you face in maintaining sound mental health.
The Origins of Fawning
The origins of fawning as a trauma response can often be traced back to your early life experiences, especially those involving trauma or situations where you felt unsafe or threatened. Fawning tends to emerge as a survival strategy you adopt to navigate and cope with these challenging circumstances. Let’s delve into a more detailed exploration of the origins of the fawn trauma response:
- Childhood Trauma: The roots of fawning frequently dig deep into the soil of childhood trauma experiences. In these formative years, traumatic events such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or bearing witness to domestic violence can cast a long shadow over your sense of safety and security. When you endured these traumatic situations as a child, the emergence of fawning could be seen as an ingenious strategy to mitigate the risk of further harm. For example, in the bleak landscape of physical abuse, you may have gleaned that appeasing your abuser offered a temporary respite from the harm inflicted upon you. This learned behavior often takes root and persists into adulthood, revealing itself as a proclivity for engaging in fawning responses whenever perceived threats loom on the horizon.
- Emotional Abuse: The insidious presence of emotional abuse, marked by an unrelenting torrent of criticism, humiliation, or manipulation, can also play a significant role in nurturing the growth of fawning behaviors. These harrowing experiences often propel you into a state of hyper-vigilance when it comes to the emotional needs and moods of those around you. It’s plausible that fawning emerged as a means to sidestep the explosive anger of your abuser, particularly in those harrowing moments when emotional abuse was a pervasive presence during your formative years.
- Attachment Issues: Insecure attachment patterns in childhood can also play a role in how you develop fawning behaviors. When your primary caregivers were inconsistent in providing love, care, and emotional support, you might have learned to seek approval and security from others as a way to compensate for the unmet needs in your early relationships. It’s possible that you developed these tendencies because of your experiences during childhood. In cases where caregiving was unpredictable, you may have developed anxious-avoidant attachment patterns, becoming overly attuned to the needs of others (fawning) while also being hesitant to fully trust or rely on them. Insecure attachment styles can lead to fawning, a trauma response in adults.
- Cultural and Societal Expectations: Cultural and societal norms have a significant influence on how you respond to trauma and stress. In some cultures, there’s a strong emphasis on compliance, politeness, and avoiding conflict. These cultural expectations can reinforce fawning behaviors because you were taught to prioritize harmony and the needs of others over your own. For example, traditional gender roles can also shape how you adopt fawning responses. Societal expectations for women to be nurturing and accommodating may have led you to embrace fawning as a way to meet these gendered expectations.
- Parental Modeling: During your formative years as a child, you acquired many lessons by observing the conduct of your caregivers. If your upbringing unfolded within an environment where a parent or caregiver actively partook in fawning behaviors – habits like ceaselessly pursuing approval or evading conflicts at any price – it’s plausible that you absorbed these behaviors into your own repertoire of interactions. For instance, should you have borne witness to your parents consistently steering clear of discord and putting the needs of others at the forefront, it’s conceivable that you adopted these very behaviors as your own modus operandi when traversing the complex terrain of interpersonal relationships.
10 Ways Fawning Can Impact Your Mental Health
The impact of fawning on your mental health is intricate and multifaceted. Initially, when you engage in fawning responses, it serves as a coping mechanism to navigate traumatic or challenging situations. However,in the end, it manifests as a trauma response in adults. As it evolves into a habitual and maladaptive response, it can exact adverse effects on your psychological well-being. Let’s embark on a comprehensive exploration of how fawning can influence your mental health:
- Burnout and Emotional Exhaustion: The perpetual prioritization of others’ needs and desires over your own takes a toll, resulting in emotional exhaustion and burnout. You frequently expend an excessive amount of mental and emotional energy in your pursuit of pleasing others and maintaining harmony in your relationships. This unceasing effort can leave you feeling drained and overwhelmed.
- Low Self-Esteem: Fawning responses and low self-esteem often intertwine, creating a challenging cycle. When you immerse yourself in fawning behaviors, you tend to tether your self-worth to external validation and the approval of others. Over time, this dependency on external validation can corrode your self-esteem, nurturing a perpetual sense of inadequacy and a persistent belief that your intrinsic worth is somehow insufficient or inadequate.
- Resentment and Frustration: As you continually put the needs and desires of others ahead of your own, you may experience growing resentment and frustration. You begin to realize that you have sacrificed your own happiness and well-being in your efforts to please others. This resentment can lead to feelings of anger, bitterness, and a sense of injustice.
- Loss of Authenticity: Fawning often involves suppressing your true thoughts, feelings, and desires to conform to others’ expectations. Over time, as you habitually engage in fawning, you may lose touch with your authentic self. Your focus becomes so fixed on adapting your behavior to please others that you may no longer know what you genuinely think or feel. This loss of authenticity can result in a sense of emptiness and disconnection from your own identity.
- Difficulty in Relationships: When you engage in fawning behaviors, they may initially lead to smoother interactions and avoidance of conflict in your relationships. However, over time, these behaviors can create imbalanced and unhealthy dynamics. Expressing your true thoughts and feelings becomes a struggle, leading to communication breakdowns and misunderstandings. This difficulty can hinder the development of authentic and meaningful connections with others.
- Codependency: Fawning responses can play a role in the development of codependent relationships, where you become overly reliant on others for validation and a sense of self-worth. This dependency can result in enmeshed and dysfunctional relationships where boundaries become unclear, and personal growth is stifled.
- Anxiety and Stress: The enduring need to anticipate and meet the expectations of others can cast a long shadow of chronic anxiety and stress over your life. This state of perpetual vigilance often finds you in a heightened state of alertness, where you’re constantly monitoring your actions and words to ensure they align with what you perceive as others’ expectations. The persistent fear of saying or doing something that might not meet these presumed expectations weighs heavily on your mind. This constant monitoring and fear of making a misstep or disappointing others can create a relentless cycle of tension and anxiety. Every social interaction, decision, or commitment becomes a potential source of stress as you grapple with the pressure to conform to the perceived desires of those around you.
- Difficulty Setting Boundaries: Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can be extremely challenging for you when you engage in fawning behaviors. The fear of asserting yourself or saying no may lead to worries about rejection or conflict. This difficulty in setting boundaries leaves you vulnerable to being taken advantage of or manipulated by others.
- Dependency on External Validation: A fawn trauma response can foster a strong dependency on external validation for your sense of self-worth and identity. You tend to rely on others’ approval as your primary source of validation, making you susceptible to fluctuations in your self-esteem based on others’ opinions.
- Impaired Self-Care: The self-neglect that often accompanies fawning can have detrimental effects on your physical and emotional well-being. You may fail to prioritize self-care activities, leading to neglect of your physical and mental health.
Overcome fawning as a trauma response with a NYC therapist today!
Facing the challenge of overcoming a fawning response as an adult can be quite a journey, but remember, you’re not on this path alone. At Uncover Mental Health Counseling, we understand the complexity of these responses and offer guidance to help you regain control. If you’re finding that your fawning response is hindering your personal growth, here are some steps to initiate your journey towards healthier responses:
- Connect with Uncover Mental Health Counseling: Start by reaching out to us for a free consultation call. We’ll discuss your specific situation and explore how we can assist you.
- Meet with a NYC trauma therapist: Schedule your initial session with one of our experienced trauma therapists in NYC. They will work with you to understand the root causes of your fawning response and develop strategies to address it effectively.
- Embark on Your Healing Journey: With the support of our NYC trauma therapists, you’ll begin the journey towards managing and overcoming your fawning response. This process may involve various therapeutic techniques tailored to your unique needs.