a woman is struggling with her pleasing behaviour

Trauma and the Fawning Response: The Dark Side of People-Pleasing

If you feel like you are always last on your list, you may be acting in response to internalised trauma. Here’s what you should know about fawning.

You have noticed that lately everything feels like it’s gone completely sideways. You feel like you are giving your all in your relationships, but getting very little back in return. You’re overwhelmed with work and personal commitments, but still somehow unable to say no when someone makes another request of your time. You may feel taken advantage of, worn down, and deeply hurt. To top it all off, you might be becoming aware that life has been this way for a very long time.

People have different ways of coping with past trauma, and mental health specialists are starting to identify one response as “fawning,” or excessive people pleasing.  Developed as a way to attempt to avoid or mitigate further trauma, fawning tends to result in codependency, entrapment in toxic or abusive relationships, and emotional withdrawal. By identifying this trauma response and seeking treatment, you can create opportunities for happier, healthier relationships and a more balanced life.

Understanding the Four Different Types of Trauma Responses

Therapists have identified four distinct types of responses to trauma caused by verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, particularly in childhood. These responses tend to influence the quality of personal interactions long after the trauma has occurred, and carry equal ill-effects to your mental health and relationships with others.


If you see establishing power or dominance over others as a critical way to protect yourself, you may be exhibiting the “fight” response to trauma. This can take many forms, such as the use of physical or verbal aggression to overpower others, having extremely high standards or demands for perfection, or being unfair or harsh in personal relationships.


When a stressful situation arises — you feel the need to escape, this could be part of a “flight” response. This may include having to actually leave a situation (or attempting to avoid it entirely), engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviour, or burying yourself in work or exercise. People dealing with a flight response often report challenges with relaxation or even simply sitting still.


If your response to stress is like hitting a “power off” button, you are likely showing a “freeze” response to trauma. Freeze involves dissociation, and so those who respond this way are mistrustful of relationships and generally prefer to be alone. This response can also result in difficulty making decisions or getting motivated.


More recently identified by mental health specialists, a “fawn” response is brought about by the attempt to avoid conflict and trauma by appeasing people. For children, this can be defined as a need to be a “good kid” in order to escape mistreatment by an abusive or neglectful parent. As an adult, this means that in relationships you are consistently ignoring your own needs, values, and boundaries to conform to what you believe others expect of you.

Are You “Fawning” to Cope?

It may be difficult at first to determine if fawning is your innate response to protecting yourself from trauma. Here are a few key signs of fawning:

You Have an Inability to Say “No”

You’re pushed to the brink with work and social commitments, and you are feeling both physically and emotionally drained. Yet when someone asks you for a favour, you just cannot manage to say “no.” Internally you’re likely dreading all you have signed up for, but that feeling somehow isn’t enough to start declining requests.

Your Values seem to be Fluid in Personal Interactions

What can start off as feeling like you are just trying to avoid a fight can become a running theme throughout nearly all of your interactions. You find you have a very hard time standing up for yourself and what you believe is right, particularly with people that you are close to. It can be little things, like your personal preference on a movie, as well as more serious issues, like validating a behaviour or viewpoint that you actually disagree with.

Your Guilt and Anger Go Hand-in-Hand

You are so used to putting the feelings of others before your own that somehow feeling angry at someone feels like a betrayal. You end up suppressing these feelings or overly sympathising with the other person, even when they are clearly in the wrong.

You are Blanking out Emotionally

While you go about trying to make everyone around you happy, you begin to unconsciously repress your own emotions to the point of being disconnected from them. If you are trying to name how you feel, but are getting caught up in a complex tangle of guilt, anger, fear, and anxiety, it’s likely that you have disassociated from your primary emotional responses.

Your Emotions Erupt in Unusual Ways

Regular suppression of emotions can cause them to emerge in unrelated situations, such as when you’re talking to a stranger, or in the midst of a seemingly normal activity. You may feel an uncontrollable urge to vent or cry, and wonder where it is coming from.

You Feel Responsible for the Reactions of Others

Because you are so invested in the validation and happiness of others, you even feel responsible for how they react. For example, when a friend doesn’t like a movie you have suggested, you feel bad and apologetic. Or, in your relationships, you are constantly explaining someone’s bad behaviour as somehow your fault. This is also related to codependency, and is often accompanied by anxiety, guilt, and self-loathing.

You Feel like No One Really Knows You

Based partly on the tendency of the fawning response to engage in toxic relationships, and also on the fact that you are likely repressing many of the emotions that make you fully “you,” you may end up feeling like even those you are close to don’t really know who you are.

Being Free of Fawning – and Fear

For those struggling with the effects of the fawning response, therapy is an important source of support and growth. Many find that even when they are aware of fawning behaviour and the negative impacts resulting from it, that it is challenging to break out of it as a default response. This is due to the deeply ingrained idea that fawning will create safety.

Therapists suggest that to successfully begin to positively alter this innate response, the root causes of trauma must be directly addressed. This allows you time to process, grieve, and rebuild a life that is not dictated by fear.

Moving Past Trauma at The Dawn

The Dawn Thailand is the best sanctuary to heal your past trauma.

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand offers a highly specialised and extremely effective Trauma Retreat Programme that is designed to promote both psychological and physical healing from trauma. After working with you to develop a customised treatment plan, our experienced, compassionate group of trauma specialists will guide you as you confront the root cause of your trauma in order to process and move past it.

Components of our holistic Trauma Treatment Programme include:

  • Trauma Reduction Therapy – specifically treats the effects of childhood trauma, such as codependency and developmental immaturity
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – a nontraditional technique designed to diminish negative feelings and responses associated with traumatic events
  • Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – a form of CBT especially sensitive to those suffering the effects of abuse, violence, or grief
  • Visualisation Therapy – a wellness technique that works to harness and utilise the brain’s positive responses
  • Trauma Release Exercises – specific exercises that assist in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma stored in the body
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – a gentle, cutting-edge technology that improves symptoms of depression

Overcoming Trauma in Thailand

The Dawn is located on a serene riverbank just outside the beautiful city of Chiang Mai. Only an hour’s flight away from the capital city of Bangkok, you’ll arrive in a lush, resort-like atmosphere far away from all the triggers and stressors of home. Here you will be able to focus completely on you, giving yourself the attention you need to heal.

If you’re ready to learn how to respond differently to your relationships and overcome your fears, call The Dawn today to find out more about how we can help you.


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  1. Pingback: MY DAILY WOW: Tend-and-Befriend response to stress explains a lot… | Cristina Mihai's Blog

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