The Fawn Trauma Response – Are You A People Pleaser?

The Fawn Trauma Response - Are You A People Pleaser?

I have been a people-pleaser for most of my life. Not trusting my own judgement, so relying on others to tell me what to do. Ignoring red flags in people, trying to see the best in them. Which has got me into many dangerous situations, and stuck in a cycle of toxic friendships and abusive relationships.

I had no boundaries of my own, so overstepped others too. I couldn’t say no to people, so was always either doing things for others that I simply didn’t have the time or energy for, or double-booking, and letting people down. I had a reputation for being ‘flaky’ but laughed it off, not really knowing why I was like this.

I was always desperate for people to like me (and not notice the toxic shame I was carrying, unconsciously) and had a real ‘all or nothing’ cycle going on, with friend groups. I had no concept that everyone is just human, all with flaws, and all with likeable traits. Some more than others, of course. I threw myself into each new friendship like an excited child, having no room in my life for anything else. Until inevitably the cracks appeared, and the entire relationship dissolved, or exploded, in a dramatic fashion. This is a psychological concept called splitting. Black and white. No grey area.

I had no way of controlling my own emotions or even understanding them, so would over-share, often to complete strangers. This trait inevitably either pushed people away, or attracted predators, and narcissists, who can sniff out a gullible fawning soul from the other side of the world!

Because I had no boundaries, people would take advantage of me, and over a period of time of being submissive and letting them, to avoid confrontation, would eventually ‘blow’ into an explosive rage. Then berate myself for upsetting them, internalising that it must be ‘my fault’ and make myself sick with guilt for causing confrontation, profusely apologising without any real communication.

The fawn trauma response stems from childhood. People pleasers often grow up in very controlling and chaotic environments, and internalised the idea that if they were perfectly good or well-behaved, they could minimise any conflict going on around them, and somehow secure the love and attachment that was missing often since birth.

As adults, with our unhealed inner child, we still have this tendency to defer, make ourselves submissive, become smaller, ignore our intuition, and minimise our own needs… making us profoundly vulnerable to emotional abuse. We literally internalise the belief that love has to feel ‘earnt’ in order to feel secure. And with such low self-worth, we simply don’t believe we are worthy of real, genuine, calm love.

I read a really good analogy recently. If you had a motorbike that you regularly rode at 120mph for years, and suddenly had to give up this bike and use a slow pedal bicycle, how would that feel? Boring? Too safe? This is a co-dependent brain in a normal ‘safe’ relationship. All unconsciously though. That unconscious mind that drives our behaviour.

Another part of being vulnerable to abuse is that people-pleasers are so easily gaslit. If as a child, it was easier to accept someone else’s versions of events, even when unfair, or deep down you knew you were right, guess what happens as an adult?

Do you feel as though you recognise any of the above? Are you fawning? Do you find yourself people-pleasing? Do you struggle to set boundaries?

I want you to know that you can change. You have permission to show up as your true authentic self, and to be happy. With the help of a trauma-informed therapist, you too can heal.

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