Freedom From Fawning

photographer : Marcela Coors

Excessive Empathy // Fawning as Trauma Response

‘You are prioritizing safety to others to the point that you become dangerous to yourself’ I found myself saying to an overly-compassionate client describing classic fawning behavior. As I finalize ‘Guide for Guides : Ethical Psychedelic Spaceholding’ the realization I came to post-graduate school for therapy returns – most are unaware that beyond fight or flight there are additional trauma responses that include freezing and fawning / appeasing.

Fawning involves hyper vigilance in scanning for the socioemotional cues of those around you and prioritizing taking care of the needs of others over yourself. Although in small doses this can be seen as pro-social empathy / compassion, when this behavior interferes with your capacity for self-care, it could be due to an involuntary survival response. The survival impulses that are hyper-sensitized by trauma cause us to rely too heavily on costly nervous system activations, to activate responses in times that they are not helpful, and to engage in reactions so frequently without nervous system resetting as to cause burnout or disease.

When caretaking others becomes a compulsive response to create safety in your environment as a prerequisite for your internal safety or ability to care for yourself, it is often due to childhood trauma in which a primary caregiver required care from you as a child, or a setting in which it was unsafe / judged for you to express your needs.

Our current culture does not acknowledge the more ‘social’ trauma response of fawning, and those of us acculturated as female are particularly steered towards fawning as encouraged behavior.

Pulling upon my studies and client experience with those who have a primary orientation towards fawning as their trauma response, I will share my top recommendations for how to create sovereignty from fawning. These insights will also be helpful to create social spaciousness for those who describe themselves as over empathetic or hypersensitive.


Freedom From Fawning : Name to Tame

The first step at finding freedom from habitual fawning responses is to notice and name fawning behaviors. Initially, and especially if fawning is a new concept for you {no shame – you are in good company, most people have never heard of fawning – even a startling number of therapists}, you may only reflect on a behavior as fawning in retrospect. This recognition post-act is essential to identifying your specific fawning patterns and tracking the common personal or environmental factors that lead to your fawning frequency increasing or decreasing.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy {CBT} recommends that, for any desired behavior change, it is helpful to journal or otherwise record your instances of fawning and the conditions under which they occurred. Journaling or otherwise recording and reviewing the contexts in which fawning occurs for you will help you find your patterns thus making you aware of which situational contexts in which it is important for you to be well resourced before entering or to preemptively implement guardrails to curtail common fawning behavior. Some modulators that may increase fawning include : triggers, power dynamic imbalances, and mental/ physical fatigue.

Journal prompt : Today, did you enact any fawning behaviors ? What was the context ?

As another aspect that dovetails with fawning is having a harsh inner critic, it is paramount to treat yourself with kindness as you expand your awareness of your actions. Remember that fawning evolved to help you survive in situations of challenge / trauma, and that you are still alive is in part a testament of fawning’s capacity to aid in the survival of your body at a young / vulnerable age.

If you are needing more hands-on support, please reach out. I will also be releasing this material bundled together all at once as a ‘Freedom From Fawning’ course due to high interest : sign up for my museletter at RAZ.MA for updates.

 {Bonus : the basic blueprint of ‘Freedom From Fawning’ can also be applied to many deeply ingrained behavioral changes}.