On a typical Wednesday morning, as you settle in at your desk and line up your to-do list, your boss suddenly calls, asking you to present a new business plan to the management by Friday. This is a first for you, with a crunched deadline. What do you do?

In a similar situation, some may be dumbstruck, quietly retrieve to their desk and ponder, ‘Why did I come to work today?’ While others may instantly give a thousand reasons for why it’s an impossible task. Some may instinctively say ‘Yes boss, why not’, while others call in sick next day.

Basics of responses

Many have heard of fight or flight. According to Simply Psychology, the “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” response is our engrained survival instinct – it is how our ancestors would deal with dangerous environments. Imagine a hunter-gatherer suddenly spotting a tiger. He could only run or fight. While some term it as the body’s natural physiological reaction to stressful, frightening, or dangerous events, it also manifests in high-arousal situations of the modern world that are more psychological in nature (e.g. a job interview).

Understanding the fawn response

The fawn response was a fairly recent addition to the 4F responses. According to notable therapist Pete Walker,through his experiences in helping survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, fawn is the fourth trauma response. Fawning offers an alternative path to safety. You escape harm by learning to please the person threatening you and keep him or her happy.

At the workplace, fawning may involve:

  • Agreeing to whatever your boss/ colleague asks of you, even if you’d rather not do it.
  • Constantly praising a manager in the hope of avoiding criticism or negative feedback.
  • Ignoring what you enjoy, just to please the group.
  • Avoiding sharing your own thoughts or feelings in meetings or watercooler conversations for fear of upsetting others.

Struggles of fawning

The famous episode of Friends comes to mind, where Monica is characterized as high-maintenance, Phoebe is flaky, and Rachel is a pushover. Phoebe points out “She’ll (Rachel) do whatever you want, you can just walk all over her.” Rachel readily agrees to everyone’s suggestions but hates to admit it.

According to Healthline, fawning can be painful, as it means you constantly silence yourself and push your emotions away, all while working overtime to anticipate the emotions of other people.

  • You struggle to feel ‘seen’ by others.
  • You don’t know how to say ‘no’ to people.
  • You feel like you are breaking down because you’ve held it all in for far too long.
  • You struggle to get mad at people, opting instead to blame yourself or justify someone’s crude behaviour.
  • You try to anticipate someone else’s happiness, because deep down, you feel responsible for it.
  • You find yourself compromising on your values to avoid upsetting others.
  • You shut down emotionally to adapt to and accommodate the emotions of others.

Recognize your fawn response

Walker says that “…fawning ultimately results in the death of the self. When we compulsively mirror what others expect and want from us, we detach from our own sense of identity, needs, and desires, and even our own bodies.”

When faced with internal conflicts, simply ask yourself if you are doing something to please another person and, in the process, letting your own self down. The more conscious you are of your fawning manifestations, and can reorient yourself toward being more authentic, the more you will find fulfilling ways of connecting with others.

As hard as it may seem, remind yourself that you are not the main character of others’ stories. You are your own story.

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