Updated: Jul 29, 2020
By Dr. Sarah Haas *
About 6 months ago, I saw a new concept pop up on my Facebook feed: "Fawning".
This was not a concept I was familiar with, and it was shared from multiple therapist friends, so the researcher in me needed to know more!
(The specific post I saw is here: https://letsqueerthingsup.com/2020/02/02/unlearning-fawn-response/?fbclid=IwAR1wbn8vLgjJ0CvwnerqUR1yKNepCuQ35FhzzADyuO5hYleCZrFew_Rqnio. However, if you Google the concept of Fawning as a trauma response, you will undoubtedly get many links to articles that discuss this concept).
The article my friends referred me describes "Fawning" as an extreme form of people-pleasing that can result from experiencing trauma (please note that "trauma" refers to more than just the extreme situations this word may conjure up, like physical abuse etc.). Although people-pleasing can be a positive or good trait to have, just like anything else, in it's extreme form it can be detrimental to an individual's functioning.
Specifically, this article describes "Fawning" as making others happy at the expense of our happiness...we are willing to give up our boundaries, our wants, and our needs in order to make others happy. It discusses how "Fawning" is used as a defense mechanism as a way to decrease conflict in our personal life. That is, those of us prone to using "Fawning" are most likely to go into "Fawning" when we experience conflict in our personal relationships or when we feel someone else is angry, uncomfortable, mad, sad, or experiencing an emotion that makes us feel uncomfortable. I visualize this the "deer in the headlights" look as whenever any conflict is anticipated or occurs. Then we drop everything we were thinking or doing and rush to focus on reducing the conflict by letting go of our needs.
This suggests that we are more likely to personalize other people's emotions as a direct result of something we did. We blame ourselves for others' disappointment and anger, and thus feel extremely uncomfortable when others are angry. [Side note: I'm a HUGE advocate of people understanding they are not responsible for other people's emotions/behaviors]. This leads us to relive that discomfort by...you guessed it..."Fawning".
That article discusses 5 steps that the author has taken to understand and reduce their "Fawning" response to others.
When I was reading the article, I immediately thought of how this "Fawning" response may impact raising a spirited child. I started thinking what if a "Fawning" parent has a child who is strong-willed, or independent, or defiant, or doesn't follow rules, or says mean things when they don't get their way, or is emotionally dysregulated, or throws temper tantrums? A child with these behaviors may frequently be triggering a parent's "Fawning" response.
Often times, children engage in behaviors like saying mean things or engaging in temper tantrums as a way to express their frustration when they are told "no", aren't getting what they want, or need to stop doing something they want to do (video games, anyone?). This sounds like the exact environment that can trigger a "Fawning" response to those of us who are prone to "Fawning". OK so if a parent starts "Fawning", they are more likely to give the child what they want--at the parent's expense--to help the child calm down.
At it's surface, this "Fawning" response may seem like it works! That is, the child is calm and now the parent doesn't need to deal with the child's tantrum. However...there are two major unintended consequences that may result from this. (1) The parent may feel sad, frustrated, confused, and like they do not have control over their child, and may feel guilty or resentful, and (2) the child learns that saying mean things or throwing a tantrum is an effective way to get what they want.
Let's look at the example of a child being asked to do the dishes from breakfast. Once the child is asked to clean the dishes, the child may say something like, "You can't make me", "But I have to do X right now", or even just a straightforward, "NO!". If then the "Fawning" response is triggered, the parent may say "OK" or just do the dishes themselves. In this situation, the child gets what they want (to not do the dishes). Although this is one instance, if this type of interaction is repeated over time (parent makes request, child doesn't do it, parent completes the request), the child may learn that saying "No" is an effective way to get what they want and will say "No" at future requests from the parent. Overt time, parents feel like their child is running the house, or it's like "walking on eggshells" around the child, or that the child's mood dictates what kind of a day everyone in the house has.
The underlying message here: The combination of a "Fawning" parent with a spirited child may lead to power struggles at home.
Recognition of patterns of behavior and learning effective techniques to change these patterns of behavior is one way that therapy can be effective. Parents may feel guilt over falling into these patterns or may feel like they can get figure this out on their own. This feeling and this thought often keep parents from reaching out for help that they may otherwise benefit from.
The Center for Active Minds is a specialty clinic offering services for toddlers through young adults with ADHD and/or Anxiety. For more information, please check out our website at www.CenterForActiveMinds.com.
Interested in seeing how the Center For Active Minds may be able to help you and your family? Call us at 717-879-9797 or email me at DrSarah@CenterForActiveMinds.com. Reaching out for help is hard...finding a good provider shouldn't be.
Disclaimer: The Information provided through this website, including the various pages, blog posts, and emails, are designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or mental health treatment. Every individual person's situation is unique. Please seek out individual care if needed.