Am I Fawning or Just Nice?
By Tara Rullo, LCSW
The fawn response is a term used in the context of responses to trauma, particularly in the model known as the “four Fs” – fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. These responses describe different ways individuals react when faced with a threat. The fawn response specifically refers to a person’s tendency to seek safety and avoid conflict by complying with the wishes and demands of others. It involves an extreme focus on pleasing others and maintaining harmony, even at the expense of one’s own needs, boundaries, and well-being.
The fawn response, like the fight, flight, and freeze responses, is a survival strategy developed in response to trauma or adverse experiences. While it can help in the short term by avoiding confrontations, in the long run, it can lead to issues like poor self-esteem, boundary violations, and difficulties asserting one’s own needs and desires.
Is it fawning or just being nice?
Distinguishing between being a genuinely kind and considerate person and engaging in a fawning response due to trauma can be complex. Here are some factors to consider that might help you differentiate between the two:
• Intent vs. Compulsion: A genuinely nice person acts kindly out of empathy, compassion, and a genuine desire to help others. Fawning, on the other hand, often feels compulsive and can stem from a fear of conflict, rejection, or abandonment. If you find yourself helping others even when it’s detrimental to your well-being and you feel unable to set boundaries, it might be a trauma response.
• Healthy Boundaries: A kind person respects their own boundaries and the boundaries of others. They can say “no” when necessary without feeling overwhelming guilt or anxiety. Someone engaging in a fawning response might struggle with asserting their own boundaries, often sacrificing their needs to please others.
• Authenticity: A genuinely kind person acts from authenticity and doesn’t compromise their own values, beliefs, and needs excessively to please others. Fawning, on the other hand, involves putting on a facade to gain approval or avoid conflict, leading to a lack of authenticity.
• Self-Esteem: A person who is kind out of genuine empathy usually has a positive self-image and doesn’t base their self-worth solely on others’ opinions. In contrast, individuals who fawn may have low self-esteem and seek external validation to feel worthy.
• Stress and Anxiety: Engaging in a fawning response might lead to chronic stress and anxiety due to the constant effort to please others. Being a naturally kind person brings joy and satisfaction rather than anxiety.
• Context and Consistency: Consider whether your behavior is consistent across various situations and relationships. If you notice that you consistently struggle to assert yourself or set boundaries, it might be a sign of a fawning response.
• Reflection and Self-Awareness: Reflect on your motivations and feelings. Are you helping others because you genuinely want to or because you feel compelled to gain approval or avoid conflict? Developing self-awareness through introspection or therapy can provide valuable insights.
• Impact on Well-being: Consider how your behavior affects your mental and emotional well-being. If constantly prioritizing others’ needs leaves you feeling drained, stressed, or unfulfilled, it might indicate a fawning response.
If you find that your kindness frequently leads to stress, anxiety, and an inability to set healthy boundaries, it might be helpful to talk to a therapist. A mental health professional can assist you in understanding your behaviors, motivations, and coping mechanisms, helping you differentiate between genuine kindness and the fawning response, and work towards healthier interpersonal dynamics.