Are You a People Pleaser? This Could Be a Trauma Response


At times, trauma symptoms can be quite obvious, while other times, they might be so subtle that we are not aware they exist. Or we have lived with the symptoms for so long, it can feel like a part of our everyday existence. One example of a subtle symptom is people-pleasing or fawning. Pleasing others is one of the four trauma responses – fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. People learn to engage in this response strategy over time as a protective mechanism, especially when they feel emotionally unsafe. Sometimes it’s safer to engage in certain behaviours, especially when there is an imminent threat. But ongoing responses that lack boundaries or going against your values or ability in order to avoid conflict may very well be a trauma response.

What Is Fawning or People Pleasing?

People pleasing is when an individual holds back their opinions and desires or changes their behaviour to please the other person to avoid conflict. The fawning response usually develops at an early age through experiences with a parent or caregiver. A child who has been abused may learn to please the guardian to avoid further abuse. A child who has been neglected can learn to enact behaviours to try to engage their caregiver. Children can also learn to neglect their feelings, needs, wants and opinions so as not to be on the receiving end of harsh negative consequences or abuse, which creates consequential damage to the child emotionally. Furthermore, they carry this behavioural pattern with them into their adult life, which affects their personal and professional life.

What Experiences Develop the People-Pleasing Response?

The following experiences can make a person feel unsafe, where they have to cope with the situation by neglecting their well-being and putting the well being of others before their own:

  Experiencing a violent parent, caregiver or partner

  Having a parent who is emotionally unavailable

  Being in a relationship with a parent or partner who is a narcissist

  Growing up in a family that avoids conflicts

  Growing up in a family that has a lot of conflicts

  Being surrounded by a family member who struggles with chronic physical or mental health problems

  Encountering micro-aggressions, exclusion, discrimination or racism

What Are Some Signs of People-Pleasing?

While the trauma response can be subtle and mistaken as part of their personality, here is a list of some common fawning signals:

  Seeking other people’s feelings, thoughts and opinions to determine their own

  Finding difficulty in interpreting one’s feelings

  Consistently trying to please other people

  Neglect one’s own beliefs and values

  Instinctually pleasing the other person at the first indication of conflict

What Emotional Challenges Do People Pleasers Face?

People who fawn as a trauma response usually undermine themselves and neglect their well-being. Here are some common emotional challenges they face:

  Finding difficulty in saying no

  Struggling to set personal boundaries

  Feeling guilt and anger toward self

  Often being taken advantage of by others

  Being codependent in relationships

  Experiencing stress or discomfort when asked for opinions

  Taking on responsibilities, even when overwhelmed

If you are looking for help to work through your trauma, the therapists at Onyx Counselling and Psychotherapy can support you. Our licensed psychologists and counsellors provide a safe and compassionate space for you to heal. Book an appointment with us today.