At the age of 43, I’d like to think I have a pretty solid center. I know who I am. I know what I like and dislike. I have a strong connection to what I consider God. I am much better at saying no when I mean it, which means my relationships are cleaner and more honest.
But some things still undo me. The worst? Feeling like someone I care about is mad at me.
It’s not like this for everyone—only some people. A certain type of person.
It sends me into a complete tailspin. I lose my bearings. I want to fix it immediately, even if that means I have to deny my own feelings and fawn all over them.
Then, I learned that’s an actual thing. Fawning.
The first time I heard it I went, Ohhhhhhh. It made me cringe but it was also a relief; it wasn’t just a me-thing.
We’ve all heard about fight, flight, freeze as fear/trauma responses. But fawn is said to be the fourth and lesser-known “F”, coined by therapist Pete Walker.
Pete writes, "Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs, and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences, and boundaries."
Fawning can look like over-apologizing, being unable to distinguish your feelings or needs from the other person’s in a conflict, acting fine and even great about exchanges or outcomes that are not fine or great, trying to merge with and over-flatter people you see as threatening.
The thing is, just like every other fear/trauma response, it’s natural. If you do this, it’s tempting to harshly judge yourself, but that does no good. Recently, I found myself doing this AND KNOWING I WAS DOING IT and still, I was unable to stop myself! The impulse is strong. It’s an impulse for survival. And in never has to do with the present moment.
So, after I did my (squirm) fawning, I got curious. I asked myself what was really going on. Was I really going to die if this person was mad at me? What if they never talked to me again? Why did I have this response with them, but not others? What story do I have going on about them? What story do I have going on about me?
I wrote about these things. I talked to my boyfriend about it. I read a few things to remind me of what’s true and real. And today I’m writing you about it. All these things help me to move through it and learn.
I don’t like this part of me at all. I find it embarrassing and juvenile and even gross. It’s not something I want people to see or know about.
But, it is also reality. It’s life. As my friend Sam Lamott said to me once, “I’m sorry, but you can’t erase your humanity.”
It’s easy to experience something like this and feel like I’ve made no progress. This very old pattern in me is still alive and well and that must mean I’m failing somehow. But if I zoom out, I can see that’s not true at all. While I used to do this unconsciously and with far more people, today it happens rarely and I notice it right away.
The emotional and spiritual work I’ve done in sobriety isn’t just work that sober people have to do. It’s work all humans have to do, if they are to heal and evolve. Sober folks just have an urgency about it because being unwell has big consequences.
That’s what I’ve got today. What do you think? What’re you working on? Are you a fawner, too?