Fight Flight Freeze Fawn Responses and The Pitfalls of Empathy

Keywords: Fight Flight Freeze Fawn.

The ‘please’ or ‘fawn’ response is an often overlooked survival mechanism to a traumatic situation, experience or circumstance. Nonetheless, the ‘please’ response is a prevalent one especially with complex trauma or CPTSD and is acted out as a result of the high-stress situations that have often been drawn out.

As any survival response; like flight, fight or freeze, a please or fawn response is to manage a state of danger or potential danger. The please response is the most thoughtful and complex response to deal with as it encompasses monitoring and feeling into other people’s state of mind (often the aggressor) to anticipate a situation and respond by adapting and pleasing to evade confrontation or before a situation becomes aggravated.

The ‘please’ or ‘fawn’ response is an often overlooked survival mechanism to a traumatic situation, experience or circumstance. Nonetheless, the ‘please’ response is a prevalent one especially with complex trauma or CPTSD and is acted out as a result of the high-stress situations that have often been drawn out.

It is also one of the most cumbersome and exhausting responses as it takes great resource to play through potential future scenarios.

Fight Flight Freeze and Fawn: The Difference between Empathy and the Fawn Response

A please response is not the same as empathy, and I think there is some confusion there. Healthy empathy is to be able to "feel" into other people’s situation without losing your sense of self and the importance of your own needs. With a please or fawn response you have given up a sense of self, a sense of healthy identity and have taken on responsibilities that aren’t yours to carry. It is a survival response made in a time of need, but in the long run, you pay a hefty price for it.

Once emotional residue, related to your past, is contained, access to healthy empathy might be more readily available if your previous habitual response was a please response. Each survival response once contained, have their strengths to be harvested.

Surviving a Complex Trauma Situation by adapting to a Please Response

As mentioned briefly before; when you resort to a please response, you take on responsibilities which aren’t yours to bear.

Let’s look at an example to clarify this behavior:

Clare grows up with a mother who has episodes of being suicidal and emotionally unstable. In her day to day goings, her mom is demanding, ambitious and meticulously organized. To avoid confrontation and to assist the impossible neurotic episodes of her mom, Clare adopts the please response towards her. She anticipates her moods, tries to excel at school and to meet her mother's demands.

The "choice" to please and adapt to her mom’s needs and forget her own, is not done at a fully conscious level. It is a choice forged out of the best possible survival option to deal with what is at hand. It is made out of absolute necessity.

Be kind to the child in you!

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This course gives you the know how and tools to work towards more independence, away from the codependency attachment to a narcissist. As a byproduct of the above, you will, in time, be able to be more financially and emotionally independent.

This course will help you give you the insights of why you please-appease, how that ties in with the need for belonging and how that creates symptoms of attachment, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, you will be guided through the somatic meditations and techniques to rewire those survival responses and bring them to more healthy balanced-out levels.

This course will go into how to gradually set boundaries, through accessing anger constructively, and how that will help you to reduce anxiety and dependence and how thereby you will give more validation to yourself.   

  • Nancy says:

    I can relate to Clare, I also had a depressed and suicidal (never acted upon but spoken about) mother who had a traumatic childhood. My one brother and I both adopted the need to please. I think we both felt empathy about my mother’s past, maybe as a way to explain why she was hurting us without wanting to blame her. We both ended up in relationships with partners with mental disorders where we were the caregiver. Now divorced, I can see how all consuming and exhaustive that relationship (and others including friendships) were and I’ve become really isolated and quite frankly I’m enjoying it! I know it isn’t healthy according to all the studies how belonging to social groups equals health but I dread being social now and have zero desire to be in another relationship. Maybe this will pass, I’m not sure. I’ve been on my own for nearly 3 years now.

    • Roland says:

      Hello Nancy. Thanks for your comment. Perhaps when you have seen and worked through this ‘pleasing’ conditioning you might feel you want to be open to a new relationship again and will attract another dynamics which is not based on your past. Keep learning and growing.

    • Anne says:

      Nancy, thanks for your comment! I am at the exact same place as you as regards being quite “isolated” and feeling much better this way. I have worked on this with my Somatic Experiencing therapist who encourages me to respect my need to be on my own as a current boundary. She describes it as a “Collapse and Rebound” mechanism – body and mind intuitively seeking “rock bottom” first before then naturally “rebooting” once it has properly recovered. (Sorry for all the quotation marks…)

      • Nancy says:

        Anne, that’s interesting and has given me something to ponder. I have been allowing myself this isolation I desire but there’s an underlying feeling of dysfunction and judgement towards myself. Like I should not be doing it but I do it anyways, kind of like an unhealthy rebellious indulgence. When I was a young child I had a fantasy of being Grizzly Adams living in the mountains alone. Even though at the time I enjoyed being around people. But I was already preparing to run away I think, one of my main patterns of coping.

        • Luna says:

          I live on my own. I love living on my own. Yes, I am still in recovery from a relationship that caused me a lot of damage. I prefer my own company and I have fun on my own. I go to the cinema, travel, out to dinner, on my own. I don’t get bored. I don’t get lonely. Yes I crave cuddles from time to time, after all, I am human. I have been a “loner”, since I was a small child. Is there really something wrong with prefering to be alone? I look at it as being an admirable skill

      • Bernadete says:

        yes i am shame in collapse stage freeze cant barely function, in body armour the pain of it, go faint at times and cant think fully

    • Lara says:

      Your comments ring true for me. I’ve had a background and experiences that have some similarities with yours. I also have avoided social groups lately, and the thought of being in another intimate relationship nauseates me at the moment. However I do some volunteering which helps me get out of the house and meet people that are strangers. It’s great not to have to socialize with people you already know, because you never feel forced to discuss any subject. You can just be your real self. I do that because I am better if I expose myself to other people, even if I would rather not leave the house. I’ve discovered that almost no one will ever be able to empathize with what I’ve gone through and taking to friends to gain support is an exercise in hope, followed by disappointment. But I do love people. And interacting with new people makes me feel good. I also don’t apologize for staying home if I don’t want to accept invitations, and I know it won’t be good for me. It sounds like you know what you need as well. Everyday is different. Some are forward, some are back. I hope you continue to follow your heart, and the inner knowledge you have gained so dearly and keep doing what is right for you.

    • Bioprof says:

      This is really interesting. Growing up I had a depressed mom, borderline/bipolar dad, and a stepmom who did the best she could but was overwhelmed by circumstances. We kids were not really allowed to express anger or sadness; the moods and demands of the adults ruled. This dynamic is echoed in my second (current) marriage. I think for a number of years more recently it also made me susceptible to some of the attractions of Buddhism: many Buddhists see anger as an evil to be purged, rather than a legitimate feeling that is a sign that we are in danger or something needs to be changed. The “breakdown and reboot” cycle was very familiar to me – at the end of the past year, after three untimely deaths and three murder hearings, I burned out and took a ‘secret sabbatical’ from work. After several months, I still have little tolerance for intense social time, and have very little in mind for career goals for the first time in years. It’s nice to know that I may rebound and get my energy back.

      • Nancy says:

        @Bioprof, interestingly enough I too was always attracted to Buddhism and new age philosophy which I have learned in the last 3 years was mostly a yearning to spiritually bypass my painful feelings and trauma. I was raised to never express anger and not too much joy either! Sadness and melancholy was okay though! If it all hadn’t come to a head at the end of my second marriage perhaps I would still be on that path, running. But a mental break/toxic relationship pushed me to get to the truth, thank goodness. And what a journey it has been! Many blessings to you in your continued healing.

        • Patrick says:

          I’m interested in sharing these issues with fellow Buddhists. I’m writing a book at the moment and would welcome to any input!

    • Kim says:

      I totally feel the way you do about my isolation. I also dread being in another relationship. I want and need support and love from someone else but I’m too scared it will turn into something like all my past relationships. I was the one who did everything.

      • Geraldine says:

        I’ve done courses to educate myself on how to set boundaries, being allowed to speak what you are thinking, you are allowed to have and express your feelings. Learning to name your feelings is even a necessity for us suffering CPTSD. Saying no is also OK, who knew! Had to learn about that to.
        You are important, you are not and should never have been made to feel responsible for others responsibilities.
        Knowing that other people’s problems are not your responsibility to fix or help them with, their problems are their own. We can offer a listening ear without fixing or taking it on, wow who knew!
        Don’t leave your future in anyone else’s hands ever again. Do what you must to be who you choose to be.
        Never again will I loose site of me!

      • Geraldine says:

        I have had three failed relationships after a childhood that was full of physical and emotional abuse. I did the pleasing to a heightened level and took on empathetic traits to explain the hurt and justify the appalling treatment. Firstly I attracted a man who was nothing but a hurt little boy who drank to cope. My second relationship I ended when he was charged with inappropriate sexual conduct with my 14 year old daughter and then not long after my six year old son, his own child!
        The third was a long thirteen years of covert narcissistic abuse ending with him cleaning me out after me paying for everything and doing everything including the yard work, housework, shopping, his paperwork for a failing business, all while I worked full-time and paid for everything. This included buying him a yacht.
        The pleasing and empathy in me attracted this Monster and he took full advantage.
        The CPTSD resulted from an entire childhood of emotional neglect, physical abuse and parents that totally lacked any feelings towards their children.
        I’ve paid a very high price already and the roll on effect of these relationships on my own children is so painful for me to accept.
        This is me that is to blame, I must heal myself and I too am too afraid, tired and over relationships. I don’t know that I will ever be able to trust anyone else with my vulnerable child that hides deep inside of me ever again.
        To find out in your fifties why it’s all gone so wrong for me feels like 4 decades too late!

        • Sandy says:

          Your story is so much like mine, only I did meet and marry the love of my life. He’s helped me to begin to heal and is very patient. There are good people out there. I don’t know if I will ever get over the grief of having failed my children or let them down, but that’s something I have to just live with and know that I have done my best, flawed as that may be.

    • Judy says:

      Hi Nancy

      I this is your coping be detatched protect yourself…your inner child.
      I have recently learned the simplicity of nurturing the inner child..we all have inner childs.
      The inner child responds to NOW life according to patterns learned from our PAST life.
      The secret is to not allow the inner child to rule you. a real child that is lived and nurtured behaves calm…content.
      The child that is indulged/mistreated/unloved etc ..will behave adversely.

      In real life ..experiences can trigger the inner child..
      If you suffered rejection as a kid then in adult life say..a friend ‘rejects’ you, you feel the same feelings as when a child..a button gets pushed and unless you are AWARE (oh I am feeling rejected) you may react in a childlike/ego manner.

      I am now aware..when i feel my buttons pushed.
      I basically pull myself aside…I acknowledge my feelings ..I say..ok I am feeling rejected..I feel hurt I feel annoyed etc
      I then say to myself…well maybe that person who has rejected me is having a bad day and her buttons/ inner child being pushed.
      The other persons behaviour has nothing to do with me.
      I allow myself 2 minutes to vent how i feel.
      I then ACCEPT and let go.
      Pointless rehashing situations thereafter once i have mind sorted as they are then history…just blah blah blah actually.
      Doesnt serve my mind nor my body to hang on to stuff.
      I talk/ calm my inner child for 2 minutes.

      I dont dwell thereafter.

      My inner self becomes calm…it feels considered (like a child would feel)
      I move on in a peace.

      Othrrwise thoughts over analysed mix and swish in my brain/mind like a washing machine and this causes cirtisole to drip in the brain (MRI scans research prove this)
      and just caused illness ..anxiety..distress etc.

      Each situation the occurs ..that pushes reminder buttons get sorted there and then.
      Calming the child and therefore the adult you.

      Processing is vital.
      Practise makes perfect.
      Lovely quick sorting habits form.


      I have learned in my better state of mind that I dont need people..because i love myself first.
      I tell myself regularly that i live her.
      I tberefore CHOOSE the people i would like to keep in my life..those that are kind..good..honest..etc.

      I wish you a fabulous life xx

    • Vicky says:

      My mum was constantly critical, would put me down and would take offense to anything. She was very aggressive and would behave like a totally different person when others were around. She had an abusive parent also, but I find it hard to have sympathy for her as I decided not to give my children the same upbringing so why couldn’t she. I also experience the same aspect of isolation and no interest in relationships. It seems too stressful to keep others happy. Although the people I am friends with are all lovely, I feel I can only relax in my own company without any people. The best holiday I could have is if I did not have to leave the house or interact with anyone!

    • Glinda says:

      Hi Nancy- i have a similar story. After my divorce from a 33 year marriage i moved nearly 200 miles away and went into isolation. I’m only now beginning to emerge. The isolation gave me a depth of healing that i could not have accomplished had a been with another person or even in society working. Firstly- i needed silence, which is proven to help heal the Limbic system. Secondly- it gave me a chance to be authentically me- without having to adjust to please others (i’m a fawn/ flight responder.) I now am ready for the next stage in my healing, which is to re-engage with the world. I’m taking back my power gradually, with baby steps.

  • Nancy says:

    This perfectly describes how my childhood worked with my mother, brother and I doing everything within our power to keep my father’s temper placated. It led me to the same behavior in my marriage to another narcissistic man. My “please response” is so automatic that I sometimes find my attempts to stand up for myself being interrupted by placating words from my own mouth that are not what I was planning to say and that don’t even seem to come from conscious thoughts.

  • Suzy says:

    I grew up with an older sister whose behaviour was extremely erratic – sometimes bullying and abusive, sometimes loving and connected… I have had to “assess” each and every day (growing up) and each and every meeting (as an adult), as to which mood/character she is in, do as to be able to protect myself… as a result, I have developed a highly attuned ability to assess moods and “vibes”. Sadly though, As you state in this piece, Roland, I experienced a type of Stockholm syndrome – where I would fawn and pander in order to keep myself from being bullied. Of course, it backfired – as I just became the “patsy”, at her beck and call and it never ended up protecting me from the bullying in the long run! I wonder though – was I already very empathetic, making me vulnerable to the bullying? Or did I develop empathy as a survival response?

    • Roland says:

      Hi Suzy. The fawn or please response is a survival response indeed. Once worked through the suppressed anger it might turn into a healthy empathy response.

    • Kelly says:

      I also wondered that while reading…I feel that I was an empathic child regardless. Perhaps for me, having to go into the ‘please’ response didn’t necessarily cause this empathic response, rather my empathic nature twisted it that way and developed into unhealthy or unbalanced empathy. I can certainly see the patterns this has created since that time, but I don’t believe that my empathy or true nature arose from that trauma response. It does, however, shed alot of light on why us empathic/highly sensitive folks seem to take on more lasting internal damage from trauma than those who are not in that demographic. A ‘please’ response is less damaging in the obvious respects, but so very disempowering and dangerous.

      Thanks for this article, Roland. Between this and the writeup on narcissism & victims of those with NPD, I feel like I have a much more comprehensive understanding of my own behavior. A good next step in my own journey to healing.

    • Gwen says:

      Wow, Suzy’s comment and the others above really hit home with me and the fawn response. Like you, Suzy, I, too, had an abusive older sister and she would fly at me and physically pound on me from the time we were small children. My parents never, ever took my side. I was blamed for “instigating” with such accusations as, “You know your sister hates it when you….” Either that or Mom would say, “You two just need to get along..” I read somewhere recently about how happiness itself can be a trigger for trauma. This is what would happen. My sister would get angry or jealous whenever I accomplished something or showed joy. So happiness itself became the “cause” of my sister’s bullying and hostility towards me. My learned behavior became, “Don’t show any joy if you don’t want to get beat up–then blamed.”

      Later in life when I was sexually assaulted, it was at a time that I was DOING WELL and happy! What a cycle….

      I wish you well and thank you for your comments.

  • Annie says:

    My parents were the full spectrum. Demanding father, angry mother, highly stressed children always wanting to please to keep the calm. Early on I fought back but was labelled for it. I ended up trying to please everyone – and since then have been in a string of relationships with people who take everything and I have trouble creating appropriate boundaries to remain protective of my own self. I crave affection and end up with people who show none or little, and so I work harder to please. My CPST is getting better but now when I get a fight response, I know I have to wait a few days to see if it’s me, establishing healthy boundaries, or me, having a fight/flight response. It’s really hard, because I have totally isolated myself from everyone and live mostly totally alone except for telephone calls. So the isolation helps me deal with the reactions because I don’t have to challenge myself with potential danger/stressful situations and I don’t have to please anyone or worry about negative and frightening environments.

    • Roland says:

      Survival patterns build on top of other survival patterns do tend to get complex. Once the please response abides you might hit fight or flight indeed. If you are able to stay with that and feel into the underlying emotion (likely anger here) that might help you to start processing that part as well.

  • Kirstie says:

    After spending almost a decade in a very abusive relationship I found the patterns of the relationship being repeated in my relationship with my kids.

    Increasingly I found myself bending over backwards to please them, anticipating their every need, whim or mood. And my daughter was daily becoming more and more like her father… I was stuck in the ‘please’ or ‘fawn’ response, losing my boundaries and my sense of identity whilst being ever more abused every day… even enumerating harder and harder to please.

    I’ve been using mindfulness to shore up the boundaries between us, and NVC to gently communicate my needs without causing aggravation.

    I’m trying to learn about true empathy and compassion so I can help her rather than make things worse, as I have been doing.

  • v says:

    Your article describes me, and the more I read your stuff the more messed up I feel. I have always tried to negate potential problems by evaluating every possible outcome before making a decision. I said something as a child that almost caused homicide/suicide. I have found it safest to no longer talk. It takes a lot for me to be comfortable to talk and then I am always evaluating words to make sure they are safe. To answer your question, I feel others pain and will do everything I can to help or protect and could not care less about my own life. I respond to every aspect of life …work, friends, family, etc with this character trait or should I say flaw?

    • v says:

      Ps. Sir, the reason is that I feel messed up the more I read is in my quest to understand what is wrong with me I came across your site. The more I read the more everything you write about cptsd fit me and I get frustrated because it causes me to feel broken in search to understand how to heal. I am researching because funds for treatment are not available.
      I wrote yesterday too fast and woke up in middle of my night now realizing what i wrote may have been viewed as an insult to you. I appreciate all you make available for people to understand what is going on in their minds. Please forgive me for the offensive way first post was written.

  • Neall says:

    I have many of the same symptoms, as well as chronic pain over decades. I was guided through the words of a dream figure: “The only thing that will help is deep silence.” That encouraged me to meditate for longer periods, and I have now been meditating an hour a day for the past 33 months. Formerly an ‘outsider’, I am slowly beginning to consider myself a Buddhist. (I was a survivor of a violent fundamentalist Christian family.) When I feel ready, I may start a ‘deep silence’ meditation group in my community.

  • Katie says:

    Hi Roland I just wanted to say I am healing from trauma and c-ptsd and I honestly find everything you write spot on – I love this it summaries one of my coping mechanisms perfectly- I noticed I was using the please response in a new relationship this morning and felt my body go into pain and discomfort- I also get very drained when in a please response rather than empathy, like the life is being sucked out of me. Thanks so much for your teachings and support I would love to connect further but not sure how…. I realised for me I had a great deal of not just suppressed anger and grief to process but also shame- which has been coming up the past few days. I feel I constantly doubt others and have a very hard time trusting so would love to know how I can trust myself fully again- and my body (and feel safe with myself ultimately as well as others). With thanks and love, katie x

    • Roland says:

      Hi Katie. The good thing is once we are more aware of our patterns and the somatic effects they give of we stay stuck in them less time. Trust and hurt vulnerability often runs deep when the trauma happened to us as a child. Feel free to send me a message in contact for more personal contact or possible sessions with me.

    • Chas says:

      I understand u Katie. I was recently diagnosed with a very complex “mood disorder ” that has always been percstant in my life but due to issues daily ad environmental i was never aloud to voice say speak cry or feel what I needed 2. In the past 16 months I’ve had a major psychotic break down and y response is still im sorry ill stop ill do better. Please forgive me. Then I disappear within myself and now litterly into isolation.

  • Elizabeth says:

    This is so spot-on! I have been trying to explain to others, since I was a pretty young kid, that I feel other people’s feelings. In fact, I was feeling them more than they were!
    For instance, when my two older brothers would fight/ wrestle, I would totally freak out, start crying, and beg and plead with them to stop. My reasoning was something like this- what if one of my brothers’ hurt the other accidentally, and then, BOOM! How would they live with themselves after? I would be more concerned with that idea than the idea that one of them would be hurt.
    Everything in this article resonates with me, as many of your articles have.
    I’m 56 years old, and I have been unable to learn how to stop chronically dissociating. It has made me, and those around me, miserable. Whenever I speak or think of acceptance as my only option, it makes me feel even further defeated.
    I have had treatment modalities of all manner in my 30’s and 40’s, but, kind of gave up, due to a combination of lack of resources and being called “treatment resistant.”
    It is so frustrating not to be able to work, having my family of origin still supporting me, and being forced to move to a place where I cannot visit my children or grand children.
    I’m a very bright individual, and when people meet me, no one suspects there’s anything wrong with me whatsoever.
    Anyway, thank you for your article, and just in general, thank you for giving me some good and solid info all-around re CPTSD/DID. In case you aren’t already aware, getting any professional to even acknowledge these types of problems is a task!

  • Stephanie says:

    Hmm. I think my mother is more like this than I am. I think maybe I am more inclined to just comply even tho inside I might actually be rebelling and looking for an escape route. Comply to avoid punishment or retaliation or drama. Not really aiming to please so much as aiming to diffuse a potential bomb. Mom married the alcoholic first who abused her and then divorced and later married my narc step father and they are still together (about 40 years). She knows how to keep him pretty happy I suppose tho she seems tired often. What it really looks like to me is her basically letting him be right or have his way most of the time. Tho he is prob a mid range narc and I don’t think he really kicked her around in a scapegoat kind of way so much as he did me. I have prob done fight, flight, freeze and please at one time or another. I have met the narc tyrant’s demands. I have fought them. I have run away from him. And I have aimed to please him. Now tho, I am pretty isolated as well and I rather enjoy a lot of alone time and time at home just doing my own thing. Or going out alone and also just doing my own thing. I have a friend or two, but I spend a lot of time alone and I can get really tired or cranky or feel smothered if I’m around others too much. I think I’m improving tho but I used to really bend over backwards for just about anyone if I liked them. And even if I didn’t so much, there was a lot of obligatory feelings about being “nice,” and I did a number of things to my own detriment due to those feelings. Maybe just fearing retaliation whether there would be any or not from anyone because of my bully step father.

  • Linda says:

    I just read your article (the first of yours that I have read) and am blown away that there’s a name for how I deal with things. Am definitely a pleaser, feel like I was brought up to be a pleaser on top of my natural bent and needed to be a pleaser in my marriage. Once I said no in one aspect of the marriage the whole house of cards came crashing down. It’s years later, much counseling and I still have this deep feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with me… some disconnect in my way if communicating and dealing. I have a hard time sometimes putting my own stuff to words but seem to be able to understand what others are trying to say/express/feel. When I get close to the issue that I am struggling with all that feeling new out is crying. I am continuing to face this …. maybe it will be a lifelong lesson for me?

    • Roland says:

      Hi Linda. Good to have you here and you resonate with the content of the article. You can work through this. Some patterns might remain but when the emotional residue is cleared and you are aware when an old pattern kicks in it does not take you anymore to those dark places. Keep working on yourself and you if you need help reach out!

      • Linda says:

        Thank you for the feedback! And to clarify my rotten finger typing on my phone … when I get close to expressing what I am really and feeling and thinking all that comes out is tears and a few words when I’m thinking millions of them and intensely feeling them.

        • Annaleise says:

          I am the same Linda. I have just read this and havnt come across another person the same. Mine only triggers with relationships with people that either are romantic or id like to be romantic with. When conflict arises I am a freezer… How are you doing now?

  • Tim says:

    This makes so much sense. I remember being sexually abused as a child and I would go back to my abuser whenever I went to their house as a means of controlling what was out of my control. I didn’t know it back them but in hindsight I’m piecing my survival techniques together. This may also explain why I’ve always felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and why I felt I needed to save my abuser. I pray we as a society continue to have more discussions about abuse and it’s after effects. There’s and underlying belief that abuse is a normal part of a dysfunctional world, this is untrue, abuse should not be a normal childhood experience.

  • Janice says:

    Can relate to this response / behaviour 200%!! I ALWAYS think of others needs before my own and try to please ALL THE TIME. This response is not 2nd nature, for me it is my only nature! Please at all costs. Bend over not only backwards but do cartwheels and acrobatics as well to try to please. I seem to be a puppet and people (unknown to them) know that all they have to do is click their fingers and I’ll come running. HATE IT! Wish sometimes I could stand in my own two feet and say NO, sorry, I can’t. Can a leopard EVER change their spots????

  • Eli says:

    Thank you so much

  • Rose says:

    This is my life in every sphere! Its been a tough struggle to find health in my identity and on top of it I married an abusive partner which I managed to get out of. I would love to have more insight on healing from this response.

  • Mim says:

    Those words have just described my childhood story exactly and I have had a history of attracting partners with mental health issues of one kind or another. After a number of failed relationships I spent 13 years without daring to venture into another partnership and in that time turned myself inside out analysing the situation to try to uncover the whys. Just over 1 year ago I took the plunge thinking surely things would be different but no, just another `same but different’ experience, once again attracting similar individuals as before. How do I stop this pattern??

    • Roland says:

      One thing is to become aware of it as you have. The other is to what need you might try to fulfill that you have been lacking of when young and meet that pain. I would suggest to work with someone one-on-one as survival coping mechanisms protect but also prevent healing. You can get on touch with me through private message for more info and online counseling. Regards.

  • Alexa says:

    Hi Roland, I think I use this response often to avoid confrontation. I was diagnosed with PTSD 7 years ago, and shortly after it was changed to Complex PTSD. I have a long history of abandonment, neglect, physical & verbal abuse and significant traumas. I was 2 when my mother left. I was raised by a very loving, caring, devoted father who was always around & very family oriented. I did not really know my mother as a child and saw her 2x while being a young child. At age 12, I was raped by a neighborhood teenager. It was devastating for my father & it was recommended by professionals that maybe it would be best if I spent time with my mother. I moved 2500 miles away from my home to live with a person I did not know. I was excited at first and scared. My mother ended up not being the best person for me. She was never around, and I was left alone often. She was verbally abusive, manipulative, and at times physically aggressive. I was a troubled child. I ran away a lot, never attended school, was promiscuous, & began to drink heavily at 13 years old. Prior to this, I was in a gifted and talented program and never in trouble. At 15, I started to realize that I am not this person. I got a job and worked & began to go back to school. I got pregnant at 15 and that is when I turned my life completely around. I worked 2 jobs pushed myself through school and had only myself to depend on. I strived to excel and work hard as my father had taught me. I succeed, but with several more traumas along the road. My first son’s father committed suicide when I was 17 years old, then jumped into an abusive relationship with my second son’s father at 18, but still managed to fight for a better life. I ran my own licensed daycare and eventually left my relationship and went to school for education. I struggled raising my 2 boys on my own & was under constant threat from my ex. Shortly before I graduated with honors, I met my daughter’s father. He was an alcoholic and eventually became an addict. I left him 3 years after the start of our relationship, our daughter was 8mths old. I was teaching students who have significant behavioral disorders primarily Autism with significant physical aggressions. I was very happy on my own, was able to purchase my own home, and go to graduate schooling completely on my own. During this time, I was severely attacked on a daily basis from my students. It began taking a toll on me physically & mentally. During the 7 1/2 years of teaching, I received 8 concussions, several fractures, bites, bruises but I was really good at my job & very close to my students & families. The last significant assault resulted in not knowing if I would survive and felt as though I was testing my luck, but I continued to go back to my job out of a sense of obligation to my families & students. Shortly after, I began having panic attacks going to work & after work when I would start to relax. Several months later, I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I believed I have been through so much in my life & gotten through it that I would be fine. I continued to work until the following fall, at that time, I witnessed a severe assault on a coworker and my mind could no longer handle all the carnage. I dissociated. I never returned to work. Its been 7 years and I struggle daily. After reading your article, I realize I do please people. I do it out of a sense of avoiding confrontation, fear of abandonment, and lastly bc I don’t have faith in myself to take care of myself or properly care for my daughter. I settle way too much. I don’t fight for what is right anymore. I don’t know how to stop pleasing people. I have lost so many friends & family throughout this illness, I now just hold on tight to people who take advantage of me, manipulate me, and constantly use money to make them stay. I was never this person. How do I change without having the fear of being rejected, abandoned, and alone? Thank you, Alexa

  • Gi says:

    I wish these insights could be re – VISIONED to more directly related to the experiences, past and present, of masses of peoples who eg underwent the horrors and mixed torments of APARTHEID and the bewildering transitioning of its dismantling. I believe ALL the people in South Africa are suffering from CPTSD — the several groups from differing genuses – all suffering nonetheless. The particular suffering of the most obviously oppressed groups brought to near Cultural and personalised genocide demand the greatest empathy and succour. Not least because they in the rawest form epitomize similar people’s and nations globally. Ecce Homo of the deepest degree. The so- called oppressors themselves suffer a different kind of CPTSD not yet articulated – but in desperate need of healing too. I would so keenly wish to know of insights into these areas of human suffering and the arising and thriving -as apposed to mere surviving – there from. There is truly no more important pursuit now for our world.

  • Lyndsay says:

    I not only developed the please response at a very early age with both my parents, but felt responsible for my mother’s unhappiness. I carry that with me now, trying to please and believing things are my fault when they go wrong. I am a target for certain abusive individuals who like to use putdowns and sarcasm as a means to intimidate and demean me. I’m learning to ignore it, but I must say there are some very mean people in this world who enjoy bullying. And then there are lovely people who choose to not relate in this way. Thank God.

  • Katie G says:

    The please response sounds so very similar to the adaptive behaviors learned when growing up with an abusive alcoholic in the family. Could you elaborate on whether it is the SAME or if not, what the difference might be?

  • JBO says:

    Wow, this is the first time I’ve seen a distinction between healthy empathy and fawning, which I discovered a couple years ago is my primary reaction to many situations. Just got out of a several year relationship based, I now realize, almost entirely on her silent but prevalent condescension and judgment and my getting repeatedly triggered, dissociating, and fawning in response. It seems wise now to just assume that if I feel “connected” to anyone or “attracted” to anyone, it’s more than likely just another fawning reaction to unconsciously recalled abuse dynamics. I became rather skilled at sensing other’s even unconscious pain and conflict and responding to it, to console, accommodate, support, etc. I thought I was being kind and caring. All I ever wanted was to love and be loved. But if all that is yet another coping mechanism, I have to wonder what chance I actually have for any sort of real and meaningful relationship.

  • Jeremy says:

    So insightful…I was forced to ”monitor” and feel my mother’s state of mind as a 7 yr old boy onwards…and spent many years taking on responsibilities that aren’t mine. It was so unconscious though that it’s only recently through coming out of a relationship that mirrored this primal one that I’ve seen how damaged by this ‘please/fawn’ response I was. The early trauma was all I knew and was the ‘normal’ for me and hence it became enmeshed in my nervous system and sense of self.

  • vivek says:

    I got a few questions regarding people pleasers.Is people pleasing a fawn response to stress? If it is then it can be concluded that people pleasers suffer from complez ptsd,is it true? How female Tend and Befriend response to stress is different from pleasing behaviour? or are those same? If tend and befriend model of stress response and fawn or please response is same then why tend and befriend response is said to be healthy and adaptive?

    • Roland says:

      Pleasing is a response of the social engagement system. It does not necessarily have to be directly related to complex PTSD but it’s often present when you have complex PTSD.

  • Lorraine says:

    I struggled with a specialist trauma therapist i was seeing. I was unsure of his motive but every time i said how i felt of what was happenning he used to say ‘I dont think so’ or i think you may have imagined that’ or we cant do that’ In the end i realised he was a total control freak, he would never answer my questions, he would always say i will get back to you and he never did, he insisted that i was driven by ego. I realised my therapy was all about him, it didnt feel very professional or authentic, it felt abusive. I asked him to stop gaslighting. I wasnt sure if he was deluberately trying to trigger me but after asking him not to and he continued i refused to go back. He refused to address my boundary.

    I cant help but worry how many therapists are doing the job because they get ego ‘please’ response from clients?

    The most horrific experience ever. I was left feeling suicidal afterwards and still havent been able to tell anybody the full experience.

    • Roland says:

      Sorry to hear that Lorraine. If you would want to work with me, you can get in touch with me here

    • Alanis says:

      If someone tells you how you feel or how you should feel:this is the nr 1 sign of narcism. If the person doing that is clearly not a narc there is one other possibility: autism. I find that therapists can be autistic often. They are interested in psychology from an academic perspective and get good grades. There is nowhere a test if they can tune into someone on an emotional level. They think it is ‘professional’ not to do that. Many dont know they have autism. Their collegues dont know or its too taboo even to talk about it. There is no teammeeting in most institutions to talk about the much occuring autism with therapists. Autistic people can only refer to a general rule and cannot see through the perspective of another person. They should never be a therapist. (Or maybe a therapist for ASS people). I once asked a director of an institute if she would hire people with autism to be therapists and she said ‘yes if they can mentalize”. But most can rationally mentalise but never really tune into someone. It is essential in therapy that someone can shift perspective and compare perspectives. ASS do not do this, they are secretly only applying general rules. Autistic people how high functioning and nice and smart people they may be: cannot really see through another perspective. This causes a form of ‘therapy’ that is in itself is a gaslight, eventhough unconsious and unintentionally. I mean why hire a math teacher with discalculia or a blind photographer. When rape victims are allowed to ask for a female doctor: we should be notified if someone has autism and the client who is hurt by lack of empathy should be able to say: no thank you I would like an empath to tell my story to, for a change.

  • M says:

    I find this new additional responds interesting because I think I have been exhibiting 2 responses in my most intimate relationships. Fight and fawn. The fight in me is the defiant child who was not allowed to act out because of the controlling unpredictable alcoholic, bipolar, sucidal mother and the fawn because that is how I coped as a child with all the disfunction. I am fortunate that my husband has stuck with me despite 15 years of never really experiencing the real me for any extended period of time. I rolled between causing issues because of lack of self love and then appeasing or pleasing the situation but always holding onto some resentment. It was torturous for him and counter productive for me. I finally learnt that I had to let go of the fear of not pleasing everyone and ask myself who I was and what I wanted for real. Perspective is my biggest factor of change and the only thing I can say about finally truly embracing a healthy perspective was allowing myself time to listen to my thoughts as they happened, to stop acting on impulse and not resisting. I started to acknowledge my triggers and trace my patterns to the root of my initial thoughts and it is here that I change my view. This has taken a lot of time and continued daily practice but my life is changed in so many positive ways. I no longer feel like something else is controlling me.
    I really get a lot out of the work you share Roland so thank you and thanks to everyone who is brave enough to share and do the work.

  • Cassandra says:

    My therapist just told me about the “please” response. Mine stems from childhood trauma, and I worry about the aftermath of that trauma negatively impacting my own children. I have a tendency to gravitate towards negative relationships. When the person I care about is rude, or mean to me, I tend to over extend myself, by bending over backwards to try to fix things. It truly is draining. I discovered that the core reason behind my “please” response is that I don’t want to believe that someone I care about so deeply would actually make the cognizant choice to hurt me, so I attribute their negative behaviors to a variety of other things (ie mental disorders, life hardships, or maybe I did something that set them off). It’s definitely not an easy thing to accept.

    • Claire says:

      Oh my goodness.. you sound exactly like me. I am always trying to fix things and I find myself apologizing all the time even though I did nothing wrong. Is that normal..

  • Vikki says:

    This is exactly how I survived a very violent relationship . Many , many
    traumas have destroyed my ability to have happiness and fun . I just
    go thru the motions of living

  • Robin says:

    I’m just going into this again.

    I had a trauma & Fawn response recently that was so obvious.

    It makes me sad, I am very obviously used to helping people while getting hurt. Or after & trying to keep the connection alive. So accommodating.

    It’s not the only response I have… I live in freeze a lot. A lot.

    There’s some fight in there too, only some tho.

    I’m a believer in love & wow. What a journey to freedom & empowerment life is.

    I’m in this exact moment, in freeze, hiding out… dorking out on info to understand what is happening.

    Potentially a maladaptive act.
    🕊 anyhow it’s what I’m doing.

    & grieving my recent opening into love, that’s done.


  • Nikki says:

    I constantly use this fawn response and i know why i do it, but cant seem to change how i respond in in these situations

  • Tina says:

    It helps to read I’m not alone in this. I too am in fawn response at this time. Pete Walker’s book is making things so much clearer for me, better than any other help I’ve had. I only realize now almost 50, that emotional neglect, mental abuse as a child make us navigate to same people as adults, marrying same type. It took years of emotional mental spousal abuse to finally Run before I truly lost my sanity, life. I understand it is now that we need to nurture our lost selves. I just so not trust humanity anymore. Only my pets, my true best friends. I wish you all healing

  • Sushma says:

    I so recognize that this has been my behaviour and still is. To please, fawning. And I am exhausted. To the point that even if I recognize it and see what I am doing there is no energy and I see no choice but to carry on with it. I am identified with it. Now and then it goes the opposite way, something triggers me and I have really destructive irrational emotional outbursts which really scare people.

  • Sushma says:

    I do have one question. The burn-out that develops in an impossible work-situation, I wonder if that is kind of a fawn-reaction?

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