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What is Fawning?

The invisible trauma response

The Fawn Response

Three commonly known survival responses are flight, fight and freeze. A fourth, less well-known survival response is the fawn response. These survival responses are the body’s automatic response to threat and danger and are controlled by our brain’s autonomic nervous system. As a result of childhood trauma, we can subconsciously become over-reliant on a particular survival response in adulthood when faced with external stressors.

The concept of fawning was first identified by Pete Walker, a psychotherapist who discusses fawning in his book ‘Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving’. As one way of surviving childhood trauma, fawning is learnt to appease the ‘wishes, needs, and demands of others’. In other words, fawns have learnt the only path to safety in relationships is to forfeit their own sense of self, wellbeing, needs, and boundaries. As a fawn, it is easy to be empathetic, kind and compassionate towards others but it can be difficult to be compassionate and protective towards ourselves.

Dangers of an over active fawn response

  • Falling prey to toxic and abusive relationships
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Becoming disconnected from your feelings
  • Not recognising own wellbeing needs
  • Helplessness and resentment
  • Feeling a loss of identity and sense of self
  • Loss of freedom to be your authentic self
  • Mental and physical exhaustion

Excessive people-pleasing


Saying yes when you need to say no


Fearing self-expression might damage relationships


Presenting most harmonious parts of self


Hiding true feelings, wants and needs


Avoiding conflict


Difficulties with assertiveness and maintaining healthy boundaries


Codependency and being taken advantage of in relationships

The Solution

The good news is that fawning is a learnt response that we developed in childhood that we can also unlearn. The more aware we are of our emotional guidance system, who we are as people, the closer we can move to holding ourselves. In being more self-compassionate, and developing a self-protection energy field around us we can prevent exploitation and achieve deeper, more fulfilling connections with others. There is every possibility that we can move from living in fear to living fiercely. We can develop the freedom to become our unapologetic, authentic selves.

Information and support

This website has been developed as a resource to support fawns live a fiercer life. We are stronger in our sense of community and in knowing that we are not battling these challenges alone. You are so welcome here and I invite you to take a look at the articles, printables and worksheets, or explore one of the available online courses.

If you are overwhelmed and are in crisis, please do not use this site. Instead, contact your acute mental health facility or doctor.

If your country is not on the list below please refer to

New Zealand
Emergency: 111

Lifeline 24/7 Helpline: 0800 543 354

Shine – Domestic Helpline: 0508 744 633

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Emergency: 000

Crisis line: 135 247

National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line 1800 737 732

United States
Emergency: 911

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433)

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1- 800-799-7233

Emergency: 911

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 1 833 456 4566

United Kingdom
Emergency: 999

National crisis response number: 116-123

Women’s Aid domestic helpline: 08457-023468

South Africa
Emergency: 10 111 for police or 10 177 for an ambulance

Lifeline: 0861 322 322

Suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567

“You have the power to heal your life, and you need to know that. We think so often that we are helpless, but we're not. We always have the power of our minds...Claim and consciously use your power.”

– Louise Hay

“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”

– Rupi Kaur

“And one day she discovered that she was fierce, and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.”

– Mark Anthony