How Come We Never Hear About The Fourth F?

“Nice words and nice appearance doesn’t conclude that someone is nice, I believe that the nicer you look, the more deceptive you appear.” – Michael Bassey Johnson

We all know fright, flight, freeze. But are you aware that there is a fourth f to go along with the other three?

It is fawn.

I heard about it quite possibly in one of the most unconventional ways possible, from a true-crime podcast. When I say I went into a rabbit hole of research on this topic soon after, I am not exaggerating.

They also were talking about the difference between big T and little t trauma. Which was also fascinating but for another blog post. For now, let’s do a quick rundown of fawn. 

Where did the Fawn Response Come From?

It was coined by Pete Walker, who is a C-PTSD survivor and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. His specialties include helping adults who were traumatized in childhood. 

What is the Fawn Response? 

The easiest way to explain it is what is commonly known as “people-pleasing”. On Pete Walker’s website, he 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.

Some classic sign of fawning include: 

  • People-pleasing
  • Being unable to say how you really think or feel
  • Caring for others to your own detriment
  • Always saying “yes” to requests
  • Flattering others
  • Struggling with low self-esteem
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Feeling taken advantage of
  • Being very concerned about fitting in with others

Because they struggle to take up space, express their needs, say no, etc. they are extremely vulnerable to find themselves in emotional or even physically abusive situations. They believe, either consciously or unconsciously, that pleasing the other person, whether it be a SO, friend, family member, teach, etc. comes above their own boundaries, wants, needs, rights. 

There is no shame in struggling with fawning. It can often make one feel safer, and more secure in a dangerous situation. Although the effect of doing it means that you end up silencing your voice. Often preventing healing or healthy relationships from happening. 

How to Find Help

Realizing what you are doing is the first step to healing, and everyone deserves to heal. 

Of course, therapy is one of the best options, unfortunately not everyone has the budget, time, or ability to go to therapy. Pete Walker says:

Therapy also naturally helps them to shrink their characteristic listening defense as they are guided to widen and deepen their self-expression.

One of the most healing things someone dealing with fawning can do is setting healthy boundaries. Setting them and sticking to them, here’s a crash course on setting boundaries, if you set them but then compromise them the second conflict, stress, or confrontation comes up they’re essentially worthless.

Self-soothing and self-care strategies, as well as grounding techniques, can be helpful too if you struggle with dissociation. 


As either you continue, or you help someone on their journey towards healing know this:

  • You deserve to take up space
  • You are enough, if not more than enough just the way you are
  • Your thoughts, feelings, boundaries, and opinions, matter. 

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