Fawning: 11 Dangers of People-Pleasing Behavior

people pleasing behaviors

Do you tend to put others’ needs before your own? Do you have trouble saying no? Do you alter your personality in subtle ways to make yourself more likeable to others? These are signs of fawning, a type of people-pleasing behavior that stems from complex trauma or adverse childhood experiences.

It’s time to learn what fawning is, the consequences of this behavior, and how to stop being a people pleaser.


Fawning is considered a fourth type of trauma response, adding to the more well-known responses of fight, flight, or freeze. It occurs when a person attempts to avoid harm by appeasing an abuser.

Individuals may use this maladaptive coping technique to appease a perpetrator in an attempt to gain a sense of safety and security.

When this behavior continues after trauma has passed, it can lead to a lifetime of people-pleasing. A 2021 study indicates that past trauma can influence personality traits, including agreeableness.

Trying to look good in other people’s eyes may seem like a harmless behavior. Over time, however, the fawn response and people-pleasing can leave you feeling emotionally exhausted, bitter, and chronically stressed.

Over time, fawning and people-pleasing can take a serious toll and leave you feeling emotionally exhausted, resentful, and anxious. Click To Tweet

Although people pleasing is not considered a mental health condition, it can take a serious toll on your emotional well-being. The fawning trauma response is associated with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Trauma is also associated with changes in brain activity. A brain-imaging study on trauma survivors performed at Amen Clinics published in Plos One shows overactivity in the brain’s emotional centers. These changes may contribute to people stuck in unhealthy behaviors like people pleasing.


  1. You can’t please everyone all the time.

Trying to please everyone is a losing proposition. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. This means you will likely feel chronically stressed because you aren’t able to keep some people smiling.

  1. You lose your self-identity.

One of the biggest dangers of fawning is losing your sense of self. By focusing your attention on appeasing others, you can lose sight of what makes you happy. When you spend so much time helping other people achieve their goals, you can be out of touch with what’s important to you in your own life.

  1. You have trouble saying no.

If you reflexively say yes when other people ask you for help, invite you to events, or make other demands on your time, it can become overwhelming. Having a hard time saying no to such requests is a sign that you can’t set healthy boundaries.

You’re likely to overcommit to projects without thinking through the consequences. They make you so busy that you don’t have time for your personal priorities.

Brain imaging with SPECT scans at Amen Clinics shows that, in some cases, this can be associated with low activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is involved in forethought, planning, judgment, and learning from your mistakes.

Decreased activity in this region is associated with impulsivity, poor planning, and trouble with self-control.

  1. You suppress your true emotions.

In your efforts to make others feel good at all times, there’s a strong possibility that you are masking your emotions. If you’re upset or angry, you probably stuff down these emotions to appear more agreeable. In some people, this can lead to dissociation, where you disconnect from your emotions.

  1. You stop being honest.

To keep people feeling great about themselves, you may tell little white lies. Trying to keep track of all the falsehoods you’ve told can greatly increase your mental stress load.

With each person, you have to recall what you told them, which places a heavy burden on your brain’s memory centers. You may find that you are more forgetful or you feel like you have brain fog.

  1. You avoid conflict.

People pleasers typically hate conflict. In large part, this is because they’re afraid that any sort of disagreement could cause someone to dislike them. The drawback to being conflict avoidant is that it allows small issues to fester until they become insurmountable problems.

  1. Your self-worth is linked to others’ happiness.

When your self-esteem depends on how others perceive you, it puts you at risk for emotional ups and downs. You may find your sense of self-worth on a rollercoaster where you feel great about yourself at times then feel completely worthless.

  1. You put yourself last.

When you cater to everybody else’s needs before your own, you risk depriving yourself of getting what you need in life. This can have serious consequences for your overall health and well-being.

  1. You feel mentally exhausted.

Consistently trying to be what you think others want you to be is mentally exhausting. Similarly, failing to set boundaries and prioritizing the needs of others can lead to feeling overwhelmed.

  1. You become resentful.

If you’re a people pleaser, you may appear happy, but deep down inside, you may feel resentment. If people take advantage of you, which is common among people pleasers, it can lead to repressed anger.

  1. You feel anxious.

Anxiety disorders are common in people pleasers. Focusing on other people’s needs comes with a persistent fear that you won’t live up to their expectations. Toxic perfectionism ramps up anxiety levels.


  1. Find yourself.

The first step to putting a stop to this harmful behavior is getting to know yourself. Spend some time thinking about what is important to you in life and what makes you happy. Make a list of the things you love to do, regardless of how they affect other people.

Ask yourself what you want in your career, relationships, and spirituality. Write it down and look at it every day to remind yourself what makes you tick.

  1. Strengthen your PFC.

Having healthy activity in the prefrontal cortex is critical for putting a halt to people pleasing behaviors. A strong PFC helps you think before you act.

Strategies to boost PFC activity include meditation, a higher-protein diet, and nutritional supplements such as rhodiola, omega-3 fatty acids, green tea extract, and ashwagandha.

Research shows that another way to enhance executive functions—such as planning, forethought, and self-control—is neurofeedback therapy. This non-invasive, interactive therapy involves EEG biofeedback to help you gain better control over your brain function.

  1. Develop self-discipline.

People pleasers have to learn how to set boundaries. Learning to say, “I have to think about it,” can be so helpful. Use this magic phrase to filter every request that comes your way. This gives you time to consider if it fits with your personal goals.

Keep “I have to think about it” reminders in a few places at home, at school, or at the office where you will see them daily. You can also keep it in your notes or reminders on your phone.

In addition, make it a point to only do nice things for people who respect you. If someone takes advantage of your kindness, politely decline the next time they make a request. Say something along the lines of: “I’m not going to be able to fit that into my schedule.”

  1. Soothe your emotional brain.

To calm overactivity in the emotional centers of the brain, practice deep belly breathing, learn to question your automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), and take nutraceuticals such as GABA and magnesium.

One form of therapy that can help is called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Research shows EMDR can be especially helpful for people who have experienced emotional trauma.

By putting these strategies into practice, you can optimize brain function and learn to overcome people-pleasing behavior. With healthier boundaries, you can focus on what’s most important to you and live a more fulfilling life.

Emotional trauma, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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