When I recently wrote a Twitter thread about my people-pleasing tendencies, I didn’t at all expect for it to go viral. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

As I shared my experiences with trauma and people-pleasing, I was hit with an avalanche of emotion. So many of you could relate to this phenomenon known as “fawning,” and it became immediately clear that we needed this resource to exist outside of Twitter.

So let’s keep the conversation going. I’m going to share both the original thread, as well as building on it. Let’s talk about the link between people-pleasers and emotional abuse.

Confession: I am a people-pleaser.

It took me a long time to realize this, though. Because I’m opinionated! And I speak my mind! I’m an “open book” about a lot of what I’ve been through. Clearly I don’t care what people think… right?

But in the last year, I’ve come to understand that people-pleasing is a lot more complex than that. We all curate our lives to some extent. And for people-pleasers, the ways in which we do that “curating” piece often stems from a place of fear.

Most people know about fight, flight, and freeze — but another trauma response, “fawn,” is at the core of what people-pleasing is actually about.

To avoid conflict, negative emotions, and re-traumatization, people who “fawn” when triggered will go out of their way to mirror someone’s opinions and appease them in order to deescalate situations or potential issues.

For me, this meant that the more invested I was in an emotional connection, the less likely I was to criticize that person, vocalize when my boundaries were crossed, express unhappiness with their behavior, or share anything that I felt might damage that relationship.

This could come across as being excessively nice and complimentary, overly-concerned with another person’s happiness, and waiting for cues in conversation to determine if something was “safe” to share or disclose.

You could say that people-pleasers are sort of ’emotional chameleons,’ trying to blend in in order to feel safe.

We try to embody whatever articulation of ourselves feels the least threatening to the person that we’re trying to be close to.

This can show up in a number of ways. People-pleasers are often really warm, encouraging, and generous people. They tend to overextend themselves and say “yes” to everything and everyone, eager to make those they care about happy and comfortable.

This tendency usually stems from childhood. They often grow up in very controlling and chaotic environments, and internalized the idea that if they were perfectly good or well-behaved, they could minimize conflict and secure love and attachment.

When you have this tendency to defer, make yourself subordinate, try to become smaller, ignore your boundaries and intuition, and minimize your own needs… you are profoundly vulnerable to emotional abuse.

This vulnerability to abuse is often a continuation of the familiar, chaotic dynamic from earlier in life.

When you are excessively concerned with pleasing others, you learn that in order to be effective at this, you have to shut down your gut instincts, your values, your emotions — because being an individual, rather than a mirror, doesn’t serve you in securing the love that you want.

That’s why people-pleasers can become drawn to abusive relationships, and repelled from relationships that are abundantly loving. We’ve internalized the idea that love has to feel “earned” in order to feel secure.

In other words? If love is given too freely or easily, it doesn’t feel safe.

This means people-pleasers can be drawn to relationships that are controlling (they feel safest when they defer to others), emotionally-withholding (they are driven by the need to “secure” affection, and feel elated when they do), and even abusive (their lack of boundaries is exploited).

Another part of being vulnerable to abuse is that people-pleasers are so easily gaslit, because when they are inclined to suppress their own instincts, values, and beliefs, they’re infinitely more likely to defer to an abuser’s version of events or narrative.

This also means that “fawn” types often go through cycles of restricting emotionally (I can’t be “too much” for others) and then purging emotionally (“unloading” onto a trusted person) because the expectation to be perfect and to repress gets to be too much.

I think this is why so many of us have eating disorders, too. The ways in which we restrict and purge emotionally can be reflected in the relationships we have to food. It’s driven by this internal battle of being “too much” and “not enough.” It’s fundamentally the same fear of simply being.

It’s important to understand that fawning isn’t intended to manipulate others.

It’s not exactly dishonest, either. Every single person presents a version of themselves to others. This merely describes how trauma informs that presentation on an often unconscious level.

The “fawn” response is driven by fear, not a hidden agenda. The “fawn” type is less about manipulation, because it’s not being used to overpower someone. Instead, it’s an excessive relinquishing of personal power, driven by fear and a desire for validation.

For example, someone who runs personal errands for their boss — despite it not being part of their job description — is not manipulating their boss into liking them. (It won’t work anyway.) Their boss, testing those thin boundaries, is exploiting their need for approval.

In more intimate relationships, this can show up as “fawn” types gravitating towards hot/cold dynamics, where affection and love are offered unpredictably.

This is where the emotional abuse piece comes into play. I wrote about this dynamic previously in my controller/pleaser article.

You have someone who is controlling, who feels safest in relationships where they call the shots, and feels loved when someone is actively seeking out their approval.

Enter: The “fawn” type.

An abuser will offer validation and love to keep the fawn type tethered. They’re usually the sort of person that feels distant, so the affection they offer to the fawn type comes across as special or unique.

But they’ll withdraw that affection before things feel stable, to ensure that the pleaser will continue going out of their way to “fawn” and secure that affection again. An abuser in this scenario feels safest when someone is actively pursuing them, so they get to replicate this sense of control and security over and over again… each time they withdraw their affection.

In the process, the fawn type is repeatedly giving over their power and autonomy so the abuse can continue. All the controller needs to do is rotate between withdrawing affection and, at the right moment, offer it abundantly.

I know this dynamic better than anyone, really, because it’s come up in my life repeatedly.

I’m sharing this because, holy shit, my friends, the number of traumatic relationships I’ve thrown myself into — professionally, personally, romantically — to get stuck in this cycle, with my self-esteem pulverized, has made my heart so heavy.

It took stepping away from a friendship that had so thoroughly gaslit and demolished me — while plummeting into the deep depths of anorexia — before I realized that chasing controlling, emotionally unavailable, even abusive people was crushing my spirit.

I sought out the most emotionally inaccessible people, and I threw myself into the pursuit, somehow believing that if I could secure the love and affection of the most unattainable person, it would indisputably prove my worthiness.

It’s a painful cycle. But for me, simply being aware of it was the first step towards healing.

If you’re reading this and saying, “Holy shit… it me. Oh god. What do I do?” Don’t panic. I’ve got you.

For starters, I’m going to ask you something: Which of your friends do you cancel on?

Personal experience: I had this tendency to bail on friends, partners, acquaintances, whoever, that were the most generous, warm, and emotionally-available.

I avoided those relationships where love was free and easy. Because it didn’t feel “earned,” so I didn’t feel “worthy.”

Which isn’t to say that everyone with this trauma response does this, but humans often seek out the familiar. Which means many of us tend to avoid what feels unsafe. For people-pleasers, we’re so used to working endlessly hard in relationships — it’s disorienting when we aren’t asked to.

I made a google doc (no, I seriously did) where I listed out people who were “way too nice to me.” And then I asked myself, do I like this person? Do I enjoy their company? If I did, I sent them a text message and told them I wanted to commit to spending more time with them.

I was completely honest about my process with those folks, too. I said, “Listen, I get really scared when people are nice to me. You’ve always been SO nice to me, and I get afraid of disappointing you. But I want to change that, because I just enjoy your company so very much.”

In my phone contacts, I put emojis by their names. I put strawberries next to people who were super loving. I put seedling emojis by folks who taught me things that made me think/grow. So when I saw a text from them, it reminded me that I should prioritize that message. 🌱🍓


My life completely changed… in every imaginable way.

My ‘strawberry people’ went from being sort of friendly to becoming chosen family that I can’t imagine my life without.

With the help of some amazing therapy (trauma-informed therapy, if you can access it, is a game-changer), I grew to love myself so much — because that love was being modeled for me in a healthy way.

I’ve struggled with addiction and eating disorders, because I’ve taken this out on my body as much as I have my mind. When you have an overwhelming sense of being “too much” and “not enough” all at once, it’s not surprising when you try to numb every emotion and shrink yourself down.

And my strawberry people (who are now all in a group text together!) have been there every step of my recovery. I reached a year in my sobriety this last month. And I’m finally medically stable after being severely malnourished from anorexia nervosa.

Choosing love — unconditional love of self, and being loved unconditionally by others — literally saved my life.

It all began just by affirming, “I am enough, here and now, and I deserve love that doesn’t hurt.”

It’s not an easy process by any means, but I can’t begin to tell you how much happier I am as a result.

If this all sounds familiar, I do have some recommendations on next steps — because this blog post is really just the tip of the iceberg.

I genuinely believe that every single person should be reading Pete Walker’s book about complex trauma. It’s called “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma,” and it’s absolutely incredible.

So much of what I know about complex trauma and fawning is from the groundwork that Pete laid out in that book. I have a few of his other books as well, and he’s uniquely positioned as both a trauma-informed clinician and as a survivor of complex trauma.

I also have a few blog posts around complex trauma that I think are really useful in this conversation…

People-pleasers can be drawn to toxic relationships. It’s important to know why: This one breaks down the pleaser/controller abuse dynamic, in case that cycle sounds familiar.

Am I traumatized enough for a Complex PTSD diagnosis? A lot of people who are knew to complex trauma wonder if they’ve “suffered enough” to describe their experiences as trauma. I get it! And I’m here to unpack that question for you.

10 ways to reach out when you’re struggling with your mental health. If you’re struggling and not sure how to connect with your “strawberry people,” I have an entire resource about it.

If your goal in therapy is to ‘be happy,’ here’s why you might want to rethink that. People-pleasers also tend to be perfectionists in the ways they approach recovery. This article I wrote can help with goal-setting as you start to untangle trauma stuff!

I also do a bit of blogging about recovery, especially as it relates to disordered eating, over on Instagram and Twitter.

Most of all though, I just want to validate the hell out of you.

I understand the very difficult cycle that we find ourselves in when we’re consumed by this idea that we need to be “exactly enough,” and that, if we measure it out correctly, we’ll never hurt or be hurt again.

But relationships involve putting ourselves in harm’s way sometimes. What they shouldn’t involve, though, is self-harm — and ultimately, that’s what “fawning” does. We’re harming ourselves. We’re making ourselves smaller, we’re self-silencing, and we’re punishing ourselves.

You are allowed to have all the feelings. You are allowed to take up all the space. You’re allowed to be everything that you are and then some.

The right people — your people — will love you even more when they see how expansive your life becomes when you give yourself that space.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process! But I want you to know that it’s a process you can begin at any time.

It’s never too late to give yourself permission to be, to show up more authentically, and to find those who will celebrate you for it. I promise you that. 🍓


Hey, before you go…
This blog is not sponsored by any fancy pants investors that are trying to sell you stuff.

It’s funded by readers like you via Patreon!

Even a dollar a month helps sustain this labor of love, and gets resources like these out into the world. Thanks for your support.

Photo by Kylli Kittus on Unsplash.


  1. This is a great article, however Virginia Satir, who was a family therapist, already covered this topic. It seems more based as an interpersonal survival tool rather than a basic, reptilian survival, and she coined this social survival tool as “placating.” Important to do research and make sure that we aren’t replicating something that already exists.


    1. Respectfully, Satir did not coin the term “fawning” — Pete Walker did, as I specifically named in this piece, and he introduced it as part of a trauma-informed framework, which is what I’m referring to.

      This is specifically for survivors of abuse to understand how their people-pleasing connects to their trauma at the hands of abusers.

      Placating refers to a communication style that is broadly applicable to people *without* PTSD, and is part of the spectrum of human behavior BROADLY, but that isn’t the phenomenon I’m referring to.

      This is specifically in the context of complex trauma and abuse survivors, and a behavioral response that happens when someone is triggered — and when someone with PTSD is triggered, they ONLY can rely on basic survival mechanisms, which did not previously include fawning until Pete Walker introduced this as part of his groundbreaking work on C-PTSD.

      It’s an entirely different theory and intended audience.

      Journalists often cover topics that have “already been spoken about.” That’s their job. And in this case, you and I are discussing two completely different theories. Related, but different. Satir’s work is not being “replicated” here because this is not an article about communication styles and stances. This is an article about an entirely different phenomenon and the two have very little to do with each other.

      Liked by 11 people

    2. I think that undermining a personal experience and connecting it to academic study is elitist and honestly oppressive. We are many people with many complex experiences and every single one of them valid. Just because one academic spoke to the same subject doesn’t mean that anyone else can’t speak to their experience and what they have to offer and have it be just as valid and educational and connective. Repeating ourselves is what gets us heard in these cases. I find it sad that’s where you went inward instead of applauding the strength and introspect it took to write this and share is so openly. I found it immensely helpful and validating.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Wow, so you’re saying there can only be one voice, one expression of wisdom about a subject?
      Surely the beauty in diversity is that we will all reach different people who are attracted to our voice because of their sense of similarity to our own particular style…allowing truths and insights to reach the multitudes ever more efficiently!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The tragic in this phenomenon is that by being the fawn you trigger the other being the abuser…
    It’s like a dance and we are all in it together – therefor – although i love the “strawberry people” practice – making your dancing partner in the fawning dance wrong is just more of the same…
    Does that make sense?

    And i don’t care who wrote something similar – i found this and it opend some doors in my brain – thanks for that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The “fawning” is a REaction to an abuse that is happening. Do not render the abuser a co partner or “dancer”, they are the cause. The abuser is wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re incredibly incorrect and this statement is so problematic. I’ve witnessed fawning In my profession as merely a response to conceived danger not just danger itself. Triggers happen for people that have no connection to actual danger sometimes. Perceived danger triggers fawning as much as actual danger, so to name someone on the other end of someone fawning always an abuser is absolutely dangerous and wrong. Don’t do that. It’s why so many abusers are these days not taken seriously because people are dropping the word abuse around because sometimes they don’t like the feelings they’re having. Be mindful of your dangerous beliefs. You could destroy someone’s life.


    2. I really agree with that. It´s not that you will make someone be your abuser, it´s just that you can estimulate that behavior with your absence of yourself (and not everyone will ressonate that, but there are same who will, and will feel like calling to be an asshole). I think I´ve been in the both sides.


  3. Sam, I have been in trauma recovery for around 5 years with multiple interventions and I am doing well. Through all of this, I have not come across the ‘fawning’ trauma response type, all other F’s, I have heard and studied. After reading about ‘fawning’ for the first time today, I came across this beautifully written and articulated article of yours. Reading, I kept repeating out loud “Holy Shit this is me” over and over, until i came to the enlarged words…”if you are saying Holy Shit this is me, I’ve got you.” It’s like you and I are sitting across form each other. I laughed very hard. Your writing is so accessible. Thank you for the informed and vulnerable work.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sam, I just love your article and will recommend it to my patients. It can be so hard for patients to access their experiences and seeing another’s in print can be so helpful. This piece is incredibly descriptive and will undoubtedly help people who have suffered from the chronic relational (emotional) traumas that I treat in my practice. Thank you for writing it!

    Robyn Costanzo, LCSW

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great article . It reminds me so much of my life. Come hear go away…..the people I choose. The cancelling of outings ect
      In the last 2yrs I ended some relationship ‘s . It hurt me dearly but so toxic.
      I would never thought this as ptsd.
      Thank you

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your article brought tears to my eyes. I’ve suffered both childhood trauma as well as an abusive 20 year marriage. Fortunately I found the courage to leave. The past few years I’ve been trying to rebuild my life, somewhat unsuccessfully. Tonight I couldn’t sleep and somehow landed on your page. Thank you for putting this out here. You have put into words what I haven’t had the courage to voice. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your experience. There is relief knowing that someone else knows what I am feeling.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Wonderful! From what I know, Fight or Flight are instinctual, but Freeze and Fawn and learned behaviors. My DNA says I am highly agreeable. Based on that, and my unstable childhood, I learned to Fawn, but my particular style is that I can often “talk people down,” even people who are hell bent on being violent.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for this article, Sam. Last night an old friend of mine with whom I’ve all but lost touch, informed me he and his wife (also an old friend of mine) are getting divorced. He then apologized for having let our friendship fall by the wayside, and I could feel tears welling in my eyes; he’s one of my “strawberry” friends. He’s always been there and never made me feel judged or like I had to work for his friendship, and therein was the issue; I hadn’t even known he and his wife were struggling because I’ve been too busy putting energy into “earning” validation in toxic relationships. On some level I’ve been becoming more aware of this for awhile, but last night in that conversation was the first time I fully, conciously realized the extent of my problem with this. Stumbling on this article the next day feels almost serendipitous as, I too, am a survivor of childhood trauma. Thank you again for your work on this subject. I can’t tell you what it means to me at what I believe is a pivotal moment in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow. I love this article, in particular, this: “I avoided those relationships where love was free and easy.” It made me think of why I do this behavior and gravitate towards “bad boys”:

    To feel safe, I need boundaries for protection. A life without boundaries is dangerous and also leads to a lot of self-regulation issues. But when I don’t enforce my boundaries, I feel I need to acquire them by proxy– vicariously through others. So when I go “boundary shopping” in dating, I am looking for 1) someone willing to impose their boundaries on me and 2) someone with resilient, challenge-tested boundaries and 3) someone weird enough to let me exercise my strange personality within the arranged boundaries.

    This means I automatically rule out those “nice guys” who don’t have boundaries to give me, and I rule out “kind guys”, who have boundaries for themselves, but are not willing to impose them on me; who are too vanilla to give me freedom within the bounds, or those who have no credibility to protect (they have not been challenge- tested by life). This leaves “bad boys” who are amazing at broadcasting both their pushback against others’ boundaries and the life struggles that lend them credibility.
    I am seeing now this cycle is all b.s. because underneath it all…I want to be authentically me. And I cannot be that if I have to fit into someone else’s set of boundaries. As I now develop my own boundaries, I don’t feel the need to find them outside of myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your very personal thoughts, feelings and recovery. Your words have helped me tremendously on path to discovery of self and self love. With God first, amazing support from my Mom and some counseling (more to come very soon), I have taken huge steps toward a better life. I am so grateful I happened upon your incredible article tonight and, again, I thank you for your willingness to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can’t believe I came across this! I’m so glad I did because I have been struggling so much to understand what is really going of with me and now i finally do! I am a people pleaser and its really hard, I always gravitate towards guys who reject me and spend most of my time apologizing and trying to win them and prove how good I am even when I have done nothing wrong! I do everything my friends ask me to do and sometimes I’m mad at myself but now I understand why, looking back at my childhood I always felt rejected, did not always have it easy. Hopefully this is an eye opener for me to better myself and overcome this! Thank you for the great article

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ignore the comments telling you this isn’t an original idea or article and look at the ones telling you they had never heard of this concept and now have a stepping stone to understanding themselves ❤ thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. Great article, thanks for writing it. I cried my eyes out reading it. Even though I’m currently doing some proper therapy, reading this just felt liberating and reaffirming.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This article is life changing for me. “They often grow up in very controlling and chaotic environments”– an exact description of my childhood. All my life I have told myself that I am a bad, manipulative person because I make myself into whatever pleases the person I am talking to at the moment. I have tried to stop doing that, and shamed myself over it a lot, but still do it. I really thought I was a horrible person with no strong personality or opinions of my own, until I read this. This is the first time I read something hopeful. Thank you SO MUCH.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. ‪@samdylanfinch from the sounds of it… you get this a lot, but you literally just read my life off to me. I’ve been in counseling for 3 years now and this painted the picture better in a 5 minute read. Thank you for this, this deserved to go viral.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for this. I found your article from googling ‘people pleasing as trauma’. It all made sense and everything applied to my tendencies and past relationships. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It helped me to finally realize that I really have a problem and it’s a start of healing process. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I honestly do not understand the back lash you got on this. I just found your blog and this post speaks to me on such an intense level. I have never felt so seen or understood before and have bittersweet tears running down my face now. Thank you thank you thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you so, so much for this. You have no idea how much it helped me ❤️ I started doing the emoji thing. It’s very helpful and so empowering. I told some strawberries and they loved it, too. It’s helping me to save my energy for me and for people who are available. And it shows me that some connections are only still there because I reached out. Not more. Not less. I’ve just sorted out the unavailable people in my life. How great is this?! So, thank you again. I appreciate your work very very much


  19. Sam, thanks so much for writing this article. It has literally changed my outlook on life overnight. I stumbled upon this page while trying to work out why I’ve struggled for so long to get any affection from my wife. It felt like you were describing me. Just standing up for myself and telling my wife how I feel has changed our relationship for the better inside a couple of weeks. Pete Walker’s book is also an eye opener – my seemingly innocuous and comfortable childhood was full of anything I wanted materially given to me by emotionally unavailable parents. This hasn’t affected just my marriage, but all my friendships and my career. I finally feel like I’ve woken from a deep sleep for most of my life. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Sam, I’m joining the litany of people here saying thank you for writing this and being open and vulnerable in the process. You have made a ripple in my life, and i’m very grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Dear Sam,

    You are a gift. I’m gonna pull academic rank here on some of the haters. I never, ever do this—I try to protect other people’s “face value” too often.

    Okay. I have a GRE score so high that ETS offered to pay me to be a beta tester for them. I have turned down MIT, NYU, and Columbia (to name a few) over the years. I’ll stop there. I think that I’ve established my bona fides enough (yes, I do know Latin as well as several others). I will not share anymore because that is not the point—I just want to prove that discounting my take on this article would be, well, stupid.

    Here is what I feel and what I know. Sam is spot-on. He has hit hard for people with very little access to a voice.

    The article is not only well-researched and well-supported, it is also so strong via all forms of Aristotelian argument. Logos, ethos, pathos are all used and used well.

    This is, perhaps, the most important quality that Sam shows in this piece: his voice is authentic; it is real; it touches the head and the heart.

    Haters, begone. Don’t disrupt the healing that readers may need and do get from this work. You just look like ignorant show-offs with no hearts. Go do some real work of your own, if you are that insecure.

    Liked by 1 person

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