The Neurodivergence of Fawning for Mental Health

Fawning, saying yes sir, or shining it on is such an important skill in enduring life, especially during a break from reality. It is a skill I struggled with during times of mental health crisis prior to my break. Indeed, I have had to get pretty good at this fawning skill to survive.

Prior to the break I was prone to tangential rage and resentments against people who rejected, humiliated or abandoned me. It felt like everyone I knew, would eventually betray me.

In fact, this is a repeated pattern in my social relationships. Other people would see me alone and bullied and take some interest in me and I would reciprocate. Eventually I would disappoint them or they would get what they needed from me and there would be a falling out. At times of mental breakdown this pattern would become evident to me. And I would get down on myself and the world.

It is my understanding that fawning is a symptom of complex trauma. People learn to fawn due to childhood neglect or abuse. They don’t feel safe so they fawn and fail to confront people who are abusing them. In their reality there is no point in asserting themselves. There is no use.

As a therapist I am learning to encourage people to stop fawning with me and trust me with their true process. Being able to know a person’s authentic process and feelings toward me is indeed a privilege that I am eager to promote.

But in many ways, I am not ready to throw the act of fawning under the bus. Indeed, I went through a lot to learn how to fawn.

It depends on your station in life whether it is not safe to let people know exactly where you are coming from. I believe much of the world is oppressed by privileged people. When you are supposed to be oppressed, I’ve come to feel it is wise and honorable to fawn a little.

Becoming a Targeted Individual:

In the years leading up to my two-year break from reality, I shared my realities of being targeted and undermined with a therapist in my twenties. She taught me I was paranoid. There was no concept such as complex trauma or Asperger’s at play. It was an extensive cocktail of medications. I trusted the psychology degree behind the cocktails and worked my way through a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology.

The mentality of blame the victim in psychology is such a powerful force. When I tried to ignore the patterns of abuse and built relationships anyway, it was far easier for the one person who had the ability to see what was going on for me, to blame it on an illness. She would one day tell my parents that I would be in and out of institutions for the rest of my life. For a long while, this did direct their support of me.

Deference to this power of psychology was the skill that made me a successful social worker prior to my break. Prior to my Master’s degree, I often respected my superiors and turned to them for direction. But along with education came the responsibility to think about what I was doing and to help rather than just cover my ass.

I moved out west where I didn’t know anyone and started work in a Section 8 Housing project in Seattle Washington. I started to resist standard business practice of blaming the victim and making the money. Indeed, I started going the extra mile.

As people were being hurt and even killed, I started talking to reporters. I worked extra hours and I made good relationships. It’s true I felt more appreciated by the people with whom I worked. When the company offered me free tickets to a concert so I would stop my vigilante patterns, I turned around and invited all the residents to the music festival. Unfortunately, this led to into a state of consciousness in which I became a real targeted individual.

I had a friend with a nefarious past who threatened me. It proved to be a very credible threat. When I admitted I was scared for my life and told him what I was doing. I tried to run to Canada and got stopped and manhandled by police. I got a three-month, hospitalization rather than a promotion for work that challenged the system to be better.

Learning to Fawn:

Earlier in my journey the therapist who had taught me I was paranoid, had already tried to institutionalize me. She’d told my parents that even though I had a 3.9 GPA I was not really college material. She urged them to put me on social security. They never told me this and I resisted her efforts to institutionalize me by working customer service jobs where I had to practice my fawning abilities. It was either that, or a repressive social program. It was embarrassing because I was really depressed, but some people cared enough to support me. Then I got back at it graduated, and went to graduate school.

Ten years later, learning to fawn again as an inmate in a state hospital was a new low. I believe the purpose of the incarceration was to teach me there was no use in even trying to take care of myself. I documented clear signs of abuse and requested to meet with my psychiatrist. It took the psychiatrist two months to actually meet with me. She said one time they had a patient who was being investigated by the FBI. When he was hospitalized for believing he was being followed he really was being investigated. Then, she told me everyone who observed me said I was an entitled person. I agreed to take my medication again.

First, I was locked on a unit for two weeks. When I finally gained grounds, I did everything I could to be industrious and work to feel better. They let me work in an automotive shop and I started to heal. Just as I was getting stable, exercising and strengthening my injured back, they moved me to the chronic unit. It is true I didn’t exactly conceal my distain for my family and the mafia. Those elements were revealed to me chronically throughout the hospital. The chronic unit was old and barely heated during the Montana winter. Massive icicles grew from the crack in the window above my cot. We dressed for the forty-degree temperature inside the dingy barracks.

Self-advocacy was pointless. When I finally took medication and surrendered to them, I did get released.

Fawning to Return to Professional Work:

However, I did not believe that outside the institution that self-advocacy was pointless. I took a greyhound bus to Fresno California with the small nest egg I had saved for myself. First, I got a job. Then I got an apartment.

This would have worked but I ran out of medication and experienced many signs of government/mafia surveillance. The day I got hired, my nefarious friend called me and let me know he knew I got the job. It wasn’t until I withdrew off my medication that I couldn’t control my rage about this.

I tried to find work anywhere. Finally, I got a job at a foster care agency, but did not have the funds for a car. My family only agreed to help if I move into a very challenging situation that my aunt set up for me in the bay area. My nefarious friend agreed that this was what I needed to do.

So, I had a two-hour bike commute and a job at an upscale Italian Delicatessen arranged for me. My grand delusion was that my family was an Irish Mafia family that had set me up for the situation I encountered in Seattle.

At the Italian Deli, I learned the learned helplessness toward the government/mafia that I needed to survive. Eventually I was able to break back into the land of social work and psychotherapy. This included a great deal of fawning towards customers, my family, employers, and mafia triggers.

This fawning skill seemed like an answer to many of my problems and I was able to suppress my experiences with being a targeted individual

Fawning to Survive Psychosis:

When a person experiences a break from reality they must learn not to react as if their tactical reality is really happening. This takes some doing and work. Especially for someone who ends up being a targeted individual, emotional triggers must be controlled.

Thus, even when the person who is in a break is right about the fact that corruption is rampant in our society, they must learn to act as if there is no such thing here in America. We don’t have indentured servants or enslaved people anymore. No, we are the land o the free.

So, on my daily ten-mile bike ride I would see signs of being followed and harassed. Once I encountered a resident who I knew from the section 8 housing complex in Seattle. He walked around with a pair of handcuffs at the train station. He sat across from me on the train. I pretended that I noticed nothing. In front of the demanding customers all that mattered was that I fawn exceptional customer service.

Targeted individuals know their apartment is broken into and their employment mail is violated. They know the people standing outside their apartment with gang tattoos on their shoulders are gang members.

They must learn to fawn for the sake of people who live in consensus reality. In spite of where they have been and what they know, they must act as if they fit in. I think it is imperative to be able to do so to survive at any job or any social setting. One must avoid any action that is triggered by one’s history of being targeted.

One time the police entered my apartment and trashed it, spreading kitty litter over my rug. The apartment complex management told me that my uncle had done this. Nobody cared or believed me that this happened. It was excellent customer service that was required to get rehired into professional work.

It is like code-switching in the African American community, one must fully understand that there is no understanding of your culture and speak as if the culture of the oppressor is the only culture out there at the workplace.

Fawning is a great skill that can help you fake it until you make it.

Fawning for Trauma Experts:

In training to work with trauma, I have attended workshops of Bessel Van der Kirk, Dawson Church and Laura Pernell. In each of these workshops I learned important things, but I did not feel particularly safe and had to do a lot of fawning with people. EMDR and EFT particularly didn’t work for me because I was to dissociated in those settings to work through my issues. I was not sipping the tea.

Bessel van de Kirk made several jokes about psychotic people in his workshop. Dawson Church was clearly angry at people like me who were reversed and for whom tapping did not help. It is very hard to be at ease when the training turns into such a hostile environment and the assumption is made that all the healers in the room are above their traumas.

Let me tell you, after being rejected endlessly for not fawning, it is a real trip to have a group of therapists in a trauma training notice that you are dissociated and fawning and dismiss you as being damaged goods. Suddenly your survival skill is a sign that something is gravely wrong with you. Suddenly if you don’t stop fawning, you will not be successful at fitting in with the clique that surrounds you. I fawned, but I withdrew and didn’t try to deal with anyone,

Teaching the Fawning Skill:

I have actively taught the fawning skill to participants in profession group therapy that accepts and explores psychosis. It is a much-needed skill that is imposed on others in institutional circumstances. But learning when to use it and when not to is a challenge.

Indeed, as a young social worker with a private high school education, the affects of which I learned to hide, I was accustomed to see others fawn at me. In the system, the power differential between the staff and the client often encourages this kind of behavior.

When I was a young social worker, I didn’t know I needed to undermine the fawning responses and make deeper connections with people. So, as I have openly taught this skill, there is always a sense of irony that has historically has made the patrons of my groups chuckle.

This is why I often argue that it can be imperative for providers who work with psychosis to work with the symptoms and normalize them without judging or reacting to them. This creates more of a level playing field so that the person in a break can have their ways respected. Then, it becomes easier to ask them code-switch back into chronically normal mainstream culture. This can give someone the social support they need to fawn for a living.

The alternative for many is to accept institutional neglect and poverty.

Overcoming the Fawning Skill?

Indeed, many people judge and take advantage of those who fawn in certain environments. People who vie for power will test another person in power. If the person in power submits and does not challenge their bully they will be demoted. I have experienced this professionally a number of times.

Indeed, this reality has cost me professionally. I have lost jobs and respect and have dealt with slander campaigns when I have tolerated bullying. It is really hard for me to know when its time to put up my dukes verses when it is time to simply survive in a humble manner. I have chosen to work in contexts in which I am not in power.

Indeed, teaching psychologists not to blame the victim and send people to an institution is not a safe thing to do. Fawning and undermining is indeed the only way to provide freedom to inmates of the institutions.

As I have started a private practice and work with a few people in the tech field, I have learned that fawning is not appreciated and does not lead to success in the corridors of power. It has made me aware that it sure is hard to know when it’s truly safe and necessary to forego fawning.

While in therapeutic service to another person, I feel safe to forgo this kind of skill. Many find me authentic and appreciate my help. I usually reflect on things when I write notes and in my off hours before I take action.

But dealing with people who do not understand their role in institutionalizing others it is not appropriate to forego fawning! I constantly have to watch my back and follow rules and pray that I don’t get made and sacrificed.

The sense that you are going to get in trouble for what you do constantly lives withing the survivors of our societies impoverished institutions. I am not really sure I want to give up this skill amid the waters in which I tread. Indeed, I consider it an emotional regulation skill in many contexts, acting opposite to the behavior you feel.

In another sense, a great deal of emotional intelligence goes with the fawning response. Taking medication has helped me enormously with my EQ and ability to fawn and reconnect with consensus reality in a meaningful way.

Sure, I want to go from surviving to thriving. Sure, when I work with others as a helper, I am able to be authentic and I do not fawn. But until the mental health system shifts from a social control model, to an integrated healing and wellness one, I may well have to keep resorting to those fawning skills. So, when I am training in a room full of therapist whom I perceive as trauma sharks, I will not feel denigrated for having to be alert and fawn.