Fawning

How to tell if you're letting yourself get pushed around on Twitter.

Ever since I read this article about fawn responses and people-pleasing, I've been thinking about how these responses tie in to the toxicity we see on Book Twitter. If you are prone to fawning - habitually suppressing your own opinions, boundaries, and feelings in order to please other people - then Twitter can be a dangerous place.

In an ideological discussion, fawning can look like:

  • Reflexively agreeing with other people, without really knowing what your "real" opinion is. In fact, you might find yourself reflexively agreeing to contradictory things at different times, depending on who spoke to you about it last.

  • A persistent fear of saying or believing the "wrong" thing.

  • A belief that you must always accept criticism from a certain person or people, even if it feels hurtful or off the mark.

Some people are toxic and intentionally encourage fawn responses, but I’m not really interested in talking about that kind of toxicity today. “Figure out who’s the most toxic here” is often one of those shitty discourse games that no one wins. Instead, I’m interested in talking about the response itself.

People with a strong fawn response are often abuse survivors, but you don't have to have C-PTSD or identify as a survivor in order to struggle with an occasional urge to people-please. And if you are prone to fawning then you might fawn even in response to innocuous things.

Fawning in response to innocuous things might look something like this:

  • A person states a preference or boundary that is reasonable for them. ("I don't like [thing] - it really upsets me. So I'm making sure not to waste my time on [thing] and to do things I like instead.")

  • You are a person who quite enjoys [thing], actually.

  • You have no particular relationship with this person, but Twitter's algorithm shows you what this person just said, quick and snappy and out of context.

  • You read what the person said and immediately panic. Are you wrong for liking [thing]? Are you a bad person? Are you problematic? Are you hurting people by liking it? Maybe you should hide that you like it. Maybe you should stop liking it. Maybe people would yell at you if they knew.

  • Optional second stage: you notice that you are panicking, you notice that your panic is unreasonable and that you shouldn't have to feel bad for liking [thing]... so you get defensive and post an angry tweet of your own. "There is nothing wrong with [thing]! People who hate [thing] are [misinformed/oversensitive/prejudiced/etc...]"

  • Of this panic, many annoying and unnecessary social media arguments are born.

This kind of problem can be solved by cultivating a better sense of where you end and other people begin. In the vast majority of cases, it is okay for one person to have one set of feelings about a thing, and for you to have another. Neither of you are hurting or disrespecting each other by having your feelings.

This might sound very obvious, but it is hard to do. Sometimes it takes therapy to be able to do. And Twitter is really great at flinging all sorts of the very most contentious opinions at us, for us to agree with or disagree with or panic about, regardless of whether we’ve been able to do this work.

Here's an even harder scenario:

  • Your friend gets very angry about something and posts a call to action. "[thing] is terrible and hurts people! Everybody needs to call out [thing] right now or else you don't care about the people being hurt - silence is complicity!”

  • You weren't sure of your opinion on [thing], actually, or you feel a little funny about getting involved, but you definitely don't want your friend to think you don't care. Besides, if you don't share your friend's opinion on [thing], then you are a bad person - your friend said so.

  • You work to please your friend by posting the same angry calls to action that your friend is posting, causing the same reaction in other people.

  • Later when the dust settles, you realize that you didn't have all the information, or that you were part of a pile-on that ended up doing more harm than good, or that you never really believed [thing] was so terrible in the first place. If you hadn’t been afraid of your friend being angry, you’d have done something different.

I’ve been prone to these patterns in the past and I’ve found a few things that have helped me avoid them. These include: Being around long enough that I start noticing what happens when I'm acting out these patterns. Limiting the time I spend on Twitter so I don't get overwhelmed. Muting some of the most upsetting keywords. Distancing myself from communities where I find myself having these responses a lot, and gravitating instead to people who remind me that I am allowed to think my own thoughts and have my own preferences.

Just because a person triggers your fawn response doesn't mean they are bad or toxic. If you have an ingrained fawn response, it will emerge sometimes even in response to innocuous things. But a person who expects people to fawn, and to have a certain reaction or opinion just because they said so, is not a safe person.

If you find yourself consistently having a fawn response around a particular person or group, then they are probably not the right person or group for you at this stage in your journey - even if they aren’t malicious at all and never intended for you to react that way.

It’s okay to avoid people and things that trigger these reactions for you, regardless of whose fault it is. That’s another part of knowing where you end and other people begin. There may be villains and manipulators here, but there don’t have to be. Either way, it’s okay to avoid a thing that you know isn’t healthy for you.