Have you ever been mad or hurt by someone, and when you bring it up, they blame it entirely on you? Or they saw the situation in a completely different light? It’s confusing, right!?
Now imagine how confusing that is for a child. When we bring childhood development into the equation, having their “reality” invalidated can feel really overwhelming and scary. Here’s what I mean:
Let’s say a 5-year old has a tantrum because they lost their favorite stuffed animal. Although it may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it certainly is a big deal for the child crying bloody murder because their favorite object has suddenly disappeared from existence.
If the caregiver’s response is nurturing and understanding, and validates to the child that their emotions are appropriate, it makes the child feel safer because their emotions are accepted. That their emotions match reality and the situation.
If the caregiver’s response is, “OMG, it’s not a big deal, it was just a dumb toy,” or “Stop crying! You’re being way too sensitive,” it can be really overwhelming. This makes the child think their reality and their emotions do not meet the reality and emotions of the world around them. The ultimate takeaway is the child thinking that their emotions are “wrong.”
As an adult, you may not feel safe or secure when you’re being invalidated. And your “fawn” response may be activated out of fear of someone’s reaction. It could look like second guessing yourself, and going over scenarios over and over in your head to try to justify your emotions—or to justify the other person’s emotions.
Fawning can make you feel guilty if you second guess someone else’s opinions, emotions, or behaviors. For example, feeling guilty that you spoke up to your boss about a project and then taking 45 minutes to send an apology email with way too many smiley faces.