Do you often find yourself getting along with what other people want so as not to make a fuss? You find it hard to voice your opinion, not politically but with questions like, "What would you like to eat?" or "What should we do today?" How many times when you're asked to make a choice between two options do you respond with "Well, would YOU like?"
Many of us have been socialised to make ourselves as small as possible so we're not an inconvenience. How many of us have been taught that having needs (being too needy, anyone?) or expressing them (nagging) is a one-way ticket to rejection?
The conscious, political, out-there-living-your-life person you are may not believe that rejection is a big fear that your brain is hardwired to believe that rejection is dangerous. But we all believe it on a deep level because, historically, it has been dangerous. If the tribe rejected you, then you may not eat or have water, or you would lose the protection of the pack. It's not too hard to see similarities to modern-day dating or office dynamics.
And when the nervous system perceives the threat (it can be real or perceived), it triggers what you may know as the "fight or flight response" (with the often missed out but sometimes more common freeze or fawn responses. Most of us have heard about this, but very few think about how it is always running in the background like our own personal traffic light system. The goal of these responses is to keep us safe. And it works by releasing hormones that prepare us for the reaction our body will choose. For example, if you're walking in the woods and suddenly hear a loud noise, your nervous system will kick into gear, releasing adrenaline and preparing you to fight off a perceived threat or run away. This response is in our DNA and is here to keep us alive.
However, not all threats are physical. Sometimes the threat can be social, such as being pounded spot in front of a group of people or feeling like we're going to be rejected if we don't agree with someone. Our nervous system can still trigger the fight, flight or freeze response in these cases. When it comes to social threats, it is often freeze or fawn, which are most likely, especially if we don't feel equipped to handle the situation or the perceived outcome.
The freeze response is our brain's way of avoiding the threat and reducing discomfort. For example, if you're in a meeting and the boss has your opinion on a topic, but you don't feel confident or knowledgeable enough to speak up, your brain may tell you to stay quiet or go along with what others say: this is fawning in action. It's a strategy we unconsciously learn to get ourselves out of situations where our nervous system deems unsafe, dangerous, or just plain uncomfortable. And truth, it is people pleasing. People-pleasing will keep us safe, but what it does is train your brain to ignore your own needs.
Another way fawning can show up is to seek validation and approval from others. When we do this, we start to feel our worth, and our value depends on what others think of us. This can lead to a lack of self-esteem and self-worth. And can often seed anxiety.
By practising starting to request what we want, we can begin to practice feeling it is possible that asking for what we need might not be such a dangerous thing. You can begin this by starting small, asking for what you want, like a drink, or asking someone to help with the house task. But that makes it one that you don't care about. It will be harder to ask if you're emotionally invested in the outcome. How about asking if you could eat somewhere closer to home? In what ways could you begin asking for something which benefits you?
By building those tiny possibilities, the idea that you can request for your needs to be met can begin to feel less dangerous or maybe, just maybe, a tiny bit less scary.
Leaving your well-being at someone else's feet and hoping that you don't disturb anything so you will be more lovable is a fragile place to be. And there's no chance this is going to make you feel safer. Because at the end of the day, it's always about trying to feel safer.
The more you can practice reminding yourself that you can listen to your wants or needs, the more likely you can convince yourself that your needs are as important as everybody else's.