If you’re a ‘people-pleaser’, then you may be unintentionally attracting controlling, abusive people into your life who will always consider their own needs above yours. The problem is if you consistently subvert your own needs in favor of catering to what others want or need instead, then you’ll become an easy target for just that type of selfish person.
That doesn’t mean you have to be selfish, but if you’re a person who just can’t say “NO”, you may need to practice setting healthy boundaries and balancing your own needs with those of others instead of giving in all the time. This can be difficult, especially if you’re being manipulated and guilted by someone who seeks to take advantage of you. Women especially are conditioned to take care of others’ needs in lieu of taking care of themselves or their own needs. But that conditioning and behavior can be a path to victimhood.
I think there are many things that can can be included this abusive relationship dynamic that Michael wrote about. Michael said:
We are all just a bunch of neurotic habits that tend to find a fit with our opposite to create a psychosocial balance. Abusive relationships are one of the most extreme cases of this dynamic.
For instance, when a person who has a strong sense of entitlement in his/her relationships, and who is selfish, demanding and controlling, pairs up with someone who is a ‘people-pleaser’ and subordinates him/herself to that — this creates an abusive relationship dynamic. Or, when a person who doesn’t like to take responsibility for his/her behavior pairs up with another person who typically takes too much responsibility and blame for their partner’s behavior, this creates an abusive relationship dynamic. And there are likely many other ‘neuroses’ that when paired up in similar synergistic fashion, can create that ‘engine of abuse‘ which functions to drive relationships to very painful and damaging destinations.
I’d call these collectively a “Dynamics of Abuse” system or “DoA” – pun intended.
So let’s look at people-pleasers. Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, says that people pleasers:
People-pleasers, so dependent on being approved and accepted by others, are incapable of validating themselves independent of others’ confirmation. Afraid to speak their mind for fear their opinions or preferences might be at odds with whomever they’re with, they can end up painfully indecisive—afraid to take initiative, or in any way rock the boat. In their unceasing efforts to avoid conflict and confrontation, and to get along with everyone in their life, only rarely do they express their true thoughts and feelings. In fact, they frequently don’t even know what they believe in, or what’s important to them.
Chameleons, they endeavor to blend in, to be as much as possible like whomever they’re with. And being deferential and subordinate to others, particularly to those they’re closest to, they can easily attract people with a strong need to control, consequently further magnifying a demeanor that is too obsequious to begin with. Typically having unresolved issues with controlling parents, they can themselves be attracted to dominating, manipulative people—people, ironically, who are perfectly suited to perpetuate old patterns of parental abuse.
People-pleasers’ outside appearance, as opposed to what they’re really experiencing internally, are painfully two very different things.
OUTSIDE, people-pleasers appear:
* Very organized
* Easily liked
* Placators or appeasers
* Helpful, supportive
* Courteous and considerate of others
* Interested in others’ welfare
* Generous with own time and energy
* Ready to volunteer
* Accept delegation easily
* “Company men”; very loyal
* Work hard at pleasing others
* Talented, skillful, and creative
* Encouraging and reassuring
* Go along with requests made by others
* “Together,” warm, and caring persons
But INSIDE, there’s a whole lot of something else going on:
* Fear of loss of approval
* Fear of rejection
* Fear of loss of personal identity
* Fear of loss of personal worth
* Denial of problems
* Self-denial or ignoring of personal rights
* Feeling lonely and isolated from others
* Avoid conflicts or fights at any cost
* Feeling not “good” enough
* Feeling undeserving
* Feeling inferior to others
* Concern about satisfying others’ demands
* Insecurity about personal abilities, skills, or knowledge
* Unhappy over not pleasing others
* Embarrassed by personal looks or behavior that displeases others
* Confusion about why it takes so much energy to please others
* Fear of not “doing best” for others’ sake
* Fear of letting their friends and family down
* Fear of failure
* Fear of it being “found out” they are not as good as they appear to others
* Fear that others will recognize their failings
* Desire to run away to avoid the stress of “always” needing to be “good”
* Exhaustion from always trying to be “perfect”
* Disappointment in not being able to make everyone happy
* Critical of how well they are doing in their personal lives
* Feel unappreciated or taken advantage of
* Feel taken for granted
* Feel like they are being treated like victims
* Fear of making a decision lest it be the wrong one
* Come unglued easily under pressure; unorganized
And then there’s the personal damage people-pleasing behaviors cause:
* Low self-esteem
* Loss of personal identity
* Loss of personal rights
* Being taken advantage of
* Loss of personal time
* Ineffectiveness in managing work
* Inability to direct or supervise others
* Inability to achieve personal goals
* Inability to take a leadership role
* Poor problem solving abilities
* Burnout on the job or at home
* Chronic state of being unappreciated
* Immobilized by irrational beliefs
* Guilt over not accomplishing enough or not being pleasing enough for others
* Inability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
* Loss of appreciation for self attributes
* Inability to accept kindnesses from others
* Chronic state of self-deprecation
* Chronic state of being hard on self
* Lack of trust in others’ sincerity
* Chronic state of insecurity in interacting with others
* Inability to make a decision
* Do not know how to relax
And, there are the irrational beliefs of people-pleasers:
* I must be liked by everyone.
* I must do nothing to upset others.
* I must work harder to make things better for others.
* They would never like me if they knew the truth about me.
* I must be careful in my decision making so as not to upset anyone.
* I can never do enough to please them.
* I am responsible for other peoples’ happiness.
* How they respond to me is important.
* The harder I work for them, the more they will appreciate me.
* If they don’t like me, I’m no good!
* Always put others first! Put yourself last.
* There is no task I won’t do for you, large or small.
* People can only like you if you appear nice, pleasant, friendly, and cheerful to them.
* Your only role in life is giving to or helping others.
* If you are not successful, you are a loser and losers are ignored, unloved, and unwanted.
* It’s not who you are but what you do that counts.
* You must always be understanding and have an open mind with people who are hurting you or putting you down.
* If someone doesn’t accept me, it must be that I’m not “good enough” to be accepted.
* No matter what I do, it never seems to be “good enough.”
* I can do nothing right. I am worthless, useless, but I can’t let others see this about me or they will reject me.
_ _ _ _ _
Dr. Seltzer, and the LiveStrong website have more helpful information for those who think they might have the “Disease to Please“. Dr. Seltzer offers a 3-part blog on the subject (some of which is referenced in this post):
Be aware though, that reading about behavior and actually changing it, are two different things. We are likely to become very uncomfortable when we consciously attempt to change our behavior from what we’re used to. It’s like walking up the stairs backwards, until the new behavior is learned. Dr. Seltzer addresses this in Part 3:
Again, it can hardly be overemphasized that the reason overcoming this so-called “disease to please” can be so problematic is that people-pleasers experienced their placating behavior as the best–or only–way to gain their caretakers’ love and caring. As with almost everything else relating to the human psyche, when a behavioral pattern that is clearly maladaptive as an adult was once adaptive as a child, there will be a strong, deep-seated resistance to changing it. And this opposition will hold regardless of how much, consciously, the individual truly desires to change it. For the anxious child within can only view such efforts as gravely threatening the need for personal security (which is so intimately linked to avoiding parental disapproval).
Consequently, it’s important for people making the commitment to alter their self-effacing, other-directed behaviors to anticipate feelings of hesitancy, nervousness, guilt and ambivalence. To whatever degree, such feelings are likely to show up almost every time they act in a self-interested (vs. self-sacrificing) manner. The best formula for success, then, is to acknowledge these feelings as they come up and speak to the apprehensive child within–who “owns,” or “has custody of,” such doubts. Gently and reassuringly (but firmly as well), the child self needs to be repeatedly reminded that they have a perfect right both to assert their needs and to say no whenever a request or demand feels unfair or excessive to them. Over and over they need to get the new and revised message that their own wants and desires are legitimate and important, and that it’s safe to hold onto them even when they differ from another’s.
I highly recommend reading all three of Dr. Seltzer’s entries, and to obtain the help of a good counselor or therapist if possible, to help change your “people-pleasing” behavior if you recognize a lot of this in yourself.
Ultimately, you may make yourself LESS of a target for abusers or at least make yourself a happier, healthier person.