A Deeper Look at the Pleasing Personality.
I was talking with Ryan yesterday. He’s about seven months into a divorce proceeding and pretty bitter about it. We’ve talked about his 13-year marriage many times, exploring it from different angles to learn more about Ryan. This marriage is his third; this divorce is his third. (And, this is a really great guy!) Altogether, Ryan has been married 41 years.
Ryan is an exaggerated Pleaser personality. He was married each time to an exaggerated Comfort personality. It’s not uncommon for this combination of personalities to find each other. (More information on Opposites Attracting in future articles.)
The fine point we were talking about this time was Ryan’s view of himself in the marriage. He sees himself as completely blameless in the 13 years he and Julia had together. He holds her entirely responsible for the failure of the marriage. It’s not true, of course. When we’re in a relationship, we’re fifty percent responsible. But, here’s why Ryan sees himself as not responsible.
Each of the four personalities (Comfort, Pleasing, Control and Superiority) has a set of core beliefs that directs that person’s behavior. Here are some of the Pleaser’s core ideas:
- I should take care of others, especially those I care about.
- I cannot disappoint others, especially those I care about.
- I should always be available for others, especially those I care about.
- My first response to requests is “Yes;” I can’t say “No.”
- I shouldn’t ask for anything for myself because that is being selfish.
- I always listen extremely well so that I know what others want.
Now, these are very giving, loving ideas and when they’re used in balance, they’re great. But, Ryan isn’t balanced; his behavior is outrageously over-the-top unbalanced. So, when I challenged his idea that he was faultless in the relationship, his response was, “What do you mean? I gave her everything she wanted; I did everything the way she wanted. How was I at fault?” I asked him quietly if he was happy being married to Julia. He thought for a moment and then admitted that, “No, a lot of the time I wasn’t happy.” I ask if he knew why. His answer was a simple “No.” He’s naïve’ and unaware.
Pleasers, at their core, are uncertain of their value. Even though they’re always very hard workers and really capable people, they don’t realize it.
Their uncertainty starts in early childhood when their parents, siblings or both, ignore them, or worse, ridicule, mock or humiliate them. Because of this treatment, they UNconsciously decide they have no intrinsic value and they begin to look to others to validate them. They seek this validation with Pleasing behavior UNconsciously acting out the core beliefs listed above.
They become over-responsible usually in every area of their lives: with relationships, their work, and socially. They become “yes” people, always trying to prove their worth.
Here’s what they don’t do. Here’s what Ryan didn’t do.
- He never stood up for himself. Not at all in any situation. When Julia took advantage of him, he never complained. When holidays came along, because Julia didn’t like Ryan’s grown children, Ryan never had his kids to any celebration at their home. (Think about it; not once in 13 years!) But, Julia always had her parents and grown children for all kinds of gatherings.
- When new things were bought for their home, he let Julia do the choosing. He never voiced his opinion if it differed from hers.
- When vacations were planned, Ryan let Julia decide where to go.
- When he wanted a broader group of social friends, Julia said, “No,” and he let it drop.
- I could go on, but you get the idea.
The one place Ryan was not responsible, but was, in fact, irresponsible, was to himself. Every time I asked Ryan why he didn’t take care of himself in his marriages, his answers were always the same: he was afraid of confrontation: if he even just spoke up, the talk (in his mind – confrontation) would escalate to conflict, the conflict would escalate to separation, the relationship would fall apart and Julia would leave. ***Ryan is naïve about Julia’s motives and completely unaware of himself in this relationships.
As we talked, over time, Ryan has come to understand that the reality was: the very thing he feared, Julia’s leaving, happened anyway and probably partly because he didn’t respect himself enough in the marriage to become a real person, an equal emotional partner.
Now, months later, Ryan’s coming to believe in his own value. He’s learning not to be afraid that no one will ever want him. He doesn’t any longer depend on others to validate him. This is all good; Ryan’s confidence level is growing.
Not that his life is perfect yet but he is finally venturing out to meet other people socially. This gives him a chance to practice new “talk skills” and his success with them helps him grow more sureness. He’s on the positive side of the learning curve now and he’s feeling better about his future. He’s becoming less naïve’ and more aware. Yes!!
Talking with Ryan about responsibility to himself reminded me of a short article I ran across in a paper one day quite a while ago. It was signed “Anonymous” so I can’t give anyone credit for it. But, it’s a list of statements that stayed with me for a long time, just thinking about it. I hope it speaks to you, too, is some way.
You are responsible for what you think.
You are responsible for what you feel.
You are responsible for what you say.
You are responsible for what you do.
You are responsible for who you are.
You are responsible for taking care of yourself.
You are responsible when someone tells a secret you’ve shared; you were a poor judge of that person’s character.
You are responsible when people hurt you using the information you’ve given them about you. You should learn to tell when you can trust a person. You should learn to tell when a person doesn’t wish you well.
You are responsible for everything in your life because you allow it to be there.
You are responsible for the ties you have with others because you allow them.
You are not responsible for making anyone else happy.
You are not responsible for becoming what someone else wants you to be.
You are not responsible for distorting the truth so as not to hurt another person’s feelings.
If you don’t like your life style, you’re responsible for changing it.
If you don’t like your job, you’re responsible for changing it.
If you don’t like your home, you’re responsible for changing it.
If you don’t like your husband or wife or partner, you are responsible for taking action of some kind.
If you don’t like the way you are treated, you are responsible for disconnecting or for taking some other action.
If you don’t like you, you are responsible for learning and accepting who you are and then changing your view of yourself.
While every one of these statements is true, the meaning of each of them and the work involved in being so responsible in each situation may seem heavy. But, I repeat, the essence of each of these statements is true.
Put another way: even though we may not feel capable of being so responsible to ourselves, it’s true that we can and should know and decide: (1) who we are, (2) who we will allow into our lives, (3) what we will tell others, and (4) everything else connected to us.
Pleasers: you can take care of you better!
Okay then, why don’t we just do it, whatever it is we need to do? Generally, there are two reasons why we might not be so responsible for ourselves. They are: (1) fear of really taking charge of ourselves and our lives, and (2) you lack the practical living skills and the relationship skills you need to effect the changes you want. (You know, you can always get these skills.)
What’s needed first is Courage to step out and start. So, go on now, get going with even just a first, small step; that’s a good beginning. If the first step is disappointing, pull yourself up and get going on another try. Sooner or later, you’ll have successes and then you’ll really be on your way.
Warmest wishes until next time,
Thanks so much for reading. And, if you have any suggestions for topics you want to know more about please let me know in the comments. If you think others would enjoy this article, please share.