A Deeper Look at the Pleasing Personality
I’d like you to meet some people that I’ve talked with this week. They have interesting stories that I’m hoping you’ll find helpful, especially if you happen to be the Pleasing personality as these people are. While you’re reading, keep in mind that Pleasing personalities want relationships more than anything else. Usually they’ll do most anything to get and keep them.
The Pleasers here all have the Control-to-Get-Comfort personality. That’s pretty important; this combination of personalities is very common. More on that Comfort style later.
Emma, Logan’s wife of 21 years, left him. True, this was not a complete surprise to him; he’d felt her distancing from him for about a year or so prior to her leaving. But now looking back, Logan is still shocked at how many moments there were in their marriage that he saw her self-centered, manipulative behavior.
He felt hurt, neglected and discounted, but never stopped to ask himself why she behaved in those ways. He never asked himself what her actions meant about whom she is or what her motives were. He did what Pleasers usually do: stayed unaware.
Karen, involved with her partner for 16 years, finally left him. Jim’s subtle but constant judgment and criticism, silent and verbal, finally made her so anxious, she was jeopardizing her health. She teaches a classroom of eight-year-olds. She was losing her focus and concentration; it scared her.
Yes, it took her almost 14 year to become aware of her feelings, analyze them, and think through the situations that made her anxiety come up. It took her another couple of years to decide what she wanted to do about it. It wasn’t until she left that she got around to asking herself what Jim’s actions meant about whom he is or what he was getting from treating her badly.
Sara has an only child, Jason, who is 26 years old. It’s true that Sara, 49, has made two bad choices in the men she’s been attracted to and eventually married. But, in spite of those bad decisions, Jason has been well-cared for: great daycare, private elementary school and a good high school along with Sara’s loving attention. Jason lives now, as he always has, in Sara’s home. He does give her a small amount of money each month for utilities, he doesn’t pay rent. And, she buys their groceries.
Sara feels so guilty for her past mistakes with men and money. She has apologized to Jason a number of times over the last few years or so; she’s actually asked him to forgive her.
Not only does he not “forgive her,” but he often tells her that she is to blame for his unhappiness with his life, his lack of friends, his lack of a college degree, and on and on. He’s been “beating her up” with his verbal blame. He doesn’t speak to her at all; he ignores her. She’s lonely in her own home because it’s silent.
Just recently has she been able to ask herself (and me) what Jason’s actions tell us about who he is and what does he get from hanging on to old irrational ideas.
What’s Wrong Here?
- Pleasers will believe what they’re told by others. For two reasons: one, they trust easily. But also, they’re scared to death that if they seriously question anything in the relationship, it might fall apart. They won’t do or say anything that will rock their relationship.
- Pleasers don’t think much of themselves. In other words, even though they’re generally extremely capable people, they don’t recognize it. They’re needy and unsure of themselves and their relationships.
- Pleasers don’t expect much from others. They learned in childhood not to ask for anything. When they did ask they were ignored, humiliated, embarrassed, punished or worse. They learned to settle for crumbs in their relationships.
- Pleasers are great caretakers and rescuers. They feel guilty if they, for some reason, can’t supply what their loved ones need. When there’s anything wrong in their relationships, they always think it’s their fault. So, they easily accept blame. Yes, it’s irrational but true.
Thank goodness Logan’s, Karen’s and Sara’s feelings became so strong they couldn’t ignore them any longer. Their feelings of confusion, pain, confusion, loneliness, embarrassment, humiliation and yes, once again, confusion, finally rose to the surface and simply, absolutely, couldn’t be pushed down anymore.
Why so much confusion? Simple. Logan, Karen and Sara thought the people they loved, loved them back. It would never occur to them or to any Pleaser that the people they loved would have ulterior motives or hidden agendas. It would never occur to them that the people they loved would use them to get something they didn’t want to get for themselves. It would never occur to the ordinary, non-alert Pleaser (being able to keenly observe is a skill Pleasers don’t have) to think that the people they love could or would be so manipulative.
Solutions for Pleasers and Others.
- Tune into your feelings. Your body will tell you when you’re being taken advantage of. So many people I talk to insist that: (1) they don’t have feelings, or (2) they have feelings but can’t label them, or (3) they believe that feelings are a sign of weakness and so they have no value. And etc. It’s really too bad.
Here’s the bottom line. We humans have two centers in our bodies that are always working: mind and feelings. The smart thing to do is to tune into both and use them as information sources. Think of your feelings as well as your mind as friends.
- Don’t react. Reacting is always a bad choice unless there’s physical danger. Think instead.
- Observe what’s going on at the time. Ask yourself why you would be feeling resentment or anxiety or nervous or just plain bad. Ask yourself why that other person would be doing or saying what he/she is. Ask yourself: what is he/she getting out of the behavior?
- Think about what you’ve observed. Continue to observe and think about it.
- Decide what you want. This step is usually very difficult for Pleasers. They just aren’t used to asking for anything. When they do they feel selfish and/or guilty. These are inappropriate feelings. In healthy relationships both people give and get. That includes you, Pleasers, and anyone else who is living with this situation.
- Tell your partner what you want in a way that’s respectful for both of you. Continue this step even if it doesn’t bring results right away. Remember, you’re (probably) changing a long-standing process. Keep sending messages that respect both of you.
- Be patient with yourself and your partner. After all, you’re in a new space in the relationship; you’re trying to build a new process. Let’s see what happens.
You might want to check out the Defensive Behaviors button on my website menu. The information there is also about manipulation but from a different angle.
Also, any questions about anything you read anywhere on my website, please email me.
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Warmest wishes until next time,
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