Throughout her second marriage, Kathryn, an exaggerated Pleaser, not only shopped for, but also paid for, all of the Christmas gifts that Fred, her husband, gave to his children, his mother and his work friends.
The November of their sixth year together she, feeling taken advantage of, told him she wanted him to buy his own gifts. He was speechless that evening; he couldn’t believe she meant it! Since Fred didn’t know how to manage his money, he never had any. Kathryn usually bailed him out when he needed cash for “special times,” like Christmas; he’d gotten used to that.
The morning after their talk, Fred raged around the house, saying that now he couldn’t take the trip he’d been planning, to go see his sister. Instead, he’d have to spend his plane ticket money on his kids. This mess was Kathryn’s fault; she’d just changed the rules without warning him.
Did Kathryn feel guilty? Sure, she did; she’s an exaggerated Pleaser, meaning she’s over-the-top in taking care of the people she cares about.
By the next morning, she’d actually convinced herself that she had betrayed him. After all, she thought, she’d done this favor for him for five holiday seasons. She could understand that he’d be angry if she stopped.
Pleasers always “understand” their loved one’s thinking. Their belief that they “have to understand” is so heavy that they convince themselves that what they are thinking (here: Kathryn thinks and feels that Fred is “using” her) is completely wrong. And the way Kathryn “proves” to herself that she’s wrong and he’s right, is to feel guilty.
She felt worse than guilty thinking that she’d deprived him of his trip. Then, she had another thought: maybe she should just pay his way to his sister’s. Then he wouldn’t be disappointed and blame her. That would make things right, wouldn’t it?
No, it wouldn’t make things right.
What Kathryn didn’t understand at that point was: the gifts she’d bought for those first five years were just that: gifts. They were never her responsibility to buy; she’d just done a five-year favor for Fred. Instead of Fred accepting the gift, feeling grateful, and now taking on his own responsibility, he had a temper tantrum when she stopped. Why?
Fred felt entitled. He’s a Comfort personality; they always feel entitled. Kathryn felt guilty because she’d never really set any kind of boundary on her giving before. In her mind, setting this boundary not only didn’t feel natural, but look at the trouble it caused when she stood up for herself. She felt as though the whole relationship was threatened because she’d set a boundary. It scared her.
We could go on with more incidents like this, but you get the idea.
The reality is: Of course, you have to disappoint those you love sometimes and, especially, when they want to use you to escape their own obligations. Of course you have to disappoint those you love sometimes, especially if they treat you disrespectfully.
There are some compelling reasons why exaggerated Pleasers should balance out their beliefs.
One, if we take Kathryn’s idea about disappointment literally, it would mean that whatever your partner or children or co-workers wanted, reasonable or unreasonable, you’d supply it. If you’ve actually tried to do this, you’re probably worn out – I mean, really exhausted. Over time “not disappointing others” just becomes impossible. One reason: your time, energy, and money eventually dry up.
Two, those we please come to expect it. So, without realizing it, we train them to expect that we will take care of them. This is bad for everybody. The ones you take care of eventually decide that they don’t have to be responsible in their own lives; you’ll bail them out when they aren’t. Sadly, your actions stunt their growth. They aren’t motivated to grow up. They remain like children: expecting service.
Three, if you’ve already tried this, Pleaser, you know that it doesn’t work for you, either, over time. That’s because when you let yourself be taken advantage of over and over, disrespected too, then ignored and used (yes, especially by those you love), your sad, painful, anxious, angry feelings pile up and something has to give. Usually, it’s the relationship that gives way, the one you tried so hard to keep afloat.
What do you do with this situation? You only have a few choices:
- You accept what you and they have created and continue to live with it, or
- You ask your partner to change his behavior, and to treat you fairly and with respect. In other words: you stand up for yourself, or
- You leave the relationship (eventually that’s what Kathryn did, even though she loved Fred very much) or you stay in the relationship(s) but correct you own behavior over time, so that you’re not accepting disrespect.
(** You do this by becoming more and more aware over time and learning some assertive skills. Understand that you can be used by anyone in your life: your spouse or partner, your kids, your coworkers or friends. Become aware)
Of course, it’s much better to try balancing out your Pleasing before it reaches the critical situation that Kathryn found herself in.
Little by little, Kathryn realized she’d fallen in love with a very charming but irresponsible “little boy” man. And unfortunately, she learned in our sessions that he was happy with whom he was. He didn’t want to change. He was very clear about that and so the marriage ended.
Little by little, Kathryn realized that she didn’t know how to balance her Pleasing with fair boundaries. She didn’t know how to respect herself. But, she knew she wanted to be happy, instead of anxious all the time and she knew that eventually she wanted a happy, successful life with someone else. So, she worked hard to become (1) aware and (2) learn new communication skills.
What About You?
Warmest regards until next time,