“Self, Other, We.”
Part 4: The Pleaser
If the Avoider could be described as self-sufficient, self-reliant and requiring little to no emotional reassurance from others, then The Pleaser would be just the opposite.
June was happy her husband was in such a good mood on their first Saturday off in two weeks. She had gotten up early and made George’s favorite breakfast of bacon, eggs, and waffles. As breakfast was finishing, June brought coffee refills to her husband as he finished showering. After breakfast, she watched her husband’s mood suddenly darken as he was gazing out the window. He bolted out the back-door muttering obscenities under his breath. Panic overtook June and she followed him onto the driveway. “What’s wrong George?” she screamed. George stood there motionless staring at the fluid puddle coming out from underneath his newly purchased SUV. When June saw the leak on the driveway she became nauseous and dizzy.
She hovered over George who by now was under the vehicle with rags and tool boxes. She kept trying to get some word of assurance from George but he had clammed up and was oblivious to her distress. “Here is a pillow for your head”, “I don’t need a #$@*# pillow.” Just then, his elbow knocked over a glass of water. “Who put that *&%@# glass there.” “I was just trying to help” June said sheepishly. “If I want water, I’ll get it myself! Leave me alone!!”
As June walked away, she thought to herself, “My day is ruined.”
Self: Whereas the Avoider is self-sufficient and seemingly not in need of others, the Pleaser in contrast is highly insecure about themselves. Self isn’t strong enough to manage life by themselves. Somewhere in their past they experienced fear, criticism, or confusion that lead to a hypervigilant fixation upon others for guidance, reassurance, and affirmation. Self simply isn’t enough, they need someone to hold their hand to help them walk through life.
Other: Instead of a hypo-dependence upon others like the Avoider, they have a hyper-dependence upon others telling them in one way or another that they are ok. Hence the Pleaser is ok only if Other is ok. Thus, June was unable to differentiate from George and his mood became her mood. How sad that her day was “ruined” because George was upset.
We: So, June could not separate from the distressing situation. In her hypervigilance, she kept trying to guess what would make George happy. Pillow? Glass of water? As sweet as these gestures may seem, they were vain attempts to do something pleasing so she could feel better. Her gifts were disingenuous. They weren’t for him, rather they were for herself. Her well-meaning but ill-timed intrusions only further separated them. “We” as gone. She was alone and scared.
Growth Goals: Not a pretty picture! Lest you feel my portrayal of the pleaser is too harsh, may I say that I was in fact writing about my own life (changing genders of course). It was a miserable existence and very debilitating. One day I became aware of the pattern and was sickened by it. I decided I had to grow up, become an emotional adult and leave the old me behind. The growth goals for the Pleaser are located on pages 326-333 of our book How We Love as well as ways to help the pleaser if you are married to one. Here are a few growth highlights that helped me.
• A decision to leave this broken part of me behind.
• Asking Kay to tell me when she saw the unhealthy Pleaser manifesting in relationship, thus, learning to tolerate criticism and disapproval.
• I had to learn to separate from the distress of others. I learned to see their distress but to not be undone by it. Over time, I learned to observe, comment and offer help and then walk away and wait for their request for help… If it ever came. Many times, they solved the problem themselves.
• I learned to separate from others to allow them to travel the emotional difficulties we all experience without going on their ride. As a result, I learned to be concerned but not consumed by the distress and fluctuations of others.
• I learned to be ok by myself and build self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-regulation when stressed and alone. I realized my scared feelings were the “little me” inside a grown man’s body. The inside didn’t match the outside. By tackling graduate school, triathlons, and martial arts, I learned to cope with stress and adversity, stand strong and prevail.
• Lastly, I leaned to tolerate being still and quiet for long periods of time. I learned to face the fearful emotions that bubbled up. And guess what? I didn’t die. Eventually I’ve become very comfortable with solitude and silence even in the presence of others.
Ironically, I’ve never felt closer to others.
Thanks for listening,
Milan (for Kay and Milan)