“Self, Other, We.” Part 4: The Pleaser

“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)


12 Responses to ““Self, Other, We.” Part 4: The Pleaser”

Especially the last sentence is comforting…
• 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.

I think I already have grown to be less a pleaser.
In my first relation this was very much the case.
The second relation with a person, with a variety of moods and no emotional attachment learned me to see my pattern of taking over the moods of others and the need of being reassurance. But I still do need to learn to be alone and to be oke with that, without being afraid of all the emotions such as being not good enough…

Thanks for sharing your life experience.


Those emotions that come up when you are quiet are the ones that keep you in the pleaser love style. Proud of you for the growth you have already accomplished. Just work on this at a slow pace and journal about the emotions that come up when you are quiet. They most likely go back to your childhood experiences.

I’m pretty certain I am a pleaser, and a victim (or was). I have tried to find opportunities to talk things through with my husband, whom I have been living apart from for 1.5 years due to, first, his job change and later, his unwelcoming language when it came time for me to move with him (I wouldn’t move with him when he was so unwelcoming, because he’s so hard to live with in the first place-then to be unwelcomed–and I had hoped he would look at himself and try to get help as a result of my being unwilling to live under the same roof as he after he moved, made me feel so unwelcomed to move with him and after (in a later conversation) I explained how his ways crush me due to his damaging way of communicating with me.He also is very controlling and restrictive of money-has his / the family’s main income- in a separate account in his name alone and fights me much of the time I talk about goals, spending, etc. My job allows me to be available for the kids but pays little.)
After reading the vacilator description I believe he is a vacilator and controller. He has recently become more generous and gentle, but when it comes to conversations about things he doesn’t want to deal with (like my needs, or money) he begins to fight, malign my character, misinterpret my motivations for things and throw much of what I do and value in an undesirable light. This is successful for shutting down my conversation with him, but it’s also succeeded in my never wishing to be in the same room with him again-ever. It puts me into a state of shock and makes me feel like he has disdain for….well, all of me and who I am/what I do. He has done this too often without remorse, willingness to reconcile or apologize, etc.

I am really ready to be done (though resist getting divorced) . He actually has moved to a different city and plans to live separately, too. (It’s a complicated story).
I believe his getting the job that took him away was a gift to me, and our not living together successfully was a chance for me to see the truth of our relationship. Yet, we’re married and have a 16 year old son in the mix (and a 19 year old, who has been living on her own/college). Can you help me with some perspective?

It’s important for the pleaser to learn to set limits and stand up for themselves. Make a list of what you would need to live together again. Ask him what he would would like you to change. Make these requests doable and specific rather than vague. Anger is a defense against fear, insecurity, shame…etc. He he’s angry say, “I will be glad to listen when you can tell me the feelings under the anger. =Ask him to share the more vulnerable feelings once he’s calm. Hope this helps a little, Kay

It’s comforting to know that I am not the only male to have this outlook on life. As i read more and more of the information you folks offer here, Its also interesting that my partner and I where you folks were.

My partner is clearly an avoider. I am a pleaser.

You work is a wake up call for me. I can’t fix here. I can only work on my twisted need to please to gain validation from outward sources.

Thank you.

Hi Kay, I am having a hard time, defining if I am a pleaser or a Vacillator .. I just listen to the audio on the love style of a Vacillator (and it sounds like me in many ways maybe not all of them..) but my test said I am a 73% Pleaser and 50% Vacillator.. hmm ..

Vacillators please to make connection happen but when they are easily ddisappointed because they are idealists. When disappointed vacillators protest and get angry! Pleasers aren’t likely to get angry. They just try harder to make people happy. If you protest focus on the vacillator. If you avoid conflict or try to appease focus on the pleaser.

The vacillator and the pleaser are alike in that both are proximity Seekers. Both will try and please. The difference is when vacillators are disappointed they get angry and protest. Pleasers just try harder. If you find yourself getting easily disappointed and angry focus on the vacillator. If you are afraid of anger and conflict and try and smooth things over focus on the pleaser.

Hei! Thanks for helping me to understan myself better. I’m a pleaser and I’m in a relation now. I can see clearly how much I try to be perfect for him. But it’s not only with my partner, but with anyother person. When I’m with other people I completly forget about me and I just think about how the person with who I’m talking with would like me to be. When I’m doing new friends or new relations I feel like I’m competing agains their other friends or their exgirlfriends to be the best. I have had periods of times when I just wanted to be alone, and I have stopped any kind of relation with others, because is very exhausting, and I really don’t know how to manage the situation, but I can see that it is not good for me. Thanks again. Is good to know a bit more of who I am.

Thank you for all of this: that it is on the bottom shelf for the average person, that it is presented in a way that gives grace, not blame or condemnation, and that you have made it available to everyone. So, as an avoider/controller married to a pleaser, I don’t have an emotional vocabulary and I am still not sure I want to need anything from anyone. So the irony is: first, here I am reading all of this and second I am requesting your help (LOL).
This article states: “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. ” I have the expanded paperback edition of How We Love, as well as the workbook. The pages you reference are the chapter notes and bibliography. Of course, I also need to know where my own Avoider/Controller growth steps are located. Please redirect me.
Thank you.

Is the article a newsletter? If so, the page numbers are probably referring the the first version of the paperback version of How WE Love. The book was revised and the workbook and book were separated in the new edition of How We Love that came out in 2017. The growth goals for the pleaser are in the workbook in the Chapter for the pleaser. If you are an avoider/controller start with the goals that are most predominate. If anger is a problem for you start with the Controller. If detaching is more of an issue start with the Avoider. Remember control is often about staying away from painful vulnerable feelings you experienced growing up. Fear, humiliation, grief, anxiety would be examples. As a child you could not receive comfort for the painful experiences. This is what you need. Comfort for the pain. Hope this helps. Kay

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