Malcolm is a Pleasing Child. He has been pleasing since he was 4. He is now 42 going on 5. He has a lifestyle which appears to be dedicated to the pleasing of others. Beneath this facade there lies a darker reality. As a Pleaser, Malcolm doubts his worth as a person. He deems himself unworthy of being pleased. He sacrifices self-pleasing in favor of pleasing others who are worthier than himself. The Pleaser’s Lifestyle is one long good intention for others. He means well, but he doesn’t do well. He does not do what reality requires, he does what he requires in order to overcompensate for his self-contempt.
We say to ourselves, “He’s just doing that to get approval.” We content ourselves with this surface explanation, and we fail to ask the next obvious question: “Why does he need so much approval in the first place? Why isn’t he cured of this need when he gets it?” The answer is that the Pleaser is trying to solve a problem within himself that he doesn’t know how to solve. His solution cannot work. It does not relieve the pain of his self-contempt. Pleasing is the only trick he knows. He has to keep doing it.
As with most good intentions, pleasing behavior seems positive, but it is not. The Pleaser’s true goal is not to make people happy, it is to keep from displeasing them so that they will not beat him up after school. His sense of himself is so thin that a mere look of disdain is enough to unravel his fragile composure. A “dissatisfied customer” constitutes a threat to his existence. To displease is to court annihilation and that is unacceptable. His true purpose, then, is not positive, it is negative; it is the prevention of the bad things that happen to those who fail to be sufficiently pleasing. He doesn’t care about you, he cares about himself!
The Pleaser deceives himself into thinking that he is only being considerate of his fellow human beings by bringing a ray of sunshine into their lives. He has good intentions for others, without realizing that his good intentions are self-indulgent, counter-productive and ultimately self-destructive.
The Pleaser lacks the adult judgment that it takes to discriminate between appropriate pleasing and over-compensatory, inappropriate pleasing. He solves the problem by being pleasing all the time. It is hard work, but for him it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The Pleasing Lifestyle is a carryover of a childhood role into adulthood where it is inappropriate and counter-productive. Pleasers are afraid to give up this role because they do not know what will take its place. To them, this negative, paper thin role is better than no role at all. They do not realize that there is a more gratifying way to go through life than living to please others.
As a consequence of this ungratifying lifestyle, Pleasers are susceptible to feeling impotent, out of control, alienated, insecure, naive, trapped, immature, anxious, and depressed. These are all facets of self-contempt. The harder they try to relieve their distress in counter-productive ways, the worse they feel.
The Pleaser often plays the role of the Clown, the Entertainer. He makes himself the butt of his own jokes to show he “can take it.” People may wonder why he is “on” all the time. They think he’s having a swell time. He doesn’t really have any choice. He feels compelled to behave in accordance with his definition of himself as the Pleaser and his attitudes towards himself, other people and life. He is acting out a role in a script that nobody wrote.
As we have seen, Pleasers are not motivated by a genuine concern for the happiness of others. They have an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda of which they are only dimly aware. Their negative purpose in pleasing is to avoid being hurt by others. They prophesy victimization and disaster, and they feel that they can avert these disasters by placating those who have the power to hurt them. It’s the only hope they have. Unfortunately, these counter-productive attempts at pleasing often result in the fulfillment of their prophesies of abuse, rejection, abandonment and other forms of disaster. In the end, they stop trying. They “melt down,” they “burn out.” They have become discouraged.
Some Pleasers think that they can regain their vitality by going to the other extreme. Their motto becomes, “No More Mister Nice Guy.” The irony is that they weren’t a nice guy to begin with. The second wrong is that this phony role won’t work either.
Pleasing as Self-Indulgent Mischief: The Pleaser is convinced that his activities are other-directed and self-less. He is completely unaware of the self-indulgent, over-compensatory nature of his “pleasing” behavior.
The self-serving nature of the Pleaser’s activities becomes apparent when he is prevented from pleasing people his way. When the intended Pleased expresses a preference of his own, the would-be Pleaser experiences unpleasant, sometimes incapacitating conflicts On the one hand, he wants to please in order to avoid the unacceptable consequences of displeasing. On the other hand, he has his own notions as to how the Pleaser should be pleased; and his way is the right way! Thirdly, he dares not express his reservations openly for fear of displeasing his customer, and ruining the whole effect.
He must suppress his anger for fear of rejection or abandonment, which would invalidate his own worth as a person still further. He “solves” his dilemma by complying with the Pleasee’s request, but under silent protest. He does not perceive himself as “giving,” or as cooperating with his fellow human being. To the self-centered Pleaser, this accommodation is perceived as “submission’ to the “unreasonable” whims of his partner.
Mike is a Pleaser, too. He feels that he “knows” how people should be pleased; in fact, he knows how to please them even better than they know themselves! He knows what’s best for them. Since he does not experience himself as valid in his own right, he cannot appreciate the validity of his wife’s legitimate preferences. He discounts Marge’s preferences as “wrongheaded.” His preferences are right, and they are worthy to prevail.
Mike cannot stand to be wrong. He has to be right, even perfectly right. His agenda has nothing to do with his wife’s preferences in the real world. His agenda is to be right and not wrong. In his experience, wrongness is punished, and he has been avoiding wrongness all his life. When he says, “It’s the principle of the thing” to justify his nonsensical insistence, we say that he is just being stubborn. But why is he stubborn? What difference does it make whether they go to his movie pick or hers? The difference is that her pick is the “wrong” one because it isn’t his. His worth as a person is now at stake. If he is wrong, he will take it very personally, as if it were a reflection on his taste in movies. He would lose his shaky self-respect. His stubbornness is his way of maintaining his hidden agenda, which is preventing the invalidation of his worth as a person.
Antidotes To Pleasingness
A. His wife can try saying to him in a firm tone, “Mike, it would make me so happy to go see a movie. Won’t you do it for me?” This ploy distracts him from the phony issue of comparative film judgment. He may see an advantage to himself in making his wife happy for one evening.
B. Or, Mike’s wife might say, “It makes me angry when we always have to do things your way, whether it makes any sense or not. Now, you can go to your movie and I’ll go to mine and I’ll meet you at Barneys for a hot dog afterward.” This approach uses the wife’s legitimate anger to shock Mike out of his childish striving for superiority at her expense. It dispenses with the issue of which movie is “righter” than the other. Often, when Mike comes out of his shock, he goes to the movie with his wife because that wasn’t the issue anyway.
Gilda is a professional Pleaser. She wants to win both ways. She wants to relieve her own distress, and she wants a pat on the back from us for doing it. But because her misguided efforts are usually inappropriate and unrealistic, she very often fails to receive the recognition and approval that she requires to validate her shaky personhood. Instead, she often finds herself excluded from get-togethers, scorned by the very people she tries so hard to please.
She spends much of her life despising the ungrateful wretches upon whom she has had the misfortune to expend her energies and efforts. She finds her relationships to be a succession of such ungrateful wretches, one after the other. She has contempt for them and for the whole human race. But this contempt does not deter her from starting all over again when a new Pleasee moves into the building.
Not only is Gilda angry at the failure of her beneficiaries to recognize and appreciate her “goodness,” she is angry at herself. She is the “stupid” one for doing it over and over. She should “know better” by now. But she doesn’t. Since everything is her responsibility, her unhappiness must be “her fault” in the end. Since her goodness was unappreciated, she feels that it was all for nothing too. She feels worthless, angry at herself, and this anger turns into depression. Instead of relieving the pain of her self-contempt, her counter-productive, self-indulgent pleasing has only made it worse.
Many treat the non-belong feeling as if it were a distinct pathological entity that could be diagnosed and treated separately from all the other aspects of the human condition like hiccups or warts. They seek to ascribe the feeling of not belonging to some external agency or cause which, once identified, can be easily rectified. Lately, these “causes” have included: socio-economic deprivation, peer rejection and depersonalization by forces beyond one’s control such as Big Business, Big Labor, the breakdown of the family, violence on television, the absence of prayer in the schools, racial discrimination, age discrimination, height discrimination, religious discrimination and gender discrimination. These “theories” of negative behavior fail to consider the pre-existing vulnerabilities that people bring to these external events. They do not consider the context in which the non-belonging feeling exists.
It is a fundamental mistake to define the feeling of non-belonging in terms of external considerations. For instance, Joe saved up money to buy a membership at the local Country Club. He went every week for months, but he still felt that he did not belong. The other club members sensed his uneasiness and desperation, and they treated him accordingly. This confirmed his original conviction that he does not belong, and he is out the two thousand dollar membership fee on top of it.
Belonging is not a function of such external considerations; it is a feeling that we have about ourselves. Internal feelings can only be changed on an internal, subjective basis. The feeling of non-belonging has many facets:
1. “I don’t belong because I am not good enough. Others belong because they are good enough, but not me. How do I know? My parents, teachers, friends and relatives told me so and they wouldn’t lie.”
2. “I don’t belong because I am not smart enough. As smart as I am, it is never enough.”
3. “I don’t belong because I am not pretty enough. Only cheerleaders belong, not me.”
4. “I don’t belong because I don’t have money to throw around. Gee, I wish I were rich.”
5. “I don’t belong because all they want me for is my money. If I didn’t have money, maybe they would want me for myself. I’ll never know. I wish I could live a real life like the people on welfare. They suffer. That’s living.”
Here are some of the over compensatory, counter-productive ways in which non-self-respecting people try to relieve the pain of their non-belonging:
THE CRIMINAL – “If I can’t join them, I’ll lick ‘em. I’ll become an outcast, an outlaw. I’ll get revenge on them for rejecting me. After all, I’m entitled. I have suffered. I am exempt from their laws. I’ll make up my own and I’ll hang around with other non-belongers like myself.”
THE CROWN PRINCE – “As the first born, my mother’s favorite, I don’t belong down there with those miserable peasants. I am superior and special. Who needs them anyway? I am more interested in gaining power over them than in belonging with them.”
THE REBEL – “All right, if I can’t be a conservative conformist like my big brother, Will, I’ll become a nonconformist; the worst one you ever saw. If I can’t be first best, I’ll be first worst. I’ll get my revenge by rebelling against their conformity. I’ll put down their oppressive fascist society. That way everyone will be free to be a nonconformist just like me…or else!”
THE VICTIMIZER – “I used to be a victim, but not anymore. I prevent victimization by victimizing others first. I don’t want to belong with inferior victims, I belong with my good-buddy fellow victimizers.”
THE ABUSER- “I don’t belong to my wife, but she belongs to me, like a steer belongs to a rancher. I have all the rights, she has all the responsibilities. If she doesn’t measure up to my high standards, I have a grievance against her. It makes me angry. It’s her fault, not mine.”
THE SHY CHILD – “If they won’t let me belong, I’ll get power over them by being shy. I’ll make them come to me. If they don’t come to me, it will be their loss, not mine.”
Since non-belonging is an aspect of self-contempt, the generic antidote to this feeling is self-respect, “I am a worthwhile human being in spite of my faults and imperfections.” On this basis, these people can feel that they belong to themselves; a feeling they did not have as vulnerable, dependent children. From that base, they can go on to the next higher level, the feeling that they belong to the human race, no more and no less than anyone else. Where do they belong? Anywhere they happen to be. After that, the secondary “belongings” take care of themselves. They can then “belong” in a relationship with another self-respecting “belonger.”
The feeling of alienation from one’s fellow human beings can be very painful. It cannot be relieved by intellectual understanding alone. We must relieve this feeling by replacing it with another one in the moment that it is happening. This means that we must do our homework. The next time we are at a party, in church or at a meeting, we can catch ourselves feeling out of place and unworthy to be in the company of “real” people. We can consciously choose to replace that negative feeling with the experience of ourselves as worthwhile human beings in our own right in spite of our faults and imperfections. We can remind ourselves that we deserve to be in this place, no more and no less than anyone else. We do not have to justify our presence. We are members of the human race in good standing. No one can give that to us and no one can take it away.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )