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Top 3 Ways that Needing to Please Others Can Fuel Our Anger

At Vlogmail, we offer regular personal and professional development through inspiration, motivation, and training. Today we, are sharing “Top 3 Ways that Needing to Please Others Can Fuel Our Anger”.

“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.” 
― Jim Carrey

“When I was little I was extremely protective of my baby sister. I just wanted to take care of her, especially because she suffered with a respiratory illness. I love her dearly but, in hindsight, I’ve come to realize that I was also determined to please my parents–especially my mother. It seemed that I could never really get her praise or attention.”

Laurie, a young woman I met with, made this statement after several sessions. As she explored her anxiety, she became aware that it was very much related to her intense desire to please. Specifically, she became aware that she felt anxious when irritation and anger began to surface.This was her reaction against a long history marked by a compulsive need to please others.

The desire to please

Our desire to please others is an inherent component of our yearning for connection. As children, we innately seek to please our caretakers because our lives literally depend on it. We also seek to please to ensure love, validation and safety. As adults, we may seek to please in order to form a bond–with family members, with friends, in the workplace and in our communities. And this desire to bond is rooted in our evolution, a drive to feel a part of the pack for protection and security.

As children and adults we desire to please others because it also brings us joy. It only becomes a problem when the desire to do so is a compulsion–when it entails an inability to set limits.

The need to please may be driven with full conscious awareness or unconsciously. It leads to heightened attunement to the needs, desires and emotions of others. And when we predominantly focus our attention on others, we fail to be attuned to our own inner landscape-our needs, desires and emotions. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to recognize them–let alone seek their satisfaction.

By contrast, psychological flexibility rests on being able to flexibly shift our attention between that of others and ourselves. Seeking to please our selves is not mutually exclusive with pleasing others. And certainly, having flexibility to compromise is essential for almost every relationship.

While the intensity of our longing to please may be rooted in our childhood dependency, all too often, many of us carry the same heightened desire to please into adulthood. Unfortunately, being too eager too please others ultimately makes us vulnerable to feel frustration and anger–with others and with ourselves.

When we compulsively please, we are forever changing ourselves. We behave like the chameleon, fearful of being exposed and forever trying to blend in with its surroundings. But for the chameleon, exposing its true nature can be a matter of life and death. And while it’s true, there may be circumstances when showing who we are may be life threatening, but this is not the case in most situations. And, unfortunately, when we behave like a chameleon for others, we become a chameleon unto ourselves. It is then no wonder that we don’t know what we want or believe.

The roots of the intense need to please

The intense compulsion to please stems from insecurity with our self, often rooted in early experiences that did not leave us with a “sufficiently strong” sense of self. Perhaps we lacked sufficient validation and support to trust ourselves.  Or, maybe we never felt sufficiently safe and protected. Perhaps our caretakers’ responses to us were inconsistent or we experienced neglect or even abuse. The intense desire to please others may also derive from experiences that led to our feeling undeserving of love, attention or validation. As such, simply seeking to satisfy our own needs and desires may arouse guilt and even shame, in addition to anger.

The need to please may be reflected in perfectionism, and its related self-consciousness about never feeling “good enough”. This was a core issue that Laurie began to acknowledge as we further explored her compulsion to please. In this context, the need to please is an attempt to obtain validation and approval that we are in fact, good enough. Such validation may then help us feel a sense of being, not only ok, but also lovable. This ongoing tendency carries with it a high potential for fueling anger, whether expressed by slight irritation, ongoing resentment or even aggression.

Three ways in which the compulsion to please can foster anger

1. The intense need to please is disempowering

The more compulsively we feel the need to please others, the more we empower them to influence how we live our lives.  In effect, we make the choice to elevate their blueprint for how life should be lived, over our own, whether with regard to big or small decisions. In the process of devoting our energies to their needs, desires, and emotions, we unwittingly internalize them as our own. Ultimately, chip away at our own identity and we eventually disappear.

Psychology uses the term “locus of control” to define where we experience our source of power, control, wisdom and agency. By its nature, an intense need to please leads us to experience that locus of control as being external, outside of ourselves, rather than within ourselves.  This fosters an overall sense of disempowerment-fueled by self-doubt and vagueness in a sense of self. It is ironic that as engaging in this pursuit only enhances the need to please.

2. The intense need to please inhibits consciously creating our identity

The challenge of developing an identity is one that comes to the forefront in our late teens and early twenties. But it is one that lasts a lifetime, with and without full awareness. From our time as a teen when we try on different ways of looking, deciding on which friends we wish to seek out or what activities to engage in, we are faced with the anxiety of choice.

Being preoccupied with pleasing others undermines our capacity to truly make an informed choice. This can occur at any age–from early adulthood hood to the years of retirement. And, currently, there are increased pressures to pursue this goal reflected in the powerful influence of social media. The preoccupation with “likes” as a measure of self-worth and esteem epitomizes the unhealthy aspect of needing to please others. It encourages and rewards how we feel about our selves by primarily looking at our selves through the eyes of others. This leaves little time for, or interest in, the solitude that is very much essential for developing our identity.

I often see individuals who describe social anxiety in the context of a group, but not as strongly as when engaged in one-to-one conversation. Being in a group just raises the ante in terms of trying to please more people.

3-The need to please can fuel sensitivity to feeling controlled

Anger arises from a perceived threat to our emotional or physical well-being. When we lack the comfort to set limits with others, we often develop sensitivity to feeling controlled by them. However, while we may feel that others are trying to control us, we are in fact being held captive by our own desires to please them. Such a stance invariably leads us to feel trapped.

This was a voiced complaint expressed by Laurie and as well as by many of my other clients who have experienced the compulsion to please. They describe feeling isolated and invisible as a result of ignoring or not voicing their needs or desires.  Some, who were extremely conflict avoidant in their relationships, described feeling like they had no influence at all–whether with regard to taking care of the home, initiating and maintaining social connections and even parenting. So they felt like a partner, a friend, a supervisor or a co-worker was trying to control them. Certainly, in some cases they may have been accurate in their perception. However, all too often, their reaction was one to giving up their voice due to conflict avoidance.

Eventually, many of them felt so controlled that they withdrew emotionally and physically. Or, some of my clients resolved this difficulty in their marriage by seeking an outside relationship in an effort to seek greater validation.

The compulsion to please can lead to sensitivity to feel controlled not only by others, but also by the very things we like to do. We may enjoy doing an errand for someone, researching information for them, or doing some other favor. And yet, feeling overwhelmed by such commitments easily contributes to resenting such activities.

How anger may be expressed

The intense need to please in the work setting can stifle individual creativity and, in the long run, interfere with career advancement. While some supervisors or others in authority may thrive on those who need to please, doing so can also negatively impact the overall goals and productivity of an agency or company. A growing company seeks out and encourages ideas.

At work, the need to please may be reflected by a passive acceptance of responsibilities at work from supervisors as well as co-workers. While the need to please might be experienced as a way to advance, having an intense need to please naturally inhibits the fluid thinking that is most often required and rewarded by advancement.

Resentment that arises from the constant need to please may also take the form of passive-aggression. The pleaser is often much too fearful of being assertive and is conflict avoidant. So he may forget to fulfill his promise to do an errand for his wife. Or, at work, she may become silent during a committee meeting, even when she has a good idea to offer. As Laurie reported, she was often-passive-aggressive in her relationships and at work.

Overcoming the intense need to please

Our tendency to please can be changed. Doing so requires commitment, patience and time in learning to be more flexible in deciding when to please. It entails the reflection and self-questioning required to identify the life we wish to create for ourselves rather than unwittingly holding on to the script of others as a life raft for the difficult voyage of our lives. Laurie face the challenging task of such reflection that she had avoided for much of her life. And, in the process, was able to create more meaning and happiness in her life.

Such reflection includes:

1- Recognizing blocks to pleasing our self,

2- Identifying the values we wish to live by,

3- Learning to identify our feelings and thoughts,

4-Buidling trust in our self–often by incrementally asserting our self, including saying “no”, voicing our opinions and making decisions in relationships or in the workplace, and

5. Recognizing that the more we decide to live our life as we define it, the more we increase the possibility that others will be disappointed in us.

Most importantly, overcoming the need to please calls for mourning and grieving the lack of sufficient early support or validation to feel ok and lovable-both of which allow us to seek to satisfaction of our needs and desires. It involves accepting the fact that we may need to work harder at self-validating. It may involve strengthening our relationships with others who can support our desires and needs and are not threatened by them. And, it entails cultivating greater self-compassion, which includes savoring the positive responses to our being more assertive in satisfying our needs and desires.

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