If you’ve been following my series on love styles, then you have a clear idea of what a secure connector and an avoider are. Today, we’re going to begin working through my love style, the pleaser love style.
Am I a Pleaser?
Read the following statements and consider, do these resonate with me? Are they true of me most of the time? If so, you might be a pleaser. You can take the quiz to be sure.
- I tend to anticipate and meet the needs of those I love.
- I usually give more than I receive.
- I don’t often get mad, but if I do, I don’t show it.
- I try to avoid making others upset or angry.
- When others seem to detach from me, I work harder to rebuild the relationship.
- I rarely confront others, and if I do, it is very stressful for me.
- I have trouble saying no.
- I have a stressful core.
- I’m often over-committed and overwhelmed.
- I am fairly cautious.
- I go above and beyond to help others be happy.
- I am afraid of upsetting other people.
- I am a peacemaker.
What is a Pleaser?
Pleasers as Children
Pleasers grow up with a lot of anxiety. This anxiety might come from:
- Cowering under an overprotective parent (Be careful! Avoid danger).
- Coping with an angry or highly critical parent (Be careful! Avoid criticism).
- Trying to manage a parent’s anxiety or irritability.
- Dealing with a parent with unhealthy fear and worry that results in controlling behavior.
- Coping with a domineering parent who’s anger or fear permeates the home.
- Dealing with physical separation from parents due to illness, divorce, or death.
- Responding to the emotional separation and abandonment experienced from a parent struggling with an addiction, mental illness, violent abusive nature, or desperate situation.
- Having another caregiver, sibling or family member with these struggles.
- Having an undiagnosed learning disability.
A child can develop the pleaser love style if they are in any anxiety producing situation but do not have a parent who is able to provide security and relief from the anxiety as well as to train them to be aware of and manage their negative feelings.
These sensitive kids internalize the feelings of others and are like sponges absorbing the tension and worry of their parents. They are highly perceptive of others’ feelings and begin to take responsibility for the feelings and struggles of others. When they have fears of their own, such experiencing separation anxiety or fear of the dark, the over-anxious parent will try to assuage their fears for their own sake. In other words, they quiet the child’s fears with phrases like, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, and “Everything is okay,” in order to reduce the parent’s own anxiety (because if the child is calm, the parent can be more calm). It is comfort for the parent’s sake…not genuine comfort of the child. Parents may overindulge their child’s fears in an attempt to assuage their own fears, not teaching their children to feel their feelings and to learn skills for dealing with their feelings.
Sometimes Rescued but Not Comforted
As children, there is little room for their own feelings, wants, needs, and desires (since their parent’s fear is already so large or their parent is absent or critical). They learn very young to comfort others well, but do not receive genuine comfort for their own feelings. They may have the stressor removed (being picked up early from the slumber party, having the parents remove natural consequences, having the freedom to quit the team, not being required to try new things, or being overindulged when they are afraid). However, they don’t receive genuine comfort for their own feelings. Their parent doesn’t draw out their feelings and train them to be aware of and manage their feelings.
Genuine Comfort Includes Help Feeling and Dealing with Emotions
Indeed, they are often not even aware of their own feelings that need comforting, having never learned to feel and deal with them since the bulk of their emotional capacity goes to feeling other people’s feelings and helping them deal. If they can relieve some of their parent’s overwhelming feelings, it in turn reduces their own stress. They learn well to perceive and respond to the emotions of others. Making others happy brings the pleaser child some relief from the overwhelming anxiety that feels like second nature by adulthood.
Pleasers as Adults
Pleasers live under an undercurrent of anxiety that they may not even be aware of. They have been so anxious for so long that it just feels normal to them. They may assume others around them have the same level of apprehension and intervene for them when it is not necessary.
Pleasers are excellent empathizers, easily rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. When others become upset, angry or distant, anxiety becomes overwhelming for a pleaser. The pleaser feels unsettled until he/she can close the gap in the relationship.
In adult relationships, the underlying motivation for being in the helping role and focusing on the needs of others is to reduce one’s own anxiety by keeping people close, content and satisfied. (Yerkovich, How We Love, Ch 6).
Pleasers calm their own anxiety by caring for others. This means they often feel a need to be in a caretaking role. They easily feel rejected if others prefer not to receive their help and worry the person is mad at them or unhappy in some way.
Pleasers are often extremely anxious about making others angry. They often don’t feel anger themselves. If they do, they often avoid conflict, avoiding confrontation with the person they are angry with. If they express their anger at all, it will be indirectly. They rarely confront others, and if they do, it is often indirect in nature.
Danger of Resentment
True forgiveness and healthy grief over losses involves facing anger, feeling it, and grieving what made you angry, but Pleasers often unwittingly skip this step. By not feeling their feelings and grieving losses and hurts, they allow resentment to build and grow. By not confronting others, saying no, or standing up for their own needs, they provide many opportunities for themselves to be hurt and to start building resentment. The griefs and trials of their growing up years may be strongly affecting their present, since they have never acknowledged the feelings they experienced or effectively grieved their losses and hurts.
Unrealistic Expectations for Themselves
They often develop unrealistic expectations for themselves. If they had a critical parent, they may have a low view of their ability and have difficulty feeling they are doing okay. They may expect disapproval and rejection.
Pleasers are often fearing the many ways that the decision could go wrong. They are looking for the best possible choice with the fewest negative repercussions. The prospect of rejection is particularly scary for them, and many choices seem they could end up in rejection by someone. When trying to please everyone, it is extremely difficult to make a choice without at least one person feeling a mistake was made. Since pleasers have difficulty saying “no,” they may not want to do something but reluctantly agree to, even lying by saying things like, “It’s no problem,” and “I’m happy to,” even though they are dying inside.
Time to Grow
If this is you, there is no need to stay here. No time is like the present to seek God with your whole heart for growth. No time is like the present to reduce the anxiety that has been your core for so long. Your brain can be rewired, and your life and relationships can be transformed as you grow into a secure connector. Future blogs will dive into how to make steps toward this, how being a pleaser affects your parenting, and what you can do as a parent to help your children grow into emotionally whole adults.
You may be reading this, because someone dear to you is an pleaser. A future blog will deal with how you can come alongside (not fix) your loved one. Be sure to follow so you don’t miss these.
Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).
I’ll be going through the other love styles in the upcoming posts.
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.