My two-year “relationship/partnership” ended on an extremely negative note. So hurtful that the past two months felt like decades. After going through rounds of Idealization (lovebomb) – Devaluation – Discard – Hoovering cycle, I’ve learned in hard ways how damaging Covert NPD could be to others.
Throughout my learning and healing journey, I found Dr. Less Carter, Ph.D. through his Youtube Channel. His videos have helped me a year ago while in Australia, though my healing backfired as I was sucked back into his life with overconfidence that I wouldn’t get hurt again.
However, this time around, when his new Target Supply showed up with more fancy cars, houses, money, and free time, I knew I was Discarded again and the only way to save my sanity is to take healing 100% seriously, equip myself with loads of knowledge, and pursue those action steps. While reading Dr. Les Carter’s book When Pleasing You is Killing Me – Setting Boundaries With The Controllers In Your Life, insight from self-reflection kept hitting me like lightning.
The book is structured in three parts: recognize the people-pleasing pattern; understand how the pattern is formed; implementable suggestions to find balance in your life. Dr. Carter never failed to keep me actively thinking by providing client stories, checklists, and questions with spaces to write down answers.
I never realized I have people-pleasing tendencies. It’s so engraved in me and presents itself in the tiniest choices I make on a daily basis. Others probably just think I am a nice person – I admit that. But these tendencies can often enable overt and covert controllers, and in result, drag me down a negative path for my own mental health.
Depression has been somewhat a known issue that kept me in withdrawal, especially during gloomy wintertime. Although I was able to name the number of frustration, I never knew that it can be a form of anger.
The People-Pleasing Pattern
Goodness and kindness definitely play an important role in healthy relationships. But is your niceness over the board? Such as taking responsibilities that’s not yours?
Sometimes, to the wrong person, especially the controllers, your sacrifice enables them to be entitled. For the sake of keeping peace, you overlook their unhealthy priorities and put your own feelings aside. This leads to over-compliance which ultimately lower their assessment of you.
When you have too strong of a duty-mentality, you do things out of sheer obligation rather than choosing to act right. There may be moments you notice your own needs. But those needs are quickly pushed aside in order to make space for others’.
Too much empathy also cause guilt in you. Such that when you say no, you worry that it will hurt others. As they fight back or resist, are you also feeling an impact from their judgments? Dr. Les Carter describes this as an “over-developed conscience”. With this unhealthy idea, you may be living without or with a very soft boundary that results in you constantly getting “stepped over”.
In this People-Pleasing mode, you may project an image of a nice person that doesn’t align with what you truly feel. A sense of false guilt from your own internalization and others’ covert guilt-tripping.
He sure didn’t seem to feel guilty when he traded me in for a new woman, so why did I feel so guilty about trying to improve myself?
Dr.Les Carter points out the idea that each person has intrinsic value from birth.
This made me ponder why I’ve been unconsciously “trying to prove”. In my childhood, dad had a very clear philosophy of educating his child. To date, I still remember clearly what he said to me. “You haven’t achieved anything. You have no position/right to ask for 1,2,3. Earn it.” It is a good message for the young so they don’t grow up to be entitled. But little Monique took it too deep. Besides, the preference for sons in that part of the world was extremely prevalent. Since my earliest memory, I’ve always been trying to impress my dad, trying to prove to him that I am no less than a son, trying to earn the statement that “I am worthy”…
This, is where my People-Pleasing pattern all began.
Due to the idea that self-worth is earned, I have difficulty to adopt the “take me as I am” mentality. I often find myself in a position to defend or explain myself unnecessarily. The lack of self-trust makes me feel like I have to justify myself in fear that others won’t understand.
The Formation of the People-Pleasing Pattern
Through my coaching sessions, I identified 10 values I hold close to heart, Peace being one of them. However, this is when I start to make sense of why my pleasant and easygoing public presentation has been indirectly causing me strains. In attempts to “keep the peace”, pleasing others can develop a suppressed emotion in the pleaser. When frustrations bottled to the top, eventually it explodes in an aggressive form. I did have my fair share of explosion on a camping trip due to the lack of organization and my feeling of not being respected.
“Closet People Pleaser” is a term Dr. Les Carter uses to describe those who, often in a leadership position, seem independently minded, but on many occasions are pulled into the preferences of others. In this session, Carter also introduced the definition of Dependency. But wait, aren’t leaders the most independent people out there? Hear me out.
Dependency is the “tendency to allow your mood or inner sense of direction to be determined by outer circumstances”. In a way, you are a reactor of others’ needs in order to gain approval or impress someone significant at that moment.
In my case, since childhood, my father was the person I’ve been trying to impress. So I acted like a boy and stretched myself thin to make him proud. As long as daddy approves of me, my self-esteem doesn’t run low. Growing up, my relationship/intimate partner was the person. I found myself ever so often trying to impress him or keep him happy, even when it’s against my own happiness. My behavior was a reaction to his desire.
More on codependency here.
The pleaser can seem to have a high sense of mission or moral by their guiding value – “peace” in my case. When this is translated to relationship skills, you can be very tight in the department of self-care. In order to do the “right” thing, you keep pushing your boundary back. When this is faced with someone who is plain blind to their own self-centeredness, you can see how it’s going to unfold.
In contrast, a healthy version is being decisive and saying “no” when you mean it. Often times, pleasers assume criticisms will come right after they refuse to act on others’ will. So in order to keep the pride and keep criticism at bay, pleasers submit to controllers’ requests again and again.
Free From People-Pleasing Pattern
One difference between psychotherapy and coaching is that the former dive deep into the past to seek root cause, while the latter focus more on actionable plan for a better future. After a few sessions with my coach, there were times where she snapped me out of my remorse to my younger self, and reminded me what’s ahead.
After reading When Pleasing You Is Killing Me, I recognized some deep issues within me that kept me from being happy. My people-pleasing pattern is so subtle yet so impactful. Ok, I get it. I’m broken. Now what?
Dr. Les Carter suggested to choose freedom as a way of life instead of “duty, obligation, indebtedness, restriction, subservince, caution” – the keywords that often describe a life of people-pleaser. Even if the controller doesn’t accept your freedom, it doesn’t change the reality that you are nonetheless free.
Curb the urge to explain/defend yourself. Tell your reasoning once, and drop it. Intrusive people will take your explain as an invitation to argue. So when it’s clear that you are only receiving attacks, move on with no future explanation. An example response is “I know you have your preference for me, nonetheless, I’m going to stick with my decision.” Be direct without trying to convince them to agree with you. Agreeing to disagree is key to balancing the dynamic.
Practice assertiveness and maintain it. Controllers will fight back when you suddenly start to set your boundaries. We are so used to give in to them in order to avoid conflicts. However, when one person stands from a superior position in a relationship, the other will inevitably struggle with frustration.
Assertiveness is properly balanced in a healthy relationship, it clears the way for the greater possibility of love and coordination.
Then the important part is, how can you be so sure/assertive about your decisions? This is why you need to establish ownership of your vision and put it as a top priority. “I don’t know what I want” is a common codependency symptom that leads us to be blindly loyal to an unhealthy relationship.
With the guidance of my amazing coach, I have been training my mind to think about what I want. It’s a journey to confidence and enlightenment. Yes, my last relationship ended in a confusingly tragic way. There was a lot of rage in me wondering how could he did all that to me. Yet, as the old saying says, focus on what you can change instead of cannot. It may be more constructive to think “how did I put myself in that position?” and “how do I prepare myself so I won’t repeat the history?”