Read an Excerpt
The Disease to PleaseCuring the People-Pleasing Syndrome
By Harriet B. Braiker
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2001 Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Disease to Please Triangle: The Price of Nice
Do You Have the Disease to Please?
If you are like most people-pleasers, you probably already know the answer to this question. And if the Disease to Please plagues you, you will more likely be interested in the cure than in the diagnosis.
But don't be too quick to skip this chapter. You'll find the brief quiz that follows useful. It not only will help you to evaluate the relative depth or seriousness of your people-pleasing problems, but also will allow you to determine the most important underlying causes of your own Disease to Please problem.
As you will soon learn, these causes fall into three major groupings: People- Pleasing Mindsets, People-Pleasing Habits, and People-Pleasing Feelings. Knowing your dominant cause will help you focus your efforts so that you can achieve the biggest impact on curing your people-pleasing syndrome as quickly as possible.
The quiz contains 24 items that measure your people-pleasing tendencies as well as the underlying reasons that you find yourself on the slippery slopes of the Disease to Please triangle. Read each item and decide whether the statement applies to you. If the statement is true or mostly true, circle "T." If it is false or mostly false, circle "F." Do not overthink or try to analyze each question. Your answers need only reflect your quick, global judgment of how much each statement applies to you.
Do You Have the Disease to Please? Quiz
1. It's extremely important to me to be liked by nearly everyone in my life. T or F
2. I believe that nothing good can come from conflict. T or F
3. My needs should always take a backseat to the needs of the people I love. T or F
4. I expect myself to rise above conflict and confrontation. T or F
5. I often do too much for other people or even let myself be used so that I won't be rejected for other reasons. T or F
6. I have always needed the approval of other people. T or F
7. It's much easier for me to acknowledge negative feelings about myself than to express negative feelings toward others. T or F
8. I believe that if I make other people need me because of all the things I do for them, I won't be left alone. T or F
9. I'm hooked on doing things for others and pleasing them. T or F
10. I go to great lengths to avoid conflict or confrontation with my family, friends, or coworkers. T or F
11. I'm likely to do all the things I can to make others happy before I do anything just for myself. T or F
12. I almost never stand up to others in order to protect myself because I am too afraid of getting an angry response or provoking a confrontation. T or F
13. If I stopped putting others' needs ahead of my own, I would become a selfish person and people would no longer like me. T or F
14. Having to face a confrontation or conflict with anybody makes me feel so anxious that I almost get physically sick. T or F
15. It is very difficult for me to express criticism even if it is constructive because I don't want to make anyone angry with me. T or F
16. I must always please others even at the expense of my own feelings. T or F
17. I have to give of myself all the time in order to be worthy of love. T or F
18. I believe that nice people get the approval, affection, and friendship of others. T or F
19. I must never let other people down by failing to do everything they expect of me even when I know that the demands are excessive or unreasonable. T or F
20. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to "buy" the love and friendship of others by doing so many nice things to please them. T or F
21. It makes me very anxious and uncomfortable to say or do anything that might make another person angry with me. T or F
22. I rarely delegate tasks to others. T or F
23. I feel guilty when I say "no" to requests or needs of others. T or F
24. I would think that I am a bad person if I didn't give of myself all the time to those around me. T or F
How to Score and Interpret Your Answers
Do You Have the Disease to Please? The answer to this question depends on your overall score. Simply total the number of your "True" responses; that total is your overall score. To interpret the meaning of your overall score, refer to the range of your score below:
* Overall score between 16 and 24: If your score is in this range, your people-pleasing syndrome is deeply ingrained and serious. You probably already know that the Disease to Please is taking a heavy toll on your emotional and physical health, as well as on the quality of your relationships with others. However, your current level of distress can serve as a powerful motivation in your recovery program, but you must act now to cure the problem and reclaim control over your life.
* Overall score between 10 and 15: If your total score is in this range, your Disease to Please symptoms are already moderately severe. The destructive pattern requires your immediate attention and effort to change before it grows any worse.
* Overall score between 5 and 9: If your total score is in this range, you have a moderate Disease to Please problem. You already have developed some strengths and resistance to your own self-defeating tendencies. However, your people-pleasing habits can still pose a disruptive threat to your health and well-being. Build on your strengths and aim for full recovery.
* Overall score 4 or less: If your total score falls here, you may have only mild people-pleasing tendencies—or even none at all—at present. However, be forewarned that the Disease to Please is a self-perpetuating cycle that can develop quickly and overtake your sense of control in your own life. As a preventative measure, you may wish to develop your awareness of the problem and to learn the techniques of recovery.
Which Type Are You?
In order to determine the dominant cause of your own Disease to Please syndrome, you will need to add up your scores on those items that measure each of the three underlying causes.
1. To see if you are more controlled by your thoughts—or, People-Pleasing Mindsets—add together the number of True responses to questions 1, 3, 5, 8, 13, 17, 18, and 24.
2. Now add the number of True responses to questions 6, 9, 11, 16, 19, 20, 22, and 23 to see if People-Pleasing Habits—or behaviors—are dominant for you.
3. Finally, add the number of True responses to questions 2, 4, 7, 10, 12, 14, 15, and 21 to discover if People-Pleasing Feelings—or emotions—are the leading cause for you.
The highest score reveals which is the dominant cause of your Disease to Please problems:
* You are a Cognitive people-pleaser if your highest score is on the mindsets or thought scale;
* You are a Behavioral people-pleaser if your highest score is on the habits or behavioral scale; and
* You are an Emotionally Avoidant people-pleaser if your highest score is on the feelings or emotional scale.
Finally, if two or all three of your scores are tied for #1, it simply means that you do not have just one dominant cause for your syndrome. For you, two or even all three causes are equally important as reasons for your people-pleasing problems.
The Disease to Please Triangle
Now that you have determined the dominant underlying cause of your own syndrome, let's examine how these three psychological components or pieces to the Disease to Please puzzle fit together. These three components are: (1) People-Pleasing Mindsets, or distorted ways of thinking; (2) People-Pleasing Habits, or compulsive behaviors; and (3) People-Pleasing Feelings, or fearful emotions.
Together, the parts join in a triangle in which each side—behavior, thoughts, or feelings—operates as both a cause and a consequence of the others (see Figure 1). For example, compulsive behavior is driven by the avoidance of feared emotions and supported by distorted, flawed thinking. Similarly, anxious feelings create avoidance behaviors that, in turn, are linked to flawed or incorrect ways of thinking.
* The Disease to Please triangle shows how you can achieve big gains in curing your people-pleasing problems by making small changes in the way you think, act, or feel. Because of their interconnections, small changes in any side of the triangle will generate change in the whole syndrome
Now that you know the main underlying cause of your own triangle, you will be able to direct and prioritize your personal change process.
People-pleasers whose distorted thinking is the predominant cause of their syndrome are ensnared in burdensome and self-defeating mindsets that perpetuate their Disease to Please problems. If you are in this group, your people-pleasing is driven by a fixed thought that you need and must strive for everyone to like you. You measure your self-esteem and define your identity by how much you do for others whose needs, you insist, must come before your own.
When you have People-Pleasing Mindsets, you believe that being nice will protect you from rejection and other hurtful treatment from others. And, while you impose demanding rules, harsh criticism, and perfectionist expectations on yourself, you simultaneously yearn for universal acceptance. In short, you have thought your way into the problem and, to a significant extent, you will need to think your way to recovery. So, your change efforts should first be directed toward understanding and correcting your People-Pleasing Mindsets.
People-pleasers whose Disease to Please is predominantly caused by habitual behavior are driven to take care of others' needs at the expense of their own. If you are this type, you do too much, too often for others, almost never say "no," rarely delegate, and inevitably become overcommitted and spread too thin. And, while these self-defeating, stress-producing patterns take their toll on your health and on your closest relationships, they maintain a firm grip on your behavior because they are driven by your excessive, even addictive, need for everyone's approval. If you fit this description, your initial focus will be best spent on understanding and breaking your self-defeating people-pleasing habits.
People-pleasers whose syndrome is primarily caused by the avoidance of frightening and uncomfortable feelings comprise the third type. If you are in this group, you will recognize the high anxiety that merely the anticipation or possibility of an angry confrontation with others evokes.
Your Disease to Please syndrome operates primarily as an avoidance tactic intended to protect you from your fears of anger, conflict, and confrontation. But, as you may already know, the tactic is faulty. Your fears not only fail to diminish, they even intensify, as the avoidance patterns persist.
Because you avoid difficult emotions, you never allow yourself to learn how to effectively manage conflict or how to deal appropriately with anger. As a consequence, you relinquish control too easily to those who would dominate you through intimidation and manipulation.
So, if the main cause of your Disease to Please is based in emotional avoidance, your personal change process will be best directed first on your people-pleasing feelings. Your efforts to overcome your fears and to better understand and manage anger and conflict will yield big returns.
Finally, you may be among those people who do not have one cause or one side of the triangle that is most dominant in their Disease to Please syndrome. If so, People-Pleasing Mindsets, Habits, and Feelings all play about equal roles as underlying causes of your problem. As a result, you may begin your change process in any of the three areas with equal impact.
While most people-pleasers can identify a dominant causal feature in their problem, it is important to remember that the Disease to Please syndrome is composed of all three sides of the triangle. You want and need to find effective solutions to this troubling problem as soon as possible. Locating your dominant side is the fastest method to help prioritize and begin your personal change process.
Eventually, however, in order to make a full and lasting recovery, you will need to address your issues in all three areas: thinking, behavior, and feelings. To this end, the 21-Day Action Plan for curing the Disease to Please takes a wide and inclusive aim at correcting the faulty mindsets, breaking the habits, and overcoming the fearful feelings that collectively comprise this difficult and frustrating syndrome.
The Hidden Cost of People-Pleasing
People-pleasing is an odd problem. At first glance, it may not even seem like a problem at all. In fact, the phrase "people-pleaser" might feel more like a compliment or a flattering self-description that you proudly wear as a badge of honor.
After all, what's wrong with trying to make others happy? Shouldn't we all strive to please the people we love and even those we just like a lot? Surely the world would be a happier place if there were more people-pleasers ... wouldn't it?
* The truth is that "people-pleasing" is a sweet-sounding name for what, to many people, actually is a serious psychological problem
The Disease to Please is a compulsive—even addictive—behavior pattern. As a people-pleaser, you feel controlled by your need to please others and addicted to their approval. At the same time, you feel out of control over the pressures and demands on your life that these needs have created.
If you have the Disease, your need to please is not limited to just saying "yes" to the actual requests, invitations, or demands initiated by others. As a people-pleaser, your emotional tuning dials are jammed on the frequency of what you believe other people want or expect of you. Just the perception that another might need your help is enough to send your people-pleasing response system into overdrive.
The dilemma you face is that in staying so finely tuned to the real and perceived needs of others, you often turn a deaf ear to your own inner voice that may be trying to protect you from overextending yourself and from operating against your own self-interests.
When you have the Disease to Please, your self-esteem is all tied up with how much you do for others and how successful you are at pleasing them. Fulfilling the needs of others becomes the magic formula for gaining love and self-worth and for protection from abandonment and rejection. But, in reality, it's a formula that simply doesn't work.
Driven by an excessive need to gain the approval of other people—of everyone—people-pleasers will strive to do so at almost any cost to themselves. But this approval addiction can paralyze action. For example, when you feel pulled in more than one direction trying to meet the needs of several people, your fear of disapproval (the flipside of the need for approval) can freeze you up, leaving you in a quandary: Whom should you please? How should you choose? What if you end up pleasing no one?
When Being Nice Is Too High a Price
People-pleasers become deeply attached to seeing themselves—and to being certain that others see them—as nice people. Their very identity derives from this image of niceness. And, while they may believe that being nice protects them from unpleasant situations with friends and family, in actuality, the price they pay is still far too high.
First, because you are so nice, other people may manipulate and exploit your willingness to please them. Your niceness may even blind you to the fact that others are exploiting you. Further, keeping a front of niceness all the time prevents you from showing anger and displeasure, however justified they may be.
Second, you avoid criticizing others so that you won't be criticized. To avoid confrontation, it is all too easy to take the path of least resistance that psychologists call conflict avoidance. Like criticism, confrontation and anger are also dangerous emotional experiences that you wish to avoid at nearly any cost.
Driven by Your Fears
* At the core of your niceness is a deep fear of negative emotions
In fact, people-pleasing is largely driven by emotional fears: fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of conflict or confrontation, fear of criticism, fear of being alone, and fear of anger. As a people-pleaser, you hold the belief that by being nice and always doing things for others you will avoid these emotions in yourself and others. This defensive belief has a two-way effect. First, you use your niceness to deter and dodge negative emotions aimed at you from others—as long as you're so nice and always try to do things to please others, why would anyone want to get angry, or reject or criticize you? Second, by being so invested in your own niceness, you don't allow yourself to feel or express negative emotions toward others.
* The more you identify with being nice, instead of being real, the more you will find yourself plagued by nagging doubts, insecurities, and lingering fears
Being accepted and getting approval from others always will seem just out of reach. And, even if you succeed at pleasing others, you find that your fears of rejection, abandonment, or angry confrontation will not diminish or be alleviated. In fact, they grow stronger over time.
Excerpted from The Disease to Please by Harriet B. Braiker Copyright © 2001 by Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.