Tapping For People Pleasers
Here for Everybody Else - But What About Me?
Heike Prevrhal, certified MR & EFT Practitioner, AAMET EFT Trainer
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Abstract: We all develop survival strategies early on in our lives to stay safe and to secure as much love and attention as possible. This article presents an inquiry into the strategy of being the "good girl" or "good boy" by pleasing others. It shines the light of awareness on the long-term drawbacks, the pain, exhaustion and limitations of this initially successful strategy, and points to ways of healing core wounds and working with core fears to overcome being driven by this survival mechanism. This powerful transformational work opens up more fulfilling and authentic ways of being and sharing ourselves with the world.
Introduction: "She is such a nice, happy and successful woman!"
This is my story. I was a big-time pleaser. Outwardly many people, even my close friends, saw me as successful, cheerful and happy. For the longest time, even I believed that to be true. But, as pressure of trying to please more people increased, it was surprising and not so pretty to discover that over time, I had built up resentment against the people I was attempting to please - and against life, for putting me in this impossible situation. I started acting out the role of the nagging wife. Where did my empowered self go? How did I end up in the role of the victim??
Being a pleaser is tough business. To the pleaser's mind, failure to please feels like a serious threat to one's well-being and to feeling safe and loved. Yet at the same time, pleasing everybody over time becomes a "mission impossible".
It is not surprising that I was operating under a constant level of stress and anxiety. Since this state of mind was so consistently present, I was not even aware of it. My mind was always busy, fast, well trained, and efficient. I was good at picking up on what was needed, and finding a solution to any disharmony as fast as possible. I always considered everybody's need as best as I could, and I juggled it all. I became really good at juggling - and everybody around me seemed to enjoy me being so "considerate". Most of the time, this pleasing behavior still got me the love and attention that I craved. The pressure was not yet big enough. I was still comfortable and felt flattered by the positive feedback being such a "nice person" got me. I was not aware that I had developed the pleaser syndrome and continuously disempowered myself by making my well-being completely dependent on others and what they thought about me.
But the universe always gives us another chance. In my case, children. At all times, I felt the need to anticipate who might get hungry and when, and to prevent any other potential future disaster (like running out of snack food or not having a dry pair of clothes for baby). I planned ahead and was always prepared for everything. I read the right mothering books and developed strategies for all kinds of scenarios - real or imagined. Being overly prepared was my way of dealing with the underlying worry about the future. For others this worry can lead to a pattern of procrastination. Procrastination is just a different attempt of avoiding mistakes and trying to prevent future trouble.
When the kids were not falling to sleep at night, I already felt the heavy weight of tomorrow's cranky, unhappy child throughout my system. Many times I wished I could magically force them to fall asleep - ever tried that?!?
Everybody kept telling me how beautiful kids are in their way of helping us stay in the present moment. But my experience did certainly not live up to this nice picture. The present moment was the only place I hardly ever visited anymore. I felt like I had to anticipate needs and prevent future fires, trying so hard to get it right, so at least nobody could blame me later. The rest of the time, I spent being resentful for all the things I could not do at this present moment - this included not so exotic things like take a shower when I felt like it, leave the house at the spur of the moment with nothing and nobody attached to me, or simply sleep at night without interruption.
My life felt like a juggling act of constantly making sure everybody else's needs were met. My main need seemed to be that everybody else was happy and would not make my life harder. Only that way I could feel good, relax for a moment, and be safe from anger, negativity or screaming. Beyond that, I was not sure what I wanted or needed in addition to that yoga class once a week that kept me somewhat sane. Such questions usually brought up a lot of indecisiveness, confusion and doubt. Who, me? What do you mean, what do I need? Always focusing my attention on the outside, on other people had disconnected me from my internal guidance system. Estranged from that inner guidance, it always seemed to be a question of what I SHOULD or should not be doing. I had lots of lists and expectations in my head and on my desk, always accompanied by the insecurity and doubt of maybe not getting the right thing done and being doomed...
As I relive this part of my life to write it for you it is beginning to exhaust me even now! I felt very drained, and it seemed as if joy and true love had disappeared from my daily experience.
Only when the pain is sufficiently large, do we act. This is when I began discovering the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Tapping on every possible thing I found relief, layer by layer, until eventually the deep and engrained core survival mechanisms became apparent to me. I clearly saw the survival mechanism of the people pleaser, and saw that it didn't serve me anymore. It had long ago reached its limits and was now seriously working against me!
What is a Survival Mechanism and How Does it Come Into Existence?
A survival mechanism is a strategy we create, usually at quite a young age, to help us get the most of what we all need: safety, love and attention.
Hardly any child is born into a "perfect" environment with parents capable of consistently creating a physically and emotionally safe space overflowing with unconditional love - despite our best intentions. We all bring in our own limitations, fears, and baggage and our children subconsciously pick up on these.
As we grow, all of us experience countless big and small traumas, moments of not receiving what was needed, of not feeling seen, understood or heard, of not feeling safe and loved.
Often children pick up on problems their parents have, and project them onto themselves: e.g. children of busy parents or alcoholics might draw conclusions like "If my parents truly cared about me, they would spend more time with me", or "I must not be lovable because otherwise my parents would stop drinking". As a result of traumatic events and experiences, we subconsciously form beliefs about ourselves and the world, from which we start operating ("world is not a safe place to be", "I'm not good enough", "Something is wrong with me", "I have to be a good girl to receive love").
Children depend on being taken care of by their adults and very quickly figure out what works in their specific situation. They quickly start developing a survival strategy that works for them: "What gets me the most of what I need in my specific setting, with my parents and family?"
There is only a handful of possible strategies. In a large family with five siblings, becoming a fighter might be the only possible way to secure a piece of chicken at the dinner table. If support in emotional matters is not available, it might be best, for the sake of safety, to numb ourselves out and shut off negative emotions. We disconnect.
Another temporarily very successful survival strategy is being a "good girl/boy" and becoming really good in pleasing others: in these families making sure you meet other people's needs helps the child to get its own needs met as much as possible: e.g. whenever mom is feeling good because you are being a good girl, she is so much more pleasant and safe to be around. It is more likely you will get the love and attention you need from her. Being a good child can be a way to avoid a cold, mean or screaming parent.
Any of these survival strategies initially are helpful as they do allow a child to survive. They help the child to receive the most of what they need and can get in their specific situation.
Later in life these strategies become subconscious instincts that most of us are not fully aware of. As adults, not dependent on our parents anymore, with many more resources at our disposal, survival mechanisms that used to serve us in childhood become highly self-limiting and exhausting. They get in the way of living a happy and fulfilled life.
More on the Pleasing Strategy
One of the tricky aspects of the "pleaser strategy" is that even beyond childhood - despite never feeling truly fulfilling - it often still helps us to be well-liked and to secure some level of love and attention. Pleasers often are friendly, well-liked and successful people who seem to be leading a happy life. They tend to be flexible and willing to help out. They are very much in tune with other people's needs. They are easy-going, open to compromise, and usually tend to avoid conflicts - or clear them out right away.
All of these are great traits - so what is the problem??
At the core, all survival patterns - including the strategy of the people pleaser -- are fear based. So instead of helping and supporting others from inner abundance and overflowing love, this friendliness comes from an inner lack. They are rooted in fear -- of not being loved enough, of being abandoned, and of not getting what you need. The main goal is to secure your own well-being, and not to support others lovingly. Often a feeling of exhaustion due to over-extending is present, as it can be impossible to say a clear "no" and stand up for your most inner truth, which you might not even be aware of yourself. Others sometimes see through this friendliness as a kind of neediness or desperation, and friendships might fizzle despite yourself.
Even though a person looks very friendly on the outside, he/she might be operating in stressful survival mode most of the time, which long term does lead to stress related diseases, exhaustion, resentment, discontent and lack of fulfillment. It leaves you in the disempowered role of a victim, depending on others to feel good before you can feel safe and relaxed.
If you consider yourself a people pleaser or carry this tendency to any degree, see if you recognize some of the following:
- Helping others is a way of securing your own wellbeing and is fear-based;
- Helping often functions as a "deal": I'll help you to make sure that you will love and appreciate me;
- I depend on you feeling well, otherwise I can't feel safe or relaxed;
- It leads to resentment: "Why are you still not happy and content, damn it, I am trying so hard?!?"
- If you don't pay me back for my help, I'll resent that on some level;
- Strategy becomes more exhausting the more people you try to juggle: partner, colleagues, multiple children;
- It is hard to say "no" - at the same time, it is frustrating that all is on "me". Feeling the responsibility for the whole world weigh down on your shoulders;
- Not feeling valued: "And what about me??"
- Feeling threatened by unresolved lingering conflicts, avoiding to offend others;
- Worry about future and attempt to prevent problems and conflicts by over-planning or procrastinating;
- Anger if anybody else messes up plans and strategies and with that creates unpleasant situations.
- Focusing so much on what others want that you loose touch with your own wants let alone needs.
Did you recognize any of these?
Survival strategies are deeply engrained. Once you start becoming aware of them, it can be a shock to see how much they impact most of your every day interactions. This can be disillusioning as it questions and eventually destroys our perceived sense of self - our friendly self-image. Yet this awareness is the first huge step into freedom, and into reaching a place from where it is possible to give from a full heart and abundance instead of lack and fear.
You are not Your Survival Mechanism
Usually we are deeply identified with our survival mechanism. It is so close to us, so engrained, that it feels like "me". We don't perceive a distance between "me" and "it". That's why it can be quite challenging to recognize and see through our specific mechanism at all.
Beginning to be aware of what is playing out in our lives provides us with an incredible opportunity for healing and stepping out of the stressful survival mode in every day life. It then can become clear that this is yet another layer of conditioning, programming of our system, and not who we really are. Even while the mechanism might still be playing out, with increasing awareness our identification with it decreases and it starts losing its "grip" on us. Eventually we will be able to catch ourselves, recognize our tendencies, and then have the choice and freedom of not acting on it.
Understanding and Healing the Survival Mechanism of the People-Pleaser
The suffering is not created by the survival mechanism itself, but by our complete identification with it. As long as we lack the awareness about what we are playing out, we are stuck in automatic, blind, reactive behavior. We are subconsciously acting out our survival mechanism on a daily base.
There are several approaches that can support the process of de-identification with our survival mode. Addressing unresolved emotional baggage is a first step.
Many people pleasers experienced some kind of a physical or interpersonal core wounding at the young age of 6 months to 2 1/2 years. Often there was a sense of not receiving enough, feeling abandoned or neglected on some level with a sense of helplessness, as nothing in their power helped the situation (e.g. not nursed, lack of physical closeness and holding; crying and parent didn't come, mom/dad busy with own issues and emotionally not present).
A sense of "I need something" got created. This sense of "I need something" for them relates to the outside, needing something from somebody else, as there is a sense of "not being enough" oneself. Later this "I need" is often compensated into "I need to be needed", which still leaves you dependent on the outside.
The unfinished task for these people often is the ability to truly receive, to let in and feel fulfilled. There is a tendency to doubt the right to have as well as the right to need.
Because of the constant focus on the outside, often the inner reference system is not developed. It often seems impossible for these people to access and express what they really want, independent from anybody else's desires - as the whole world is always perceived in relationship to other people's needs.
At the core is a fear of being abandoned and rejected. There also seems to be the underlying constant danger of not ever receiving enough of anything.
There are several parts that need to be considered in the healing process. The EFT tapping can support all of these steps:
1. The initial big step is to gain a clear awareness of the survival strategy and to start recognizing how it is playing out in everyday interactions.
2. Underlying trauma can be uncovered and released with the help of EFT and Matrix Reimprinting (core wounds, related events and traumas).
3. Even somebody who has clearly recognized the limitations of their survival strategy and who is interested in letting go of it, often will run into a lot of resistance during the process. Having functioned as a strategy for survival for such a long time, questioning it aggravates the "ego" and brings up some degree of fear of death - what if I give it up and I actually will die or nobody will love me anymore? This resistance can be addressed with EFT tapping.
4. So far the survival mechanism, any survival mechanism has been a way of running away from our deep fear of dying, being nobody, not being loved by anybody. The running away ultimately does not work. The truth is we can't run away from our own fears - they will always wait for us somewhere, until we are willing to stop running, face them, and go beyond. Willingness to face the fear instead of running away from it can also be supported with tapping. People who are willing to face the fear and to stop running and being busy with making sure they keep everybody and the whole universe happy will actually experience a huge relief, a weight falling off their shoulders. Right underneath their fear resides a possibility of great, great freedom!
5. Another important step is learning how to shift the focus from constantly referencing self from the outside to tuning in to the inside: What truly feeds me? How can I learn to truly give to myself, to let in, receive fully, to be. This was a challenging process for me, as it felt so frustrating to try to do what serves me, but to truly not have access to that information. Tapping helped tremendously with addressing that frustration. There are many techniques that can support you coming home to yourself, re-learning how to listen to your authentic inner guidance system. Creating space for being quiet, shifting from doing to being/listening mode, meditation can be crucial. Creativity is an amazing tool to regain access to inner guidance, too. For example process oriented painting for me functions as a wonderful and inspiring training of the "muscle" of listening to the inside wisdom beyond the mind, and it allows me to bring joy, playfulness and presence in the moment back into life.
You are not your survival mechanism. I encourage you to look beyond your fears and see what you discover. This is an invitation to transform yourself from a person dependent on pleasing others into a person who knows how to be filled up from within, from her/his own source. From wholeness, true giving and sharing becomes possible. May you be able to share from abundance and bring your authentic gifts to the world!
With great gratitude to all the people who have been and are supporting my personal process and who have been an inspiration to me in many, many ways!
*See Bio Energetics and Hakomi Character Strategies
Heike Prevrhal is a certified Matrix Reimprinting and EFT Practitioner and AAMET recognized EFT Trainer. She is helping people pleasers, parents, and others throughout the Bay Area at her ReleaseIntoPeace office in San Francisco, and loves supporting her clients world wide by phone and skype (English and German). Her web site is www.ReleaseIntoPeace.net, email: email@example.com, phone: 415-652-1552.
Posted March 24, 2013 09:40 PM
This is an amazing article pertaining to the "people pleaser". It is exactly
what I needed to hear. I am at a place now where I need to learn to access my inner guidance system and trust it. Living my life according
to other people's expectaions of me was a big part of my existence.
Now that I don't do that anymore I feel very frustrated within myself
as I learn how to give to myself and be open to receive. Still not sure
how to do this for myself. I am in allot of inner turmoil at present as the false identity of "the people pleaser" no longer exists.
I would love to get some help using EFT for the final transition of coming
into my true authentic self. Do you have an EFT tapping sequence available?
Posted March 26, 2013 08:13 AM
Thanks for your comment, and congratulations for recognizing and dropping the identity of the people pleaser, YAY, huge step, give yourself some credit for this, first of all!!
Yes, it´s time to find guidance from within now, it might feel like training a muscle that has not been worked much so far. But it will grow strong with practice, trust will grow, and make life so much easier eventually!
I recommend to start tapping on the frustration...
"even though I´m feeling so frustrated, I love and accept myself, and I ask for guidance from within and choose to carefully listen for it"...
I´d also address any old resentment and pain that might still linger around:
"even though I am so frustrated about all the times I did not listen to myself, and ignored my intuition, I love and accept and forgive myself, and chose to listen from now on..."
I highly recommend engaging in some fun creative work that is process oriented (painting, movement from within,...whatever you feel drawn to) - getting in touch with creativity is a powerful and fun way of reconnecting with yourself.
I am planning to create a youtube on the topic some time soon, thanks for inspiring me to do that with your question! :o)
Here is another link to what helped me to practice that "muscle" of staying with myself, instead of being "out there" all the time:
Hope this helps,
all the best for your journey, and feel free to contact me with questions or if you are interested in more specific private sessions!
Posted April 01, 2013 12:45 PM
Thank you so very much for your guidance on moving forward
after the life of a people pleaser.
I wanted to know if you have any suggestions on tapping for
tennitus which I believe was created from not listening to my
inner guidance system. I believe that unresolved issues create
energetic blockages in our energetic field within the body. I am
wanting to heal this symptom of this loud ringing in my ears...it is
so annoying... but I have to say that my ears got me to hear what it is
trying to tell me. I can't help but hear the ringing now! ha ha
I will work with what you have suggested and see what happens
and may contact you in the future for a more individualized session.
Posted April 10, 2013 03:46 PM
There are different ways on how to address tinnitus with EFT tapping. At times tapping can bring fast relief, at times it takes a bunch of trying out and exploring, at times it might not go away. For sure you can address the negative feelings around the tinnitus (e.g. being annoyed), and that alone often can bring a lot of relief. Often underlying, unresolved trauma is related to tinnitus. The pattern of not listening to yourself (while pleasing) sure might have to do with it, too. Places to start are asking yourself what was going on in your life when the tinnitus started? What triggers it more? What unresolved trauma do you still carry around in your system? Asking your body, your subconscious what it is that it wants to tell you with the tinnitus,....
FYI, there is a link to an article, giving one example of how tinnitus was addressed in this specific case:
All the best, Heike Prevrhal!
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