Wednesday, 21 January 2015
People-pleaser or intelligent agent?
'... I know that I am a people-pleaser, so anxious to do anything to feel loved that I don't always take very good care of myself.' (In All Our Affairs, pages 81)
Superficially, people-pleasing looks like doing what is right for others rather than what is right for oneself. 'Recovery' would therefore be moving from selflessness to self-care, or even outright selfishness.
If you look carefully at this quite perfect summation, however, you'll see that people-pleasers are not remotely selfless: pleasing other people is merely a vehicle for satisfying oneself, in this case, 'feeling loved'. As Otto Fenichel says about love addicts, 'They need the supplies, and it does not matter who provides them': people-pleasers are really users.
Chuck Chamberlain points out that it is helpful to know what the problem is: the problem, then, with people-pleasing is not that one is being selfless in the place of self-caring or selfish but that one's self-centredness is irrational. We're putting ourselves first—let's make no mistake about that—but are going about getting our needs met in a manner that does not work.
Recovery involves two stages: firstly going about getting our needs met in a manner that does work, which will involve learning how to take basic actions, both practically and spiritually, to ensure our well-being; secondly, moving from a self-centred approach to life to one in which we invoke God's power to fulfil our potential as 'intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing Creation'.
What often happens in recovery is that the first stage is accomplished very well, and the individual starts to look after himself, but that the second stage never gets gotten round to: the individual ceases taking actions on other people's behalves and becomes no less self-centred, but more overtly and effectively so than before.
The Step Twelve chapter of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions sums up this trap and also this transition extremely well.
'Our desires for emotional security and wealth, for personal prestige and power, for romance, and for family satisfactions—all these have to be tempered and redirected. We have learned that the satisfaction of instincts cannot be the sole end and aim of our lives. ... It became clear that if we ever were to feel emotionally secure among grown-up people, we would have to put our lives on a give-and-take basis; we would have to develop the sense of being in partnership or brotherhood with all those around us. We saw that we would need to give constantly of ourselves without demands for repayment. When we persistently did this we gradually found that people were attracted to us as never before.'
The people-pleaser is like a delivery man who never services his van and is concerned not with what he is delivering but just with the paltry tips he is getting. Meanwhile, the van is virtually a wreck. Recovery consists not in keeping the delivery van in its garage and polishing and admiring it but in firstly getting the van in a fit state and then doing a damn good job of making deliveries regardless of whether or not tips are forthcoming: giving for the sake of giving.