By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
This article is part of a series about the personality imprints covered in, “How We Love.” You can find an introductory article about imprints here. This article is a practical follow-up article to an article explaining the pleaser imprint. You can find that article here.
Tips taken from “How We Love” (p. 326-331)
The authors do not recommend trying to accomplish the following tasks in a few days. They suggest you first take a week or two to be sure whether you are a pleaser and then share with someone which aspects of your character or experiences put you in that category. You also need to recognize that many pleasers assume the tension they feel is stress when it’s really anxiety. As pleasers have become so accustomed to feeling this way, they assume they feel agitated because of over-scheduling rather than anxiety. The authors say the first task for pleasers is to acknowledge they feel intense anxiety most of the time about how people will react to them.
Once you acknowledge your anxiety, start on the following steps. Take as long as you need to go through them. It may take a few weeks, or even months, to get to the root of your problems.
“Act on the suggestions for as long as it takes to see results. However, if an issue doesn’t seem to apply to you, do not spend time there. Move on and try something else.” (319, 328)
1. Do you consider yourself an anxious person? Why or why not? Make a habit of praying that the Lord will make you aware of when you feel anxious. When have you felt this way recently? On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your anxiety. In which situations was your anxiety particularly intense? What makes it feel better? (328)
2. Many pleasers grew up with an overprotective or a hypercritical parent– did you? Which of your childhood experiences may have contributed to this? After you make a list of experiences, share your list with someone who loves you. (328)
3. Sometimes anxiety can overpower other unpleasant emotions. Can you remember times growing up when you shared your feelings of sadness or anger with one or both of your parents? How do you deal with these feelings now as an adult? Write a journal entry about it. (328)
4. What kinds of situations cause you to kick it into “pleaser” mode to avoid others being mad or detaching from you? List a few specific examples. In what ways do you give in to others to avoid the anxiety of refusing? Ask God to reveal to you what motivates you to agree to something. Make notes about what you realize. (328)
5. When you constantly focus on helping other people feel better, you get out of touch with your own feelings. Which feelings do you feel most in touch with? Which do you feel most out of touch with? Why do you think that is? (328)
6. Most pleasers are poor receivers because they are so focused on attending to others. How do you respond to compliments? How do you respond to a request for help? How often do you ask your spouse for anything? What do you think your answers to these questions reveal about how comfortable or experienced you are with receiving? (329)
7. It is important pleasers learn the world will not shatter into a million bits just because one person may be out of sorts with them. How do you react when your spouse is mad? Now, how do you react when they are mad at you? Do you try to appease your partner as quickly as possible? If yes, why? Take a minute to think about what might happen if you let them be upset? Sometimes I get nervous before calling strangers, so I tell myself, “Just do it. It’s not like they can hurt you through the phone.” (329)
8. Read the following verses:
Psalm 51:6 “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part you will make me to know wisdom.”
Eph. 4:25 “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.”
Col. 3:9 “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds.”
What revelations do you see God offering in these verses?
What about the following verse?
John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
Are you ever less than honest to avoid conflict? What are some ways you struggle with being honest with your spouse? Rather than avoiding conflict, practice initiating honest conversations when you are unhappy with someone. Journal about your efforts – what happened and how did it make you feel? (329)
9. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Eph 4:26)
How does this verse speak to you? What are some ways you can show your anger without sinning? (329)
10. No one looks for rejection, but pleasers run from it like a lone human survivor facing a zombie horde. Telling the ugly truth is part of dealing with people. Even Jesus faced rejection during his earthly ministry. We see this when he returned home to Nazareth in Luke 14, and in John 6, when the Jews refused to believe his teachings about being born again. How would your interactions with people be different if you were able to withstand someone else’s unpleasant reaction? (329)
11. Pleasers tend to avoid spending time alone. Is it hard for you to be by yourself? Why? How do you feel when you’re alone? Next time you are alone, list the emotions you experience. (329-330)
• How does it make you feel when your spouse asks for space or to spend time with others without you? Why do you think their request makes you feel that way? Do you sometimes try to make your spouse feel guilty for wanting to spend time away from you? How do you accomplish this? How do your efforts affect your marriage?
• Do you enjoy spending time without your spouse? What do you like to do when you are apart? Does this temporary separation help your marriage? If you do not enjoy being away from your spouse, why do you think you feel that way?
12. Stepping out of your comfort zone is unpleasant; that’s why it is called a “comfort” zone. A lot of pleasers developed their imprint because they were never encouraged to step beyond their comfort zone. For this exercise, think about something that intimidates you, or you normally avoid, and give yourself a deadline to try it. (Tackling a tricky recipe, making a new friend, karaoke, etc.) After you have done it, talk to someone about what the experience felt like. (330)
13. Is it hard for you to make decisions? What kind of decisions are the worst? Take a minute to think about a small decision you can make on your own without consulting someone else. As the authors phrase it, consider this an opportunity to exercise your independence muscles. (330-331)
14. Refusing people’s requests is hard for lots of people, not just pleasers. But agreeing to too many commitments can make you overburdened and resentful. Do you ever feel like people take advantage of your generosity to get you to do things? Think of a simple, direct way to refuse such as, “I’m sorry I can’t help; I have too much on my plate right now,” and practice saying it aloud. The authors recommend journaling about how it feels to say it to someone. As people are so used to hearing you say yes, prepare to see a few funny faces when you don’t. (331)
15. Pleasers can tend to be controlling in an effort to keep their world predictable and safe. What are some ways you see yourself doing this in your life? (331)
16. “Are you direct or indirect when you communicate? Why? How does your spouse react?” (331)
Anxious and Alone
While these steps and exercises are sure to be helpful, sometimes individual practice is not enough to help with issues such as anxiety. You may also want to make an appointment with a professional Christian counselor. Changing core behaviors you have had a lifetime to entrench is a herculean task. Having a professional you can sit down with every week or so to talk to about your progress will be more productive than struggling alone. Also, if you are married, a Christian marriage counselor can sit down with you both to discuss how your individual imprints affect your marriage and what you can do to improve how you relate to one another.
If anxiety continues to rule your life, consider consulting a professional Christian counselor, or psychiatrist, to discuss where medication may be necessary for you to get your unease under control. Many people try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Talk to someone you trust about whether this dangerous behavior may be true for you.
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