The Program and the Pit
The Unconscious Roots of People Pleasing or Performance Orientation -
Hartwell M.Sc., 2007, all rights reserved.
It helps me to look at the People Pleaser (Performance
Orientation) as having a top (conscious) side and an under
(unconscious) side. The top side - called the Program -
includes the assumptions that drive the people-pleasing
behaviour. The bottom side - called the Pit - includes a
set of memories, feelings, doubts and core beliefs in the emotional
brain (The Limbic System).
Top Side: The Program
If I do right, act nice, achieve, work hard, get it right
then I will be loved, belong, be given a place in the family.
If I do wrong, offend people, fail, slack off, or make
then I will be rejected, excluded, not be loved.
Bottom: The Pits
Nobody loves me. Something is wrong with me. I
must be bad.
I don't deserve good things. People are ashamed
Feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, rage, despair.
In the shadowy unconscious of the people pleaser (The Pit) there is
deep doubt about self worth and lovability. Their heart fears
the lack of love and doubts the show of love because it believes that
nobody loves me and that I don't deserve love. These thoughts are
very sad, frightening and painful.
Having doubted that they are loved unconditionally just for who they
are, the people pleaser then goes about gaining, winning,
achieving approval and love in one way or another. For the
human soul this is a fight for survival - for the right to exist.
People pleasers sell their precious soul to hold on to
love. As a People Pleaser, I will sacrifice my very identity to
keep people happy. There is Idolatry here. God is the
source of our identity and when people are given the right to dictate
who we are, then we have made an idol of people. Note to
self: God has a low tolerance for idolatry.
comes in many forms and variations but at the root is the desperate
attempt to deny the inner messages being heard from the heart ('I am
not loved.') and escape from The Pit - from these painful messages
and the negative feelings that they generate.
The heart and mind of the child establishes various strategies to
survive in the emotional environment of his or her family.
Those strategies are based on the assumption that if love is not
natural, plentiful and given freely by mother and father, then it can
be gained by one scheme or another by the child. The child will
perform, act, do in order to be loved.
When the program is working one feels safe and good. But
success is unstable because the love gained by the program is earned,
gained, and controlled. It was not freely given. Gaining
that prize - the secure sense of being loved and avoiding rejection -
is enough to maintain the program.
However, life is not perfect, people are not always nice, and the
real world has confrontations, mistakes, scrapes and failures.
Such experiences may act as triggers to the Limbic System - the
emotional brain - to recall painful experiences, beliefs and feelings
from the Pits. Negative beliefs begin to resonate in the
unconscious and negative feelings are generated. I feel like I
am not good enough, I am not loved, I am not loveable.
That is why the People Pleaser reacts to confrontation and criticism
as if it is a major disaster - a major force of oppression - a
rejection. Anxiety, depression, shame, anger, and fear are
genearted by those core beliefs.
Comment from Shirley: "After reading the above on your
website I suddenly I realised that I have been doing the above all of
my life trying to please and I always put everyone else before
myself, I made everyone more important than myself. I realised
that I started doing this as a child in order to survive a difficult
childhood, where pleasing my parents was a matter of survival.
This habit continued through into adulthood and this behaviour
pattern was completely unconscious until I read your articles on
people pleasers then I realised and recognised myself and my method
of coping and being. Then it became clear to me that
there was another choice once I realised what I had been doing I
could choose not to continue the pattern and when I fall into 'the
Pit' next time I intend to remain there and experience what
ever is there, stay with it rather than trying to run away from it
back into the circular pattern which appears to be like a wheel and
just to see what happens if I do.
I will let you know what happens and what I experience if you are
interested that is. But I would like to thank you for your
website and for the articles you posted on it, as if you had not I
may never have discovered the source of my pain and anxiety without
you. I at least now have another option, a chance of escaping
this wheel and useless pattern." (August 2011).
Hartwell M.Sc. holds a Masters of Science in clinical psychology.
and discernment have been sharpened by over 30 years experience.