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George Hartwell M.Sc.

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Performance Orientation / People pleasing

The Program and the Pit

The Unconscious Roots of People Pleasing or Performance Orientation - Core Beliefs

© George 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 a mistake
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 of me.

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.

People Pleasing 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).


George Hartwell M.Sc. holds a Masters of Science in clinical psychology.

His empathy and discernment have been sharpened by over 30 years experience.

Fees for sessions with George are $100 per hour.

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Office is 1454 Dundas St. East in Mississauga, Suite 125.  Main intersection: Dundas and Dixie.

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