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People Pleasing

Patriarchy Perfect

I mentioned in a previous post (see my blog Boundaries), when searching for help on boundaries, I heard Terri Cole use the phrase “self-abandoning people pleaser” and immediately identified as such. I had spent the last 20 years or so slowly neglecting or not even perceiving my own needs, desires and preferences and automatically tuning into what I perceived was expected of me as a “good” girl, a “good” friend, a “good” daughter, a “good” girlfriend (and bonus parent), a “good” employee, etc. or as Dr. Valerie Rein says being “Patriarchy Perfect.”

People pleasing is safety seeking

I have been able to dive deeper into this, thanks to the work by Dr. Valerie Rein and her community of The Thriving Experience (and The Thriving Solution and Circle) and her book “Patriarchy Stress Disorder”. People pleasing is first and foremost a stress response. People pleasing is safety seeking. It is not a personality trait or a flaw, it is something which is programmed deep into our subconscious. It is not our fault! The catchphrase of Dr. Valerie’s book and coaching programmes is “It’s not me, it’s PSD.”

Freeze and appease

I had already heard about the “fight or flight” stress response, an automatic reaction to a stressful situation, in which our nervous system boosts our energy to enable our bodies to fight against or run away from imminent danger. What I didn’t know was, there is also the “freeze and appease” stress response. When our body is in a reactionary state, and we cannot or do not fight or flee, trying to appease everyone around us is a way to help us feel safe. This can also be a completely automated response.

The word safe feels a little confusing here as our modern day stress responses often get activated by the the threat of judgement, criticism and rejection. These are no longer life-threatening situations and we don’t really need to protect ourselves from them to be “safe.” But deep in our bodies, our DNA and our subconscious is the plight of our ancestors who needed to be accepted into the group to be able to survive. Rejection used to be a life-threatening situation, and not everybody’s nervous system has caught itself up to modern day life.

Rules must be obeyed

Reflecting back I can recognise my own behaviour patterns, wanting to comply and follow the rules, do what was expected of me, even if I didn’t actually want to. Breaking the rules seemed a very unsafe place to step into and even today I have a VERY STRONG compulsion inside me to follow the rules, not step out of line and not question authority. I feel this spills over into people pleasing. Complying with other people's needs in order for me to stay safe. Now I think maybe obeying the rules is what got me in this situation (of depression and burnout) in the first place.

Buried under compliance

Through these last months after burnout I realise how restricting this conditioning is. This wasn’t a conscious choice. It was already instilled into my subconscious so deeply, that it is very difficult to access and re-programme. I now notice that the times I followed the rules that went against my true nature and desires, I buried a little part of me. This eventually lead to depression, the real me being buried under a pile of compliance!

Speaking up

All this added up to a lot of blocks against being able to speak up for my own needs. Before working with Ruth Bleakley-Thiessen and Lara Riggio (see References) I found it impossible to say what I really wanted, even now, it continues to be a work-in-progress. At the moment I feel blocked when it comes to strangers. I only want to be able to ask strangers (politely, of course, as is my conditioning, God forbid I should make anybody else feel uncomfortable!) to please back off and give me more space. For example, the person behind me in the queue who I can feel bashing my rucksack or bashing me with their trolley. At some point I would like to elevate that to asking people to be quieter or to turn down their devices when I feel disturbed. Then to speaking up and calling out inappropriate behaviour.


Even just practising these basic scenarios with my therapist (who I trust) was very triggering. My body was tense and I was on edge, trying to build myself up to practise these new “moves”. My body senses a very strong threat of danger when considering speaking up to a stranger and conveys this to my mind, thus blocking me or at least making me very nervous about speaking.

Taking my time

Thanks to the inner work done with my guides and coaches I am aware of these processes and I can give myself grace and have compassion with the difficulties these new behaviours are causing. I will not beat myself up for not being able to manage straight away, after practising only once and in a safe environment. I will take my time and practise again when I feel safe.

What I need to help me through making these changes is self-love and loving self-talk. More on that in my next post….

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I think of all your blogs this one speaks to me the most so far! As I was reading it I could feel situations I've been in where I've felt exactly what you're describing.

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So glad it resonanted with you. Hope it helps.

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