Love Equations: People-pleasing
Note: This article is one several discussing people-pleasing, love, connection, and my approach to each.
People-pleasing is personal for me. I grew up in a home where my father was an avoidant “soft” narcissist, and my mother a people-pleaser care-taker. My step-mother is a borderliner. I learned from them that their form of love was pain, manipulation, distance and shame. This song from Woodkid describes my experience of my childhood quest to feel loved, to belong, and to be seen:
I escaped this nightmare equation through difficult, messy, and liberating “healing”. I emerged with a new equation to what love is for me – one that shows and tells me my value is in my simple existence. Not in what I do. Not in how I look or even behave. But in the simple, undeniable fact I exist. This doesn’t mean I am free of shame, fear, or insecurity. I wrestle with these in various aspects of my life. The difference now is that I invite them to be seen, heard and connected to rather than further buried and shunned. This is all the result of changing what I call The Love Equation™.
The Love Equation
The Love Equation™ concept is my attempt to simplify the expression of what we expect or need in order to feel love. It came out of a 4 month stint of exploring how we expect love to work. I needed something simple and nearly universally understandable so it would be highly effective. Since most everyone has a love of math (everyone loves math, right? no? ohhh…), I figured I’d go with an equation. Here is the result:
On the left you have the outcome that you’ll feel (which is Love). On the right, you have the variables that we believe must exist before we can feel love. Some of the variables will contain unhealthy or unnecessary factors. Some will be legitimate conditions. We all have a individual equation at work right now with this relationship to love. Some of us have many variables. Some of us have few. In people-pleasing, this equation is altered in a fundamental way that prevents love being fully realized in our daily experience. Let’s take a look at the People-pleasing Love Equation.
The People-pleasing Love Equation
Did you notice the changes and caveats in the equation? The people-pleaser changes the “Love” to “I’m Loveable”. This makes their value and worth conditional on getting the variables met. This effectively prevents any love getting in and settling into their being in a lasting way. They’re displacing responsibility to their personal worth onto the actions of others, inadvertently making them the authority over their self-worth and image. This starves the pleaser quickly, leading them to develop the classic behaviors of codependency (pleasing, care-taking, fixing, proving, and enabling).
This equation further limits their access to love by requiring it to come from specific people (and sometimes places or circumstances or things). It is important to the pleaser to gain the validation of their target repeatedly because they see this other person as the authority over their personal worth. They do this because they’re unconsciously trying to renegotiate the deep self-image wound they received from what I call the “Trusted Authority” in their lives (their parents, religion or God usually).
People-pleasing Is About Control
More accurately, its about controlling resources of love that are outside the person or self. This is necessary because they need to maintain the Love Equation’s requirements so they feel lovable. This concept congealed in my mind after extensive study of relationship (including materials from Kelly Bryson, Darlene Lancer, Lisa A. Romano, Ross Rossenberg, Greg Baer, and Patrick Carnes). The means to this false control come through the pleasing, care-taking, fixing, and enabling behaviors of the pleaser.
The codependent often chooses relationships where they feel needed by the other person. They believe if they’re needed, they’ll never be left or abandoned. Abandonment is the core fear and wound of the pleaser. Abandonment equals proof of being truly, intrinsically unlovable to them. It has not yet developed in them that people leave others for their own reasons and never due to the value of the other person. Further, it hasn’t occurred to them that being wanted is the real glue to a relationship’s longevity and satisfaction. Being wanted is a highly foreign and nearly incomprehensible concept for the pleaser. “Why would anyone want someone that was so shameful and disgusting?” is often the secret thought in their minds.
The people the codependent chooses are often narcissistic in nature. Because of their charisma and charm, they easily hook the pleaser through lavish praise, adoration and approval in the beginning. They then pull back, and withhold such gifts as the pleaser begins to feed their supply. This withdraw of “love” causes the people-pleaser to feel a sense of abandonment. This motivates them to chase the avoidant/narcissistic individual and give more and more to them. The codependent is hoping they’ll once again satisfy the other side of the pleaser’s love equation. The pleaser must learn what real love is, how it behaves, and why it does what it does before they can break this cycle.
Being Loveable Is What Is Really Sought After
The pleaser is obsessed subconsciously with proving their worth as a person. Not their worth in a skill or a specific focus in life (like a job or career). But as a human being. This stems from the core self-image of being a shameful creature. They believe themselves – the who of their person – to be innately unlovelable. This conclusion stems from how their wants, needs, feelings and person were repeatedly received by their Trusted Authority (usually the parents, a church or deity, or all the above). To heal, the pleaser must be guided through reforming this conclusion into “I am loveable”. This shifts their internal Love Equation™ to its natural form. They become naturally available to receiving and contributing real love at this point.
What Real Love Is
Real love to a codependent is foreign, deeply uncomfortable, and partially (if not mostly) invisible. That’s because people-pleaser “love” was enshrouded with expectation, with serving the other while being void of need, want, and expectation on the people-pleaser’s part. To have wants, needs, feelings, and desires is a cardinal sin in the Codependent Love Equation.
In the Real Love Equation, those things are the utmost valued components. The pleaser experiences their needs, wants, feelings, and desires as being deeply valued by others. These trusted sources respectfully and lovingly contribute to the former pleaser in ways that fit their Love Equation. The former pleaser experiences satisfaction and a fullness within those needs. This empowers the former pleaser to advocate and share themselves freely with these others, thereby creating a natural cycle of reciprocity and connection.
Factors That Drive the Codependent Love Equation
There are central factors that drive my Codependent Love Model. These must be understood before evolution can begin. Some of the critical factors are:
- Lacking a Sense of Self
- Nature of Being Other-oriented
Brene Brown defines shame as a statement of “I am flawed”. To extend this definition, I would say shame says to a codependent, “They didn’t love you because who you are is flawed.” Take a moment if this hits hard. It hit me hard when I wrote it just now. I have a memory when I felt my mother cut off love to who I am when she found me expressing curiosity about the differences between girls and boys. I felt very shameful and “who I was is bad” in that moment, especially since the curiosity felt so deep inside my body.
This concept that others didn’t love the pleaser because of who they were is the core of the entire model. The habits of controlling, fixing, enabling, proving and pleasing are simply skills they developed to get some love from the unavailable, toxic and deficient sources they knew of at the time.
Resolution of shame is the cyclical process of becoming aware that they’re feeling shame, stepping into that shame to observe the pain, sharing it with trusted sources, and welcoming in the empathic response this generates. In other words, resolving the shame requires what the pleaser been seeking this whole time: genuine reception of their feelings. You can learn more through this guide here: The Shame Resilience Guide
Lacking a Sense of Self
This is the state of not being aware of one’s personal “isness”. Because of the systemic and constant destruction of boundaries, the pleaser has lost a sense of “I end here. You begin there.” Discerning what is theirs and what is the other’s is a challenge of questions and confusion riddled with uncertainty and anxiety. “How do I know I want this? How do I know this will be what they want?”
Training themselves into a sensitivity of their beingness allows them to come into their individual “isness”. Part of this process involves what I call the “Want Sense”. This process is built on Mindfulness of the body signals of desire and repulsion. I use these as a guide to tapping into what the pleaser wants in THE MOMENT. Present “Wantness” begins to enlighten them to their innate boundaries and their immediate wants and needs. They are now empowered to choose more effectively and experience more fulfillment.
Nature of Being Other-oriented
Its pleaser’s nature to serve others and find fulfillment in this. Example: I’m a coach. Previous to that, I was in IT. I excelled in solving problems and that served people. I found great satisfaction in that I could contribute to others in ways that really mattered to them. I find great satisfaction in the success of each of my clients. Their lives are changing, partly due to my contributions, and much to do with their action. Its a beautiful experience to me.
This is part of who I am. I lose a sense of me without it. That is how I know it is part of me. Understanding my nature is central to me building a lifestyle (boundaries, preferences, and respect for limitations) that serves my health and happiness first. My life and my regard for myself radically changed when I realized I was not respecting myself by trying to get rid of this part of me. My acceptance and then proper self-governance set me free to contribute and connect. I am able to thrive through my other-oriented nature because its balanced with the Me-oriented nature I also have (which is personafied by my wants, needs, likes, and dislikes, and limitations).
The pleaser will discover the gift of their caring nature, as well as the reality that they can be self-choosers. They will find that choosing themselves is a kind and loving act towards Self. They will find balance within themselves. Their reciprocity will empower their contributions and creativity and they will flourish in success.
Pleasers believe control of others is real. They believe this fantasy control could protect them if only they could get it. They hunger for it because they’ve felt so controlled by others. By the other person’s feelings, pain, anger and avoidance. Sometimes even by their mere presence. This control of others is an illusion (read more here). The pleaser breaks into deep freedom and flow when they come to accept control isn’t an attainable solution and accept that vulnerability + personal power is.
This is where the people-pleaser begin to learn emotion mastery. Self-regulation emotionally is a skill we’re taught by our parents and immediate family as a young child. Since the pleaser lived with unregulated parents, they learned to either freeze, fawn (pleasing others), flee (flight), or fight. These habits are carried over into other relationships and if not resolved into meaningful connection and vulnerability, lead to dysfunction and unnecessary conflict.
Regulation is achieved through connection with the feeling. Connection feels like: being seen for our pain, our pain being respected and valued, and feeling the care and empathy from a source (either within or outside of ourselves). This allows the emotional self to feel some resolution and safely step into a new emotional state. Regulation can be achieved through a variety of methods. I teach the Sedona Method, The Work by Byron Katie, and Mindfulness. These have helped me and my clients discover regulation and what works best for us individually.
Evolving from Pleasing to Real Love
Evolution is a precarious process. It will look a lot like this:
This is ok. My personal journey into loving myself and embracing my ‘loveableness” helped me develop a framework that I have used on 100’s of my clients over the past 8 years. This framework’s foundation is called COREM.
Ever notice that you succeeded and grew the most with things you were genuinely energized about? Me, too. My curiosity lead me to being the coach I am today, along with being an expert in computers, The Alien movie universe, and ice cream. This is the gift humanity shares universally. We’re driven to discover (rather than to know, which is what perfectionism likes to teach). We find a thrill in experiencing a new thing. And that keeps us growing, thriving, and evolving.
Science as validated this. “Mindset: the New Psychology of Success” by Carl Dweck explores how Curiosity and what she called “The Growth Mindset” have enabled the success of the species. She highlights how high performance sports stars, business individuals, and leaders in various fields achieve through their willingness to discover solutions and be teachable. The use of curiosity on a deliberate, frequent basis cultivates this mindset.
Feeling powerless is the universal factor I found in my journey and those of my clients. Powerless to change the other person. Powerless over my feelings. Powerless in my circumstances. I was an expert at blaming factors outside of me for the choices I’d made, and for the results I earned. To make lasting change, we have to be willing to own our shit and learn where to put it to gain the most benefit. The shit in our lives are the mistakes, errors, and difficult choices we have had to make. They are the fertilizer for the beauty in life, though, for in these difficult experiences is the wisdom that gives us insight, clarity, and motivation to make lasting change.
We come to feel our power as we take on our challenges and discover (yay! curiosity in action) that we are more than our limited thinking wants us to believe.
Growth is a bitch, to be honest. Its not easy. Its often repetitive. Circumstances show up that knock us off our new found sense of self. Our new mindset struggles to take hold. We find ourselves doing the “two-steps back, one step into-the-shit” dance. This is all totally normal, and is the core reason Resiliency is part of the COREM.
Resiliency means to “bounce back”. We take the set-back, rest, and then “get back up on the horse and face this thing”. This affirms our power. It utilizes our curiosity. It proves to our inward skeptic that we’ve got the grit required to see out lasting change within our behaviors, thinking, and choices. We build a trust that we can depend on ourselves, and a confidence that is resilient in the face of failure and uncertainty. We also utilize empathy, compassion and gentleness to nurture a loving, curios mindset and reduce the unnecessary self-loathing we often show up with in the beginning of all this.
We must be able to care for our emotions inwardly and invite outward support and connection from trusted sources in order to shift from neediness and control to vulnerability and free exchange of love and energy between any involved in the relationship. This is where Empathy empowers us. We begin to experience how our emotions and experiences are valuable to others, and see that we can care for and nurture ourselves. We’re able to feel compassion for our pain and troubles. We can ask support and allow ourselves to receive it. We can shift the dysfunction of our relationships from being right to being connected, understood and valued.
Empathy neutralizes the shame we encased our self-image and allows us to see ourselves through a new lens of inward acceptance, approval, and inclusion.
Mindfulness brings us into the Present moment and presents us with the ability to make choices from our present power. It helps us avoid the pitfalls of avoidance and denial. We’re able to get into genuine connection with our feelings through it, and re-order how our minds and bodies react to circumstances. Mindfulness is the hub of all the healing approaches I employ, and has been instrumental in permanent and lasting change in my life and those of my clients.
Growth into “I’m Loveable” is utterly attainable. It does require investment on our individual parts. We invest time, trust, money, and cooperation. This enables us to discover the real truth, and choose from there. Let me and my journey help you achieve this faster. Reach out today and lets talk about what will serve you best in your journey!
Your friend and fellow badass self-chooser,
- Real Love, By Greg Baer
- The Human Magnet Syndrome, by Ross Rossenberg
- Conquering Shame & Codependency, by Darlene Lancer
- I Thought It Was Just Me, by Brene Brown
- Codependent: Now What?, by Lisa A. Romano