The Need to Please Striking balance between self-autonomy and acceptance BY: Troy Murphy
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“He hates me; I know it!” The fear of rejection screams loud and clear. We blush with shame at the exposure of the smallest blemish. Biological programming for acceptance serves our survival needs. We needed the strength of the tribe in the past; we need the safety of relationships in the present, facing life alone easily overwhelms. But we also don’t want to blend into a faceless crowd, undefined, without recognizable boundaries of self. We must strike healthy balance.
Perfect balance between opposing forces is impossible, each side demanding more. The semblance of balance is achieved through tenuous attention; we must awkwardly bounce between self-sacrifice and personal preferences. Perhaps individual choices are not required for balance in themselves but counter-balancing self directed action with other directed action.
The demand for sameness of a partner creates shallowness. When our security depends on complete harmony of desire, true openness is threatening; the relationship must live within the façade of oneness. While underneath individuality is suppressed. The relationship is shallow, forming around the partner with the strongest personality. Trust strengthens, not from sameness, but from resolution and acceptance of differences. When differences engage creative interaction instead of fearful outbursts, trust thrives—the relationship feels safe. Leaning excessively on approval, or conversely ignorant rejection of individuality, the relationship only serves superficial needs of connection and sex.
Dispositional differences influence the comfortable balances—biological temperament, individual environments, and the resulting beliefs (conscious and unconscious). We are social creatures and most, if not all, need human interaction to thrive. But intimacy is not natural. Closeness requires more than evolutionary drives. We desire the relationship security and warmth that intimacy creates but only vaguely know the rules essential for intimate connections.
During maturation, the knowledge to create secure social bonds often fails to develop. Instead of building relationships through careful negotiations, empathy and trust, the unskilled partner either sacrifices self dignity or practices manipulative coercions.
Constant gratifying of the unmodified needs of a partner is impossible. The self doesn’t dissolve into nothingness. Unfulfilled desires ignored boil and eventually explode. The constant self-denial accumulates, and resentments form. This errant path to being liked fails, inviting victimization. In hopes of security, the self is sacrificed. When insecurity reigns, the self fades. Life is pre-occupied with gaining acceptance. Others’ responses motivate behaviors. The slightest facial expression exposes threat, ignites shame, and stumbling for approval. In this tragic state, the over-sensitivity blinds the victim to their own desires. The craving for acceptance allows others to dictate action; the self has no consistency, changing from one interaction to another. The unhealthy need to please infects and destroys genuine closeness.
"Without a concept of others, we stupidly burn bridges and limit emotional connections. Incorporating pleasing into personal relationships can catapult us past superficial connections and into intimacy."
We all have seeds of insecurity, directing attention to seek signs of approval. Society would not function without relationships. But for some, these drives plow through healthy boundaries, and the need to be liked overwhelms. Some insecurity drives conformity, in a healthy way; too much insecurity hurts. The insecure aren’t rotten people; often, they are very good people. The extreme sensitivities simply become a defining characteristic, inflicting with debilitating shame, ripening them for victimization. An unusually strong drive to please often developed from earlier experiences; approval and punishment were inconsistent. To thwart danger from the unpredictable responses of chaotic people, the child becomes astute in monitoring moods, actions and surrounding environments—an emotional and physical survival mechanism.
Programmed deep in our genes and implanted in our souls are drives to please, pushing actions to be liked. Our brains implement many sources of information, absorbing emotions and data from others. When we balance the flow of external information with knowledge of self, the desire to be liked can be healthy, driving acceptable behavior. Without a concept of others, we stupidly burn bridges and limit emotional connections. Incorporating pleasing into personal relationships can catapult us past superficial connections and into intimacy.
Behaviors limiting the richness of experience must be combated, including unhealthy thrusts to please. Change is possible. We can loosen the binding chains of the past, inviting newness to life. We must acknowledge polarizing drives of individualism and connectiveness. Professional help often is needed. Qualified experts can walk us through the emotional storms, offering insights, and practical skills. Seek time with accepting friends while limiting exposure to toxic controlling acquaintances willing to abuse our susceptibility to approval. The engrained feelings driving behavior don’t magically disappear. We can’t force underlying motivating forces to conform to new goals. We can, however, patiently structure time to comfort the inner-child frantically searching for acceptance. By compassionate acceptance of our feelings, we free ourselves from the overwhelming drives to-please, and invite more balanced dignity.