Life & Relationship Coach Susan Britt, M.Ed.

                   THE PEOPLE PLEASER'S SYNDROME                                      By Susan Britt, M.Ed.
         Columnist Gloucester Daily Times, Gloucester, MA
      Picture yourself looking into a mirror and staring into your own eyes. How do you feel? Is this person the most important one in your life? Do you like and love the person you see? Is this individual your kindest, most loving friend?
Or, do you feel uncomfortable looking at yourself? Are you critical and unloving of the person you see? Are you more committed to pleasing others than you are to pleasing yourself? If the latter is your reaction to self-examination, then you probably experience some of the symptoms of co-dependency.
     Co-dependency is a term that grew out of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement to describe a frequently occurring dysfunction of the nonalcoholic partner in a marriage.  It meant that the spouse was often emotionally dependent on the neediness of the alcoholic in order to feel good about himself or herself.
     Basically, co-dependency means being other-oriented to such a degree that it is damaging to yourself.  If you are co-dependent in relationship to others, you may: 
                  ~  Agree with the opinions or decisions of others even when you      strongly disagree, just so others will "like" you or to "keep the peace."
                  ~   Frequently sacrifice your own values, interests and concerns in order to  remain connected with others.                                                      
                  ~   Generally be more aware of the feelings of others than you are of your own.
                   ~   Be emotionally, financially or physically supportive of others, even when  doing so is harmful to you.
        • Judge the quality of your own life solely in relation to the quality of others.
        • Try to run the lives of those around you, by making decisions for them, offering unsolicited advice, or by convincing them that they are incapable of directing their own lives.
        • Try to change the ideas or behavior of others to reflect yours, "....for their own good."
        • Be overly loyal to people, situations or organizations; and remain loyal far too long.
        • Never ask for help or encouragement from other people.
        • Lavish gifts or praise on those you care about, but feel extremely uncomfortable when these are offered to you.
        • Feel you must be needed in order to have a relationship.
        • Constantly minimize, alter, or deny your own feelings.
    If you recognize yourself in these examples, your behavior probably fits
    one of two patterns: attempting to control others by changing their behaviors and ideas, or being overly compliant to the wishes and demands of those around you.
     Neither of these people-pleasing tendencies is a way of relating that creates healthy relationships. So ask the mirror, mirror on the wall: "Am I co-dependent and people pleaser to all?"    
     If you or someone you know demonstrates these tendencies and you would like to send me a comment or share with other readers your experiences and methods of dealing with people-pleasing, please write to me at or respond through My Blog at the top of this page.

by Susan Britt, M.Ed., Columnist for the Gloucester Daily Times, Gloucester, MA
      Even in the most ideal relationships there will be times when stress, problems, and/or differing moods or points-of-view will culminate in verbal fighting. While excessive verbal sparring is not a healthy behavior pattern, it is perfectly normal for those in relationships to experience occasional verbal conflict. In fact, counselor and consultant John Bradshaw describes the capacity for healthy conflict as both a mark of intimacy and of a healthy marriage or family.
      If you are involved in a healthy relationship, you do not become hopelessly mired in your conflict. You also do not reach solutions by always "agreeing not to disagree." Rather, you’re committed to working out your differences. Sometimes, this search for honest communication and compromise means that you will argue. The secret to making this verbal disagreement a healthy interaction is to fight, but to fight fair and come away with a resolution that works for both of you. Demonstrating that each cares that their partner feels heard, understood, and that there is something in the resolution for both of you, can bring you closer together.
     In his book "Bradshaw On the Family" he describes 10 basic Fair Fighting Rules. These are guidelines that allow for true communication even in the midst of serious arguments:
1) Be assertive, not aggressive. Don’t use threats or intimidation. Be self-evaluating, rather than concentrating on "getting" the other person at any cost or "winning" the argument.
2) Stay in the here and now, and avoid score-keeping. Address the issue at hand, instead of dredging up a litany of mistakes from the past. (I’d really like you to be more conscientious about taking out the trash," rather than "a week ago I had to do it and two weeks ago I had to do it almost every day.") Better is "when I have to take out the trash when you don’t do it, I feel taken advantage of and that you don’t understand how overwhelmed I feel with other chores."
3)Avoid lecturing: "You’ll never have a good job because you don’t have the right education and you don’t care." Instead, focus on concrete, specific behavior: "I think part of the problem is your degree. Maybe we could work something out so you could take a course or two, if you want."
4) Avoid judgment. Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. ("I wish we could eat dinner more on schedule," instead of "you don’t care; you’re always late for dinner.")
5) Be honest. Concentrate on accuracy and not on agreement or perfection. Instead of saying,"I always have to monitor the kids and their homework because you never worry about it," express your feelings realistically: "We agreed we’d both check on the homework situation. I just really wish you’d be more involved with it, so I could take a night off here and there."
 6) Don’t argue about extraneous details. ("You were 20 minutes late leaving for the party." "No, I was 18 minutes late.")
7) Don’t assign blame.
8) Use active listening techniques. Listen. Repeat back what you hear the other person say. Get the other person’s agreement about what you heard him or her say. Then give your own response and follow the same process.
9) Fight about one thing at a time. Don’t argue about every single issue, whether minor or serious, that you may have on your mind.
10) Hang in there, unless you are being abused. Search for a solution instead of being "right" or running away. This is an important part of reaching real compromise and understanding through verbal fights.
Remember, "winning" or having to be "right" creates a situation where someone then has to "lose" or be "wrong." If one of the partners feels that way, it builds resentment and anger because nothing has really been solved and he or she will feel emotionally dismissed and uncared for. Solutions are about making the relationship work and grow to the benefit of each.
            How Your Basic Beliefs Affect Your Life         By Susan Britt, M.Ed.    

         Although Ellen is a smart, friendly, 25 year old, she somehow always seems to  find herself in low-paying, un-fulfilling  jobs.  She has turned down several jobs that offer higher wages because she feared she couldn’t perform up to the expected standards.   Even though she grew up in a comfortable, middle class family she now lives in a crime ridden neighborhood and her apartment offers only the bare necessities.   When she can, she will buy small gifts for others but never anything for herself.  She has a small circle of friends, no boyfriend, and seldom goes out.  She often feels lonely.  Ellen’s life is a reflection of her long held belief that “I don’t deserve prosperity.”  This belief is a constant,  automatic, unconscious message to herself that motivates and controls her personal life, career goals, and relationships with others.  Because she believes that she isn’t deserving of abundance or rewards on any level, she creates a life that serves and reinforces that unconscious belief and manifests in self-denial and unhappiness. 
        James, on the other hand, holds a different basic belief: “Women will not find me appealing and will reject me.”  He is 35 years old and lives alone in an apartment he calls “the hideout.”  John has a busy social life, but has few long term relationships.  He will often date a woman once or twice and then be turned down for an additional date.  In the few instances when he was able to sustain a relationship for a number of months, he found it to be unsatisfying.  He usually felt unsupported, unappreciated, or used by his girlfriends.   Because James is unconsciously controlled by the belief that he will be rejected, he fulfills the prophecy by choosing girlfriends with whom he has little in common and who will indeed treat him badly and reject him.  Nevertheless, James deeply desires to have a long term  relationship that will ultimately lead to marriage and a family.
     In both of these cases, the basic beliefs of each, “I don’t deserve prosperity,” and “Women will reject me” have trapped them into creating unhappy lives.  Even if other options and choices are possible, these individuals unconsciously and automatically choose situations that keep them locked into their belief systems’ scripts.  This will continue until they are willing to look at their own behavior and identify what is unconsciously motivating them.  Once their negative, destructive beliefs are identified they must actively, consciously work to replace them with more positive, constructive beliefs: “I deserve happiness and prosperity” and “Women will respect me and find me appealing as a man and as a possible husband.” 
       The first step is to own and take responsibility for their negative thoughts, the second is to believe they can change them and therefore their lives, and third to write them down and catch those negative thoughts as they occur and then repeatedly turn them into positive, life affirming beliefs. We human beings engage in a wide assortment of basic beliefs both positive and negative that have an enormous impact on the quality of our lives.    Perhaps it’s “I can do this,”  “I am a capable person” or “People like and respect me.” Or the negative, “I have the worst luck,” “I’m not smart... or good-looking... or accomplished enough,” or “No one really cares about me.” 
        Begin to sort out your own basic beliefs.  Take time to really examine what motivates you.  Once you have done so, ask yourself if your belief system holds you back from attaining what you really want if life,  or if it motivates you in a more positive way.  If you can, work to replace any negative basic beliefs with more upbeat ones.   By changing your negative self-fulling prophecies to positive ones you will open the way to engaging in the behaviors and choices that can create myriad and wonderful possibilities for your life.   
Based in Rockport, Psychotherapist and Life Coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth.  Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or through her website
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