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From Pleasing to Disappearing

Lately, a "stream" of "rebelling pleasers" have come to visit me in my practice. People who feel like "they got lost" in their relationships and can take it no more.

For years, they cooperated with plans and tastes and experiences they did not enjoy, in order to be "a good partner". They did it because a) they saw no other way to stay in the ralationship or b) they felt like they had to fight, or come on too strong, when they wanted to say "no" or place a boundary. They explain that there is no real dialogue. "I always have to fight for what I want! I don't want to fight! I just want to be considered!"

For some people, saying what they want and taking it, is obvious, easy. No guilt and no strings attached. They want it, they do it. For others, even asking for what they want in their relationships, is perplexing, confusing and guilt-ridden: "How will it affect my partner? My children?".

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It is a sad truth, but it seems to be quite prevalent. Pleasing partners often attract and connect to more narcissistic ones and are constantly shocked when discovering that their partners are not like them. They constantly experience not being taken into account, or thought about and their day, their schedule, their life... are all affected by it. 

When trying to get what they want, the pleasers suggest it: "I'd like us to go visit my parents for the weekend" or, "I think we need to cut expenses". Their partners may respond calmly and quietly, saying: "I have a lot of work to do this weekend" or " Let's talk about it later", but NEVER actually get back to discussing what their partner needed or suggested. They just simply act as if it never happened or it was never said. No conflict there, just the constant ignoring of their partners needs and requests.

On the other hand the more assertive partner simply announces: "I told my Mom that we'd come over this weekend" or "We're not taking that vacation- we simply can't afford it". In both cases, the pleaser is left baffled, angry and hurt, but with not much to say. They do not want to come across as the one who is disrespectful of the in-laws or the one who is irresponsible regarding finances. And they will, if they dare contest their partners' statement. It will turn into a fight. and they will be blamed. They simply cannot win. They "get all emotional", or "quiet" and they are blamed for that as well. On the other hand, the movement of the narcissistic partner is so subtle sometimes, that it becomes impossible to trace.

This may "work" for both sides for many years...until it doesn't. At one point the pleaser feels "erased" or becomes unhappy and bitter, not really understanding how it all evolved. 

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However, pleasers who cannot bear who they've become over the years, have to rebel or leave, in order to find themselves and recover their identity. The "blindness" or "deafness" they experienced from their partner over the years, makes it legitimate in their eyes to now be "egotistical" and "inconsiderate". They often feel like it is "their turn" for compensation and free will. They express bitterness and resentment and often become very hard to live with.

In relationships, there is a very fine line between "doing your own thing" and being totally "blind or deaf" to your partner. At the same time, there is a fine line between between accommodating your partner and disappearing altogether. If we don’t want to be alone or have our children grow up in two separate homes, we all have a lot to learn about relating to each other. It is important for us "pleasers" to wake up early in our love relationships before "getting lost", as it is important for those of us with more assertive or even narcissistic tendencies, to wake up and make room for the other we chose to share our lives with. The awakening is equally hard for both sides, even painful, but when explored together, it can be extremely rewarding for both. It can open a whole new option of truly sharing life.

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