It may surprise some readers that my posts over the past couple of days have led up to today’s review of Les Carter’s 2018 self-help book, When Pleasing You Is Killing Me. Les Carter Ph.D. is a psychologist based out of the Dallas, Texas area. He has an excellent YouTube channel about how to deal with narcissists and other “high conflict” people. I discovered his channel a couple of years ago, when Bill and I were dealing with the after-effects of our dealings with our former landlady. At the time I discovered Dr. Carter’s channel, I was feeling quite burdened and distressed about the situation we were in, which I didn’t feel comfortable writing much about publicly.
Three years have since passed, and as promised, and probably expected, I am dishing about that situation a bit more. In spite of what some people might think, that issue caused a lot of problems for Bill and me. A lot of the problems stemmed from an ongoing personality quirk that affects Bill, in particular. He is a classic “people pleaser”. He will often bend over backwards to keep the peace and avoid disappointing people. The end result is that he often attracts people with a high need for control, to include his ex wife, a former boss who tormented him in a war zone, and our ex landlady. All three of these folks quickly recognized that Bill has a tendency to acquiesce and go with the flow. And all three of them caused him, and me, significant angst.
And what about me? What am I doing in Bill’s life? Am I a “people pleaser”, or am I yet another “high control” person in Bill’s world? Actually, most of the time, I don’t think I fit either description, at least not at this point in my life. Therapy did a lot for me. Bill is welcome to offer his opinion of what he thinks about that. Other people have told me they think I’m pretty assertive, which is what I strive to be as much as possible. But, because I am married to a guy who hates to disappoint people and strives to give his all to everything, I sometimes catch some of the aftermath of his “people pleasing” ways. That means, sometimes, I get trapped in dilemmas like the living situation we were in a few years ago.
I really like Dr. Carter’s videos. I think he’s a very wise man, and I like his calm, gentle, but firm, approaches to situations that can arise with people who have a strong need to call all the shots. Bill has watched the videos with me, and he also likes Dr. Carter.
I’ve also read a couple of Dr. Carter’s other books– The Anger Trap and Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me: How to Recognize and Manage the Narcissists in Your Life. They were both good books. And since I’ve had When Pleasing You Is Killing Me in my stack of “books to be read” for over two years, I figured now was a good time to read it. I just finished reading this morning, so now it’s time for a review.
What is “people pleasing” behavior, and why is it a bad thing?
“People pleasing” behavior is appeasing behavior that is intended to avoid conflict with others. People pleasers will often put a more controlling person’s needs ahead of their own. People pleasers will do anything they can to avoid the unpleasant confrontations that can arise when an overbearing person doesn’t get their way.
In the short term, “people pleasing” can seem like a good thing, since it will often keep a high conflict person from erupting into aggressiveness. Some people pleasers will even assume that engaging in people pleasing helps them avoid pain. However, as Dr. Carter points out in his book, “people pleasing” actually just postpones the pain, or causes a different kind of pain, which can also affect other people. When that pain is postponed or shared with other people, it can turn into compounded pain. Compounded pain is not a better solution, since all that happens is that it’s multiplied, and now affects more people. Misery loves company, right?
Here’s an extreme example of how appeasing people can only postpone, or even compound, pain. And before anyone drags me for writing this, let me assure everyone that this is something Bill and I have talked about extensively and agree upon. I’ve also already written about it a lot, so this rather personal explanation shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads my blog regularly.
My husband’s first wedding day was not a good day. He knew, deep down, that she wasn’t a good match for him. But he’d already committed to marrying her, and he didn’t want to disappoint her, or her son. Out of pity, he felt the need to try to rescue her. Deep down, he also feared she might be his only chance for a wife.
So Bill ignored the voices and went through with the wedding, and he and his ex wife did not have a happy marriage. The marriage was not based on love or mutual respect. Consequently, it ended in divorce, and extreme parental alienation. Bill also almost lost his military career.
When we met, Bill was living on about $600 a month. He was recovering from financial disaster and enduring abuse from his ex wife, who was extremely angry that he’d agreed to divorce her. She’d only meant the divorce demand as a way to humiliate him into getting back under her control.
When Bill agreed to the divorce, it caused a severe narcissistic injury. She’d expected him to fight for her. But their marriage was a disaster. Left in the aftermath was his former stepson, who had known him as his dad, and two young daughters.
Ex quickly married another man and forced his daughters to call the new man “dad”, while she did her best to destroy Bill’s connections with his kids, his parents, his church, his friends, and his career. He had been talked into paying an excessive amount of child support and alimony, and was covering the mortgage for a house he had never wanted and wasn’t living in, which Ex had awarded to herself but couldn’t afford. It eventually went into foreclosure which, coupled with an earlier bankruptcy, temporarily ruined Bill’s credit.
See what I mean about compounding the pain?
Then I came along, and while I adore Bill and will never regret marrying him, decisions he made to appease his ex wife have also affected me. Because he allowed her to control the money in their relationship, he was recovering from serious financial problems when we first met. Because he let her talk him into having a vasectomy, we were not able to conceive– at least not without medical intervention, which we could not afford when the time would have been optimal to have children. Ex, meanwhile, had two more children with her third husband. And because he allowed his ex wife sole custody of their daughters, they grew up without Bill or most of his family in their lives. He let her control the narrative, simply to avoid one of her epic blow ups. In the end, not only was he hurt, but so were many people he cares for very deeply– me, his parents, his stepmother, his sister, and the children, among others.
Fortunately, in our case, things improved dramatically after a few years passed. Working together, we eventually completely fixed the financial issues. Bill recovered his military career and thrived in it, leading him to be a highly sought after contractor after his successful retirement.
The girls and their older brother grew up, which helped with the finances, since child support ended. Bill voluntarily paid support for his stepson, which seems generous, but in many ways, caused more problems. Stepson has a father, who was also denied access to him, and his father should have been paying support and seeing his son. The money Bill paid was later turned into a bone of contention that eventually ruined their relationship. But, there was also an opportunity for Bill to be assertive with Ex’s son, which was ultimately a good thing, even if they no longer speak.
Bill’s younger daughter has reconnected with him, which is a great thing. Her sister is still estranged, but that’s her choice. While I would have liked to have had children of my own, now that I see how the world is going– I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I don’t have them. But my point is, that if he’d just been honest– and firm– with his ex wife on, or preferably way before that wedding day in August 1990, a lot of this shit would have been avoided. Of course, he might have also married someone else who treated him better, which might have meant we never would have met… but actually, I think we were probably destined to be together.
What might have seemed like a bad decision, made back in 1990, for Bill and Ex alone, eventually turned into a bad decision that still affects a lot of us in 2021.
Lest anyone think I’m letting myself off the hook, I will hasten to add that I’ve certainly made some past decisions that were “people pleasing” in nature, or at the very least, the path of what seemed to be the least resistance. Let me just state that taking the “easier” path really has the potential to postpone pain, rather than avoid it completely. Many times, it’s much better to cause a little anger and strife by being assertive. Allowing other people’s needs to override your own may avoid a blow up, but that practice will often end in heartache or, at the very least, inconvenience and unnecessary expense. Many people worry that being assertive will cause damage to a relationship, but as Dr. Carter points out below…
This isn’t to say that being assertive won’t cause issues sometimes. Some people don’t appreciate it when you stand your ground, even if you do it calmly. In the past few months I have twice been approached by people who were hoping to rope me into doing things I didn’t want to do. While I could have been more assertive in those situations, in the end, I didn’t end up being stuck with “assignments” I didn’t want. One person got mad and ditched me as a “Facebook friend”, which is regrettable, but ultimately fine, since he wasn’t actually a friend. The other one now knows that I’m not the “go to” person when she has a thankless task to unload on someone. That’s a win for me.
What makes Dr. Carter’s book a good choice for help with chronic “people pleasing” behavior?
Dr. Carter’s book outlines less extreme examples of how “people pleasing” can lead to problems, not just for the person who does the people pleasing, but also for anyone else who is connected with them. He includes an example of a woman whose mother is intrusive and overbearing. She inserts herself in their business and tells them how they should do everything from budgeting their money to doing the laundry. Yes, it causes grief for her daughter, but it also really upsets her son-in-law, who is not as much of a people pleaser as his wife is. So now, the daughter has to deal with the annoyance of her mother who ignores boundaries, and the massive resentment that causes her husband.
In another example, Dr. Carter writes of a dentist who bends over backwards to help his patients. He strives to give them the absolute BEST care at all times. But no one’s perfect, and you can’t please everybody, so the dentist would still get complaints from his patients. Instead of being calm and assertive in handling the complaints, the dentist took them personally and worked even harder to please. He ended up with an ulcer, and still got petty complaints from people.
This isn’t to mean that working to provide excellent care and good customer service are bad things. Of course the dentist is right to want to make his patients happy. But his desire to be the best dentist was leading to bad things for his health, and probably his personal relationships outside of work. It was also causing issues on the job, since he had a tendency to allow some of his pushier employees to walk all over him. That lack of assertiveness caused problems for him and his other employees. The end result was that his patients actually didn’t get the best care from their dentist, because he wasn’t at his best.
Dr. Carter uses a plain, reasonable, conversational style in his writing. That makes his book easy to read and understand. I also really appreciate the calm, rational, encouraging tone of his writing. So often, people who are experiencing psychological issues are riddled with self-doubt, anxiety, and poor self-image and esteem. Dr. Carter uses gentle, but assertive language, reassuring readers that they can and should make healthy choices that suit them, if not all of the time, then most of the time. The vast majority of hyper-controlling people won’t appreciate it when others bend over for them, anyway. They are usually too focused on themselves to realize that they’re causing trouble or grief for other people.
One thing I noticed about this particular title is that Dr. Carter does not refer to religious tenets– Christianity, in particular– like he does in the other books I’ve read by him. I was raised Christian myself, so I’m not necessarily offended by references to religion. However, I do think it was a good move not to include religious references in this book. I know my atheist friends probably appreciate not being told they are “children of God”.
When Pleasing You Is Killing Me also includes checklists to allow readers to do self-assessments. If you have a physical copy of the book, you can even write brief notes in the margins. Maybe you can do it with the Kindle version, too. I like the Kindle version if only because I can highlight meaningful passages and share them, as I’ve done in this review.
Below are a few other excellent thoughts from When Pleasing You Is Killing Me:
I’m proud to say that both Bill and I have become more assertive in our relationships today. And while being assertive can feel selfish, or even wrong, in the long run, it’s often the kinder way to be. I think about what might have happened if, four or five years ago, when our former landlady was being overly intrusive, controlling, and rude, I had firmly asked her to be quiet.
I wonder what would have happened if Bill had not been so quick to apologize to her when there was a problem in the house. What if, instead of immediately allowing ex landlady to make a claim on our liability insurance, Bill had held her to task for not having the awning repaired by a licensed technician, instead of her husband? What if one or both of us told her that it was not acceptable to verbally abuse or harass me? What if I had insisted that we move out of her hovel or, better yet, listened to the gut feeling I had when we first met her and she seemed “off” and not rented that house in the first place?
Maybe we could have avoided the lawsuit. Don’t get me wrong. The lawsuit was educational and, in the end, we did prevail. But it wasn’t fun or cheap, and in terms of money, we simply broke even. It would have been better to have been able to avoid that experience altogether, especially in our host country.
What’s even more rewarding for us is seeing that Bill’s younger daughter has skills in assertiveness. She resolved to get out on her own, and does not let her mother dictate how she lives her life. So, instead of being stuck living in her mom’s house, taking care of her severely disabled brother, younger daughter lives life more on her own terms and makes her own decisions. She’s not going to be roped into anything, which is awesome. She’s got enough to do with her own life without being saddled with other people’s problems, many of which are of their own making.
Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of angry diatribes from high conflict, bullying, hyper-controlling people. I know from personal experience what that’s like, and why so many people are more likely to give in and be a “people pleaser” instead of being assertive. I like When Pleasing You Is Killing Me because Dr. Carter does such a good job explaining why, in the long run, it’s much less painful to be assertive. If you have issues with people pleasing behaviors, I would highly recommend reading this book, or at the very least, checking out Les Carter’s excellent YouTube channel, Surviving Narcissism, which he shares with collaborator, Laura Charanza. In closing, below is a link to just one of several videos he has posted about this topic.
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