Today's post is an interview with Amy Beth Acker, LCSW. Amy is a counselor based in Bridgwater, NJ who works with women in transition. Amy specializes in helping her clients create a freedom-based life.
I had a chance to sit down and talk with Amy about the subject of "people-pleasers" and the impact on a marriage when one spouse stops being a people-pleaser - and for the first time, chooses to shift the focus to their own happiness.
What is a People-Pleaser?
"Amy, I understand that you work a lot with women who are people pleasers and have chased approval in their lives and are now doing some inner work and realizing that perhaps their relationships and things they're doing in their lives are no longer a good fit for them.
So first, can you say more about what a people pleaser is, how someone would know if they are this type of person and what you mean when you say “chased approval in their lives?”
"I think it’s very common for women today to feel trapped in a people-pleasing / perfectionist mindset. I think it's a value that we have in our culture to put other people first and women wind up with the belief that their own needs are secondary or not valid whatsoever.
We also have a very achievement-oriented culture, as well, so that definitely plays a part. And some women get to a point where they believe that their value and self-worth comes from how they appear, not who they are.
All of these things together create the perfect storm for women to lose sight of who they are and what their needs are.
So they wind up looking for approval from others. They look for external validation. And they feel that their worth and their worthiness comes from that external validation."
How Would Someone Know if They are a People-Pleaser?
"When or how would somebody start realizing that they are this type of person, a people pleaser? Can you give us an idea? What are some types of things that are actually happening in their lives to give them clues?
"A lot of the women that I work with come to me because they really feel like their lives have become completely unmanageable.
They often times have taken on a lot – a lot of responsibility at work, with their families, in their relationships - whatever the case may be. They feel like they need to be everything to everybody. And in doing that, they lose sight of themselves.
They feel anxious all the time. They feel depressed. They feel like they really have no sense of who they are or what they want anymore. They feel like they're working hard in all areas of their life but they're still not living up to expectations in any of those areas. And they just feel overwhelmed.
And that’s why they wind up coming to therapy - they're looking for a better way."
How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser and Start Living Authentically
"When or how would somebody start realizing that chasing approval has led them to be living outside of their integrity and that this is no longer working for them in their life?
You talked about the things that might be happening to give them clues – being overwhelmed, having anxiety. What, then, leads them to realize that they're living outside of their integrity?"
"The realization that they are not happy and they are not living authentically can come in a number of ways.
One is feeling constantly fatigued. When you’re not taking care of yourself, you begin to feel exhausted all the time.
Another is an overwhelming feeling of being stuck and feeling powerless to find a way out. They may be in jobs they hate, in marriages that are no longer working or simply feel like their gifts and talents are being wasted.
They may feel unappreciated or undervalued at work and at home. Their partners may feel like roommates, like passing ships in the night, or the converse - they feel incapable of making a decision without the approval of their partners. This happens because they don’t feel that they are worthy by themselves- they need external validation to maintain their identity."
"And what are some of the things you support them in working through during the course of therapy?"
"So as I said, a lot of these women really struggle with self-esteem.
They struggle with feeling overwhelmed. They really don't have a sense of who they are or what they want. They're often not very good at communicating in relationships. They don't really even necessarily know what their wants, desires, or needs are, much less are they able to communicate them.
So these are all things that we work on in counseling.
We work on feelings of shame that usually underlie a perfectionist mindset. We work on building autonomy and sovereignty, on learning to trust their intuition to solve problems and make decisions, not depending on other people who might have different values than they do. They learn to pinpoint what their values are and to start to living from those values and making decisions from those values.
When this happens, they often begin to examine their relationships.
Our relationships are really our greatest mirror. And when my clients hold the mirror up to themselves instead of their partners, they may start to realize their relationships are not necessarily aligned with who they really are or who they want to be in the future, with their new vision for themselves."
Impacts on a Marriage When People Pleasing Stops
"So it sounds like if these women are married, that it could be then revealed sometimes that the marriage is not a fit for the person that they now want to be in order for them to really be themselves."
"Right. That can happen. And a lot of times, it's not necessarily that there's any serious issues or any major dysfunction in the marriage. It's more just that the woman might've gotten into the marriage really just looking to bond with and to get validation from somebody.
It’s not that their spouse is a bad person or even that there's any major conflict per se. It's more just that they might be living from different values. And the values that the woman wants to live from now and into the future might not align with her partner's values anymore."
"So once this is revealed, what are some of the paths the woman can take at that point?"
"At that point, a big part of what I work on with women is learning how to communicate needs and desires.
I help them figure out the best ways to communicate what they're learning about themselves to their spouses and to have some really deep, heartfelt conversations about where they are at this time, where they came from as a couple, what they really want for the next chapter in their lives, and what their vision is for the future as a couple.
And sometimes that vision is aligned in a new way, and through deep work and deep conversation, they realize that they've grown together in ways that they might not even have recognized up until that time.
Those couples are able to move forward with a newly formed clarity and vision.
And then other times, they realize that the most loving thing that they can do is to not remain in the marriage in order for each of them to be able to fully live from their most authentic selves."
"It sounds like at that point, the things this woman has now learned about herself could strengthen the marriage, or it also could lead to the end of her marriage.
If the decision to divorce is inevitable, what can the woman or couple do to end the marriage in a way that is as respectful and peaceful as possible for both of them, and certainly for their children if they have kids together?"
"Well, I think in our culture, there's sort of this perception of separation or divorce that it has to be acrimonious, that divorce means the end of love.
We see this in the stereotypical image of divorcing parents putting their kids in the middle of their battles while blowing through their college fund. That is definitely not the way it has to be.
I think that there's a way to end a relationship that still honors the vows that the spouses originally made to each other - which are to love, support, honor, and respect the other person no matter what. Sometimes continuing to live by those vows means seeing the relationship in a new way and allowing the relationship to become something different, something other than what they originally planned it to be, in order for each person to still be their most authentic self.
Sometimes that is the most loving thing someone can do for themselves and their spouse and that their spouse can do for them.
Loving their partner in a new context of what the other person has become doesn't have to be a painful thing. It can really be just the next logical step in the evolution of the relationship."
"So it's not that the end of a marriage is always a bad thing – it just is - and there are ways to go about it that enable the individuals to be in integrity.
I think sometimes the challenge happens when the spouse who wasn’t in therapy (the husband) feels shocked to see and hear about all these changes coming from his wife. And it may obviously alter the marriage in a way where that spouse is reluctant to divorce or is angry or feels blindsided by all these sudden changes that they're witnessing.
Do you have any tips for how a woman could respond to her husband in a supportive way or some things that the recipient spouse (husband) could do to cope or to deal with what's happening?"
"When a woman goes on this journey of personal growth, it can be very overwhelming to her husband. Because it can feel like he's losing the person he thought he knew.
At that point, the husband really has two choices. He can try to go on that journey with his wife, or not. Of course, he should never do something that doesn’t feel authentic or right for himself for the purpose of holding together the relationship either.
Relationships evolve and they only work if both partners are on the same page about what they want for themselves and each other in the context of the marriage.
If the couple comes to the conclusion that the relationship isn't working or that they really can't be their most authentic selves in the relationship, that the relationship has too many limitations to continue, it doesn't have to be a loss. It can be really an expansion of the relationship.
People get into relationships and they work as they are.
Then people grow.
They become new, more expanded version of themselves. And the relationship might just be too constraining and too limiting for that growth to continue within the confines of it.
That doesn't mean that the love isn't there and that love can't be the guiding force for what the couple chooses to do next, whether that means expanding together or whether that means not remaining together in the same way."
"That makes perfect sense, but no doubt, can be very difficult for one or both partners. But as you said, for the growth to happen, sometimes it’s necessary for the couple’s marriage to end and for each person to go in different directions.
And it's more about how they address that challenge and where they go from there."
To learn more about Amy and the work she does, visit: www.amybethacker.com You can also find more of Amy's published work on Huffington Post or on her own blog.
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