I want to talk about a tension between two voices in our heads.
First, there is the analyser. This part of our mind likes to grab hold of any situation, and focus on objects of concern. If we are shopping, it is the part of our mind that scrutinises our needs – What am I short of? What am I possibly running short of, although I’m not sure yet? What are the probabilities of running out of supplies if I don’t buy something I’m short of? What is the healthiest version of a product to buy? Will it bring me enough satisfaction?
The analyser in us is the part of us that is not content to just leave things be. It must consider all the permutations, run through possible scenarios, evaluate risks, eliminate danger, reduce downside. It is naturally cautious. It is brilliant at critical thinking (though it strays towards the pessimistic end of the spectrum). We all have an analyser in us, and it can stop us in our tracks and make us think.
Secondly, there is the pleaser. This part of our mind likes to take any situation, and focus on the satisfaction of others. (Not their welfare – or ours – but their satisfaction… the distinction is important). If we are in any position involving a negotiation, it is the part of our mind that seeks to placate, to pacify, to make the other person content. What can I do to reduce tension? How can I minimise the likelihood of a bad mood? How does that other person work?
The pleaser in us is the part of us that is afraid of displeasing others. It must understand the other, get on the right side of them, pacify them, reduce the likelihood of triggering them. It is naturally malleable and adaptable. It is excellent at positive thinking (though on others’ behalf – it does not care about creating a positive environment for us). The vast majority of us have a pleaser in us (if we didn’t, we would be quasi-psychopaths).
Let’s suppose we have a decision to make regarding the use of our time and energy. Our analyser is at our disposal, capable of weighing up the pros and cons of different options, and logically thinking through a course of action most likely to fulfil our hopes.
Let’s also imagine that we have a strong ‘pleaser’ element to our mind, focused on one particular other who ‘needs’ pleasing.
You can see the problem. The conversation runs something like this:
Analyser: Alert. Situation coming up with decision required. Let’s get going on looking at the options.
Pleaser: Look at that person’s face.
Pleaser: They’re not happy. Analyser, stop the analysis please.
Analyser: What the…?
At this point, we may feel paralysed. Our pleaser has commandeered the situation, and it is holding our mind hostage. The pleaser may even be able to enlist the analyser in working out how to pacify the other person as quickly as possible. The analyser stops functioning in its usual way, and becomes a mere servant to the pleaser, and therefore indirectly to the satisfaction of the particular other.
Now, to a certain degree, this is healthy. It shows that we have an ability to let our process of thought be interrupted by someone whose satisfaction we care about.
But the danger is that the urge to please runs so deep that we fail to incorporate it in our overall patterns of thinking. We let it run the show.
This can be particularly common where we have grown up trying to please one or both of our parents or carers. We become, in adulthood, emotional wrecks whose rational functioning is constantly interrupted by the need to appease, pacify, or avoid triggering, significant others.
It can lead to subservient relationships, where the fear of upsetting, or dissatisfying, the other, runs the show.
That’s no way to live.
In order to function socially, we need both skills. We need a healthy analyser, capable of interpreting a situation, and acting so that the right things get done. We also need a healthy pleaser, capable of seeing where we are in danger of causing significant upset, and amending our patterns of action to take that into account.
The difficulty comes when the pleaser runs the show. A path to greater freedom involves three stages:
Firstly, seeing and understanding what is happening. This is harder than we sometimes think. We may be aware of our sense of paralysis, but not what is causing it, unless we can develop a clear understanding of our social patterns, and where they may come from.
Secondly, learning to modify the instinctive pleaser response. We need to place a gap between trigger and reaction, so that we can develop a more considered response, and gain some mastery over our instinctive pattern.
Thirdly, putting the pleaser in its place. This may involve trying out new patterns of behaviour. These may feel very risk at first, especially if they involve displeasing others. But, over time, it is possible to restore equilibrium, so that regular thinking is not constantly interrupted by anxiety or panic.
We all have an analyser in us, a critical thinker capable of prudently balancing our lives
Most of us also have a pleaser in us, a social appeaser capable of noticing, and responding, when others are dissatisfied
If the pleaser runs the show, we can end up paralysed whenever a tension arises between the two
We can liberate ourselves by catching it happening, considering our response, and putting the pleaser in its place where necessary