Heart beliefs

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The things you believe in your heart, as opposed to your head, are the things you live by. It’s hard to even spot them, let alone explain them; they are so much a core part of you.” In her book ‘The Disease To Please‘, clinical psychologist Dr Harriet Braiker explains that “self-defeating thoughts and flawed beliefs about yourself and other people fuel compulsive behaviour“.

This can be particularly true of those who have grown up in an abusive atmospere as they strive to gain the approval that was denied them in their crucial childhood years. They often become people-pleasers. “In people-pleasing logic,” Braiker explains, “if niceness fails to protect you from an interpersonal slight or hurt, you must not have been nice enough, and you must do even more!”

Flawed belief

This compelling but ultimately flawed belief that being nice will protect you from being hurt by others is rooted in the conditioned thinking of childhood. It comes out of a fear of rejection, abandonment, isolation or disapproval. “Many people-pleasers I have treated over the years,” writes Braiker,  “can trace their need to be nice to their childlike analysis of why a particular trauma occurred.”

Sadly, some adult people-pleasers carry forward the childhood guilt that their experience of abuse might never have happened if only they had been nicer and better children. However, many chronic, long-term people-pleasers go about their people-pleasing behaviour without a clue that it began during their childhood.

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A person who is prejudiced against you“, writes Braiker, “will likely reject you for his or her own irrational, hateful reasons.” The people-pleaser, however, tends to turn it inward and blame themselves for not being nice enough or for deserving the mistreatment. “This faulty logic,” Braiker explains, “leads you into making even greater efforts to please and be nice to others, thereby feeding the vicious cycle of the Disease to Please“.

The roots of people-pleasing are not always rooted in childhood experience, of course. Living with a verbally abusive partner can be like ‘walking on eggshells’; constantly trying to avoid triggering abuse; running round in circles trying to please someone who is impossible to please.

The things you believe in your heart are what you live out of. You can know in your head that you deserve better treatment, yet your abused heart betrays you, not just in the abusive relationship – but in all your relationships.

Everyone but you

When someone is nice to everyone else but you, your heart tells you that it must be you who is somehow at fault. You can spend years trying to work out just what it is about you that is so irritating to your abuser and, even when your head tells you it was never you who triggered the abusive outburst, still your heart remains unconvinced. It must be your fault.

The approval of others becomes a quest; a desperate need to prove to your heart that you are not really as pathetic as you’ve been told a thousand times.  Yet still you question “what have I done wrong? What can I do to explain? How can I get through? Could I do better?”

And your heart believes that everyone else must think that you are pathetic too. Your head might never agree – but it’s your heart that you live out of – it’s your heart-beliefs  that fuel your behaviour.

So you suppress your hurt; you go to great lengths to avoid conflict of any kind in every relationship; you examine minutely everything you’ve said or done; you try to be nicer;  you berate yourself for not being the kind of fun-loving person that other people like.

You live with paralyzing trauma, not recognising it for what it is  – undeserved trauma. And so you go on, year after year, trying to be a nicer person.

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Being nice is not an appropriate response to someone who is hurting you emotionally“, writes Braiker. “On the contrary, being nice to someone who is using you as a verbal punchbag only rewards his or her abusive behaviour. In effect, niceness gives the other person permission – and even encouragement – to mistreat you.

The tendency to always be nice, to avoid conflict or confrontation, and submit to the will of critical and controlling partners places you at significant risk of an emotionally-abusive relationship.”

Fail to protect you

Being nice when you are under attack leaves you defenseless and unacceptably vulnerable. Paradoxically, if you are the target of verbal and emotional abuse, your niceness will not only fail to protect you, it will strengthen the person who is hurting you or treating you unkindly.

Braiker goes on to point out that she is not saying that people-pleasing causes others to be abusive in the first place. Those causes lie within the personality and life history of the abuser. “Research shows, for example” she writes, “that children who were abused grow up to be abusive adults.

But while you are not the cause of the mistreatment, your niceness and people-pleasing certainly maintain the cycle of abuse. You may think that by trying even harder to please someone who is being unkind, you are challenging the cycle. But in fact you are playing right into it.

Never works

You may ardently hope that your niceness, kindness and love will eventually carry the day and change the other person’t behaviour towards you. Sadly, despite your good intentions, this approach almost never works. Instead, your continued participation and inadvertent reward of the abusive behaviour will only embolden the abuser and erode your self-esteem.

Eventually you may come to believe that unkind, hostile, or abusive treatment is all you deserve anyway. Of course, you must learn the skills to speak up appropriately when your right to kind and respectful treatment is violated. However, first, you must change your mistaken belief that niceness will protect you or that it will overcome abusive or unkind treatment.”

Eventually you may come to believe that abusive treatment is all you deserve! “The things you believe in your heart, as opposed to your head, are the things you live by. It’s hard to even spot them, let alone explain them; they are so much a core part of you.”

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Having been given a book on verbal abuse, one woman said “It’s set me free! It’s not my fault!” This is often referred to as a ‘lightbulb moment’ – the point at which it really ‘clicks’ that it isn’t your fault! It’s the point at which this understanding drops from your head to your heart.

That’s just the beginning of course – it takes time to change the compulsive conflict-avoiding, people-pleasing, approval-seeking habits of a lifetime. But there is an immediate sense of freedom in the realization that there is absolutely nothing you can do to change the behaviour of the abuser. You might as well  stop trying.

But now you need a friend who understands

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