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People-pleasing Evolution: How Does The Nice Guy Pattern Emerge And Self-Sustain?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

If I ask you: “Why do you always have to screw up?” and you’re 5 years old, you’re screwed.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Most kids have heard these phrases as kids: “What’s wrong with you?”, “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”, “Why don’t you respect me?”,

These questions never feel good.

But when you’re a 5-year-old and you don’t have critical reasoning ability, these questions can cause a lot of harm.

As a child, you will look for answers.

Whatever you answer will make you feel really bad.

Specifically — guilty.

Just read the question and think about how to answer it and see it for yourself.

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Photo by Rahul Jain on Unsplash

Child Upbringing or Mobbing Them Into Obedience?

The underlying (often parental) assumption is this:

“If I make you feel guilty enough, you will correct the behavior in the future.”

But the correction is not really happening.

What happens is a silent answering of the “Why don’t you ever listen to me?” question with “…because I’m broken.”

You can’t really answer that question in any other way.

Guilt follows naturally.

If you’re 5 and you’re trying the hardest you can and the feedback is that it’s never enough, there is only one answer: “Well, I guess I must be broken.”

When you did something wrong, that’s guilt. But when what you are is wrong, that’s shame. And shame becomes toxic when it’s linked to the very identity of your Self.

“Something is wrong with me as a person.”

If you’re 5, you have no idea how to process that reality and distinguish your and your parents’ perceptions.

You are unable to let go of the feeling internally (through emotional releasing), so you try to avoid similar situations externally (adjusting behavior) in the future.


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

People-pleasing as a Defense Mechanism

You’re not really sure what you’re expected to do, but you somehow guess that they need to be happy in order for you to be safe.

So the next time, you’ll trying harder.

But not just for the pleasure of play and receiving love from your parent. This time there’s also a bit of wanting to avoid guilt: “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”

(Because I’m broken.)

Now the game is also about avoiding guilt.

If it happens often enough for long enough, the toxic shame cumulates in the unconscious and results in CPTSD — Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“What is CPTSD?”, you might ask.

For simplicity — it’s a repeated, extremely uncomfortable experience in the past that was unfinished (trauma) and asks for dealing with through emotional flashbacks of the past emotional pain in the present.

These are all the same feelings of “not good enough and broken” in adulthood even during the most trivial and simple tasks.

If you’ve never learned how to process the toxic shame, you will just keep repeating the pattern of always trying harder to avoid guilt:

“I must become what other people want me to become so that I am safe and loved.” “If I behave nice even if I don’t feel like that, I’ll make them like me.” “If I meet their needs without them having to ask, they’ll meet my needs without me having to ask.” “If I do everything right, I will have a safe and problem-free life.”