Have you ever handed in a paper still warm from the printer, panting and sweaty from your sprint across campus?
Or selected a gift from the aisles of a gas station, en route to the baby shower you’ve known about for months?
Do you find that, no matter how much time you have to complete a project, you’re still working on it up until the deadline? Or maybe even past it?
If so, you have my wholehearted empathy and understanding, because we are kindred spirits: We are procrastinators.
A procrastinator is someone who habitually delays getting started on important tasks, and scrambles around to get things done at the last minute, often under a great deal of stress. If you have a tendency to procrastinate, you know it’s a habit that leaves you feeling harried, ineffective, and bad about yourself. You also know that not procrastinating is easier said than done.
But, as someone who has gone to battle with her own procrastination demons, and helped many coaching and counseling clients do the same, I know you can build new skills that will help you become more productive, more effective, and to do it all in a timely manner, with serenity and grace… (ok, still working on that last part).
That’s what we’re discussing on today’s episode of the podcast. I’m going to be exploring the real reasons you procrastinate, how procrastination affects your life, and the positive changes you can make today to overcome procrastination and start working toward your goals in a steady, intentional way.
I hope you’ll join me, on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now : Episode Highlights
There really are some people who glide through their to-do list, devoting a reasonable amount of time to each item, passing by black holes of distraction without a second glance, and routinely completing projects with plenty of time to spare.
For the rest of us, procrastination is a real and ever-present threat. When procrastinating is a way of life for you, getting things done takes some thoughtful maneuvering.
Effects of Procrastination
Procrastination is a tough habit to break, despite its sometimes serious consequences. Here are just a few of the effects of procrastination, which I’m sure you’ve lived firsthand if you’re a real-deal procrastinator:
It’s incredible what a human being can do when the panic of an approaching deadline sets in. You might stay up until dawn writing a paper, or complete a project that was supposed to take months over the course of a long, terrible weekend.
You may even feel a little swell of pride when these flurries of work generate halfway decent results — a B+ paper, a good-enough project review. “Imagine what I could do if I didn’t procrastinate,” you may think.
But that’s the tragedy of chronic procrastination: You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you do everything at the last minute, in an adrenaline-fueled panic. To reach your full potential at school, at work, or in any area of life that calls for consistent effort over time, you’ll need to overcome procrastination.
Stress is quite literally a killer, and nothing adds unnecessary stress to your life like a habit of procrastination.
In fact, procrastinators need stress. It focuses the mind, making it possible to prioritize tasks and take action toward our goals. Without the looming threat of a missed deadline, a failed class, or letting down the people who are counting on us, it’s too easy to convince ourselves that watching TikTok dance routines or rearranging our bookshelves is the correct use of our time.
So procrastinators learn to live with stress, and to leverage it to get things done. But that doesn’t stop stress from taking a toll on your mind and your body, putting you at greater risk of burnout, and generally making you feel crummy.
If you complete a large job in a few frenzied hours, the client isn’t getting your best work. If you end up at a burger joint because you put off making a reservation, your partner isn’t getting the “anniversary dinner” treatment.
Procrastination can look to others like you just don’t care enough to try — when in fact you care so much that getting started feels overwhelming. But regardless of your true feelings, perceived apathy can feel insulting and hurtful to others, and can take a toll on your relationships.
Feeling Bad About Yourself
Finally, procrastination makes you feel bad about yourself.
You might recognize that you’re capable of more, and feel lazy when you reflect on your history of underachieving. You might feel less-than when you compare yourself to others who seem to manage their time more effectively. You might feel shame and guilt about letting down friends, partners, or coworkers because of procrastination.
Worse, you may feel helpless to do anything about it. But luckily, procrastinating is entirely within your power to change, and understanding why you procrastinate is the first step in changing it.
Why You Procrastinate
Every procrastinator has their own unique reasons for putting things off, but here are a few of the common culprits that may be behind your procrastination (and ideas for tackling each):
You’re Doing Too Much
Sometimes we think we have a problem with procrastination, when in fact we have a problem with taking on too many tasks, particularly tasks that aren’t interesting to us, or necessary, or that someone else could do better (and be happy about it!).
I don’t enjoy bookkeeping. I can do it, and as a small business owner, I used to: begrudgingly, and usually at the last minute. But when Growing Self grew to a certain point, I was more than happy to hand that task off to a professional, a magical unicorn who actually enjoys tracking expenses, creating financial statements, and submitting tax forms.
These people exist — thank goodness! My bookkeeper frees me up to focus on tasks that I’m actually good at, and that I don’t feel like hiding from indefinitely. Before you beat yourself up about putting something off, ask yourself if the task really needs to be done, and if you’re the right person to do it. Your time and energy may be better spent elsewhere.
You’re Dreading a Complex Process
When I first brainstormed this episode, I imagined sharing what I know about procrastination with you, like I was having a chat with a friend. But actually making the episode was a lot more complicated than that. It required research, moving meetings around so I could record, messing with equipment I don’t entirely understand, sending audio back and forth with my podcast editor, choosing a song, changing the song, writing this post, and a hundred other tiny steps that I won’t bore you with here.
You get the idea. The sheer number of steps involved in a complex task can be enough to paralyze you. You might anticipate getting stuck, or feeling overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, or any number of unpalatable feelings our brains would rather avoid.
When you take the time to plan and visualize each step of a complex task — what they’ll entail, how exactly you’ll do them, when you will do them, where you will do them — the process feels a bit more manageable. And even better, mentalizing the task is step one, so once you do this, you’re already over the “getting started” hump!
You’re Dreading a “Cognitively Heavy” Process
You might also be dreading the process because it is “cognitively heavy,” meaning it just takes a lot of brain power. I love to write, but it’s not something I can do while half paying attention, listening to a podcast, or keeping an eye on my kids. It requires my full brain, and an uninterrupted period of time. Afterwards, I feel a bit drained.
For “heavy” tasks, give your brain what it needs to do its best work. When do you feel your sharpest? Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening, dedicate that time to your heavy tasks. Make sure you give yourself a large chunk of uninterrupted time — you can’t do deep work in fifteen-minute fragments between Zoom meetings. It takes time to enter a “flow” state.
When your brain gets to do its most demanding work under better conditions, you may not dread the process so much, and you may feel less inclined to procrastinate.
You’re Getting Distracted
Distractions happen, and some of us are more distractible than others. I know I can sit down at my desk with an earnest intention to Get Stuff Done… and come to 20 minutes later on the Wikipedia page for El Chupacabra, wondering how I got there.
To head off distractions, construct your work environment with intention. Would it help to leave your cellphone in your bag, rather than keeping it on your desk? A tiny keystone habit like that can make a big difference. How about adjusting your notification settings, so a little box doesn’t pop into your visual field every time you get an email or a text? If noise tends to pull you out of flow, how about some noise-canceling headphones?
None of us are immune to distractions. But you can prevent many of them with some simple tweaks to your environment.
Perfectionism and Procrastination
“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of blame, judgment, and shame,” — Brené Brown
Striving to do your best is a good thing. But perfectionism is something else entirely, and can be a powerful form of procrastination that keeps you from actually getting things done.
Perfectionism can show up as a tendency to “overdo” things. If a hardcore perfectionist is having a dinner party, they might feel unable to do the big stuff (shopping for and preparing the food, setting the table) until they figure out the little stuff (like making hand-lettered place cards for each guest).
“And really I should take a calligraphy class first,” the perfectionist thinks, “so maybe it’s best to reschedule for next fall.” (Or, more likely, never).
If perfectionism is at the root of your procrastination, watch out for “scope creep.” Don’t let simple tasks grow out of control, taking on unwieldy ambitions that require you to clear your schedule. Instead, practice aiming to do a good-enough job. You’ll get more done, and you’ll have a better time doing it.
We’re not born knowing how to create a reasonable schedule, devote an appropriate amount of time to a task, exercise self-control, or adapt to setbacks as they arise. All of these “executive functioning” skills take some practice, and once you develop them (something a good career coach can help you with), you’ll be able to work more effectively, and spend less time procrastinating.
How to Stop Procrastinating: Get Connected to Your “Why”
You do a thousand little things every day. You feed the kids, floss your teeth, fill out the spreadsheet, send that “Thank You,” submit your invoice, return the call, pick up the prescription, fold the laundry.
But why? How do the things you do connect to your values and the goals you have for your life?
Ask yourself these questions about the items on your to-do list. If you can’t see the connection, cross it off. The items that will remain are the essential things that are actually serving your larger life’s purpose.
Now you know what to focus on. For the rest, you have permission to procrastinate.
Episode Show Notes:
[02:53] Effects of Procrastination
You might have to work during what should be your down time, or fail to meet deadlines.
Procrastination can lead to issues in your personal relationships.
Your partner may feel hurt if you fail to follow through on things.
[10:32] Strategies For Overcoming Procrastination
Outsource or delegate the job to other people who are better suited for the task.
Stipulate your most productive and high-energy time of day for completing your most important tasks.
Use a calendar to schedule your tasks.
[26:28] Perfectionism and Procrastination
Perfectionism is the tendency to base your self-worth around what other people think of your work.
Perfectionists tend to be overly detailed and to get attached to overly ambitious outcomes.
Set a timer for every task and establish a mental boundary to stop yourself from doing more than what needs to be done.
[35:45] Connecting With Your Values
Reflect on your “why”.
Cross out tasks, projects, or habits that aren’t serving your larger goals.
Release the idea that you can or should do everything.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: That is, once again, the Wimps — one of my favorite bands — with a song, “Procrastination”, because that's what we're talking about today.
I've been meaning to make this podcast for you for about two years now. But yes, the struggle is real. I'm just kidding — not really. But I, too, have struggled with procrastination over the years. I know it's a very real thing. A lot of you are struggling with this. I wanted to spend our time together today sharing the tips, and tricks, and tools, and ideas that I have learned over the years that have helped me, and that I routinely teach my clients so that you get control over your time and energy too.
If this is your first time listening, hello and welcome! I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I'm a licensed psychologist, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a board-certified coach, and draw from all of these things to help you create love, happiness, and success. This podcast is just me tossing out bread crumbs and bottles into the ocean that are hopefully helpful to you on your journey.
I always try to craft my topics about things that I'm hearing from you, my listeners, that would be helpful and important to you. So thank you, everyone, who has reached out through Instagram, or Facebook, or through our website growingself.com. Quick heads up to let you know — we're going to be starting to experiment with something a little different that I think would be pretty interesting. In addition to the kind of informational format of the show or the interview format of the show, I'm also going to be answering some listener questions on the air.
If you have something that is on your mind, and you would like to talk through it with me on a podcast sometime, I invite you to get in touch on Instagram, @drlisamariebobby, or firstname.lastname@example.org are easy ways. Just raise your hand, let me know what's on your mind, and perhaps you and I can talk things through. That is an exciting new thing and I'll be interested to see what we can collectively create with that.
But let's just dive right in. Let's not procrastinate, shall we? Let's dive into our topic together today. Because procrastination is a very real issue for many people, and it doesn't just lead to issues where you're not getting things done or you look around your house, and you see the stuff or the unopened mail — those are minor annoyances. It, over time though, can lead to a lot of bigger problems — anxiety — when you start to feel really overwhelmed and stressed and anxious about all this stuff piling up that is starting to be important. Maybe, there's a tax document and a pile of mail that you need to do something about.
Effects of Procrastination
I can also, I think — lead to people feeling really badly about themselves after a while, almost a depression-ney kind of shame experience where you're like, “What is wrong with me that I can't get my act together and do these things?” Then, if that does spiral into a capital D depression, that leads to exhaustion and avoidance, and even less likely that you will get things done.
It can also lead to real consequences either in your job if you're not meeting deadlines or leaving things till the last minute. After a while, people will get annoyed with you. It can also lead to issues in your relationship, particularly if your partner is asking you to do things or follow through with things that are personally important to them. I think it's easy to forget that actions, tasks that may seem small, simple things — unloading the dishwasher when you said you're going to, running an errand, taking care of something around the house — over time, those things can become kind of heavy with meaning.
It feels to us like it’s just about the task or the thing, but it can start to feel to your partner like it is a symbolic representation of your feelings towards them, often interpreted as that you don't care about them. It can lead to a lot of negativity and bad feelings in relationships. For all of these reasons, and in addition, of course, to you just feeling happy and content to kind of in control of yourself in your life, it is important that we talk together about procrastination.
In looking around, there are sort of standard-issue pieces of advice about how to deal with procrastination. I think that they do all have some validity. But I want to take it a little bit deeper today because in my experience — and I am saying this as somebody who, especially when I was younger, really did struggle with this. I would try all of these organizational systems — I read the books, and the whatever — I tried all the things, and they never worked for me.
I interpreted this, in my 20s, it’s just another side of my personal failings. But I think as I've gotten older and done more work on myself, I've come to realize that there is a reason why people tend to procrastinate, and often it goes a little bit deeper than one would think. I think we can assume that it's about strategies and habits, and so on and so forth. I do think to a degree that that can be true.
But without really opening the door — the basement, walking into the basement, and understanding really why, in a compassionate and fully aware sort of way, it can be difficult to use the tools and incorporate the habits. That's where I would like us to go today. I wanted to start this conversation, though, with just a compassion-building exercise. If this is the thing for you, I'm sure you're well aware of the emotional toll that it takes.
Also, if you are listening to this because you are partnered with somebody whose procrastination is driving you insane, it is also, I think, important for you to have some understanding and compassion for their emotional experience because the struggle is real, and it can be easy to get mad at yourself or get mad at your partner when they're doing these things, “Like what's the big deal? Just do the thing, and you won't feel bad anymore.”
But it tends to sort of snowball. The very best and most hilarious description of the procrastination cycle that I came across was from a really cool blog post, actually — by a civilian. He was not a licensed mental health professional, but he's still incredibly insightful and very funny. His name is Tim Urban. A while back, he did a piece called The Dark Playground on his blog called Wait But Why. I will link to it somewhere in the post to this podcast.
But anyway — I'll just read you a little snippet from his work. Here, he's talking about the emotional depths of what happens with somebody who is in a habit of procrastinating, has put things off, and that they eventually will enter the dark playground. It is a place every procrastinator knows well. It's a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the dark playground isn't actually fun because it's completely unearned, rather, and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread.
Sometimes, the rational decision-making part of you puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things. Since the other side of this — he's calling the “Instant Gratification Monkey” — wants to keep distracting you and won't let you work. You find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses. If you are a habitual procrastinator, I'm sure you can relate to that.
It's like there's these two sides of you — there's this part of you that is screaming at you, “Just do the things, you know what you have to do. What's wrong with you?” But there's this other part that's like that, “I'm going to do this, I want to do that, I want to…”, something else… Then, he has a third character in this narrative called the “Panic Monster” which emerges as you get closer and closer to a deadline, or begin experiencing real or threatened consequences of procrastination.
Then, that sort of motivates you into this big flurry of action where you wind up — yes — doing some things usually in a half-assed manner. You kind of get it done, but it wasn't really good enough, and it was incredibly stressful, and people are still annoyed with you anyway. For a full description of The Dark Playground and the emotional toll that procrastination can take, I would encourage you to visit Wait But Why. It's worth your time.
This is a difficult place to be in. I think one of the big well — there are many, I think, deeper reasons why people can’t do this. But I think in my experience, I have isolated it to a few. I'm just going to talk through these one at a time. As I do, I would like for you to just kind of listen and think about which of these might fit best for you. It may be that there are a few of these that fit well for you. The answer is often multidimensional and complex.
Strategies For Overcoming Procrastination
But one of the biggest lessons for me, and something that I have actually since coached many clients through is the discovery that these things that I was procrastinating and putting off and feeling badly about were actually things that I wasn't good at, that I didn't enjoy, and I really was trying to make myself do things that I shouldn't have been trying to do in the first place many times. This would be related to different aspects of work, oftentimes, or even stuff around the house, or in my personal life.
I just want to invite you to consider if the things that you have on this giant list that you're telling yourself you should be doing, could potentially be things that you don't enjoy, that you don't value, that you don't really have an interest in. Maybe, you're getting societal messages that are telling you that you should be valuing or doing these things, but then you actually, legitimately, do not care and that you don't feel like completing these tasks is going to be particularly meaningful or helpful in your life, and you're not good at them, you don't really know how to do them, it's not stuff that you enjoy, and perhaps to give yourself permission to not do them.
I just want you to consider what could change about your life and your relationship to these tasks, and also your relationship to yourself. If instead of kind of beating yourself up and trying to make yourself do things that you don't want to do, and that you probably shouldn't be doing — and accept that. What doors could potentially open up for you? If you're like, “Yeah, I'm actually not going to do that.”
Let's just pause here for a second. Let that sink in. You may be feeling a surge of anxiety around like, “But these things need to get done!” Maybe, they do need to get done. But maybe you should not be the one to do them. It could turn into a very different exercise in problem-solving if you just kind of shifted into this mindset around, “I am not going to do these things. How could they potentially get done anyway?”
This could turn into all kinds of creative new possibilities for you. For example, maybe you have strengths in an area. There are things that you are good at and that you do enjoy. When you do them, it feels like flow. It is like, “This is why I am here, and I'm having the best time right now.” And you don't procrastinate with those things. They're like fun — you move towards them instead of away from them.
As you get clearer about what those things are, and how those things would bring value into the lives of other people, you, now, have a poker chip that you could potentially trade with somebody else. There are people — and I'm just going to use this as a quick example — there are magical creatures in the world that I sort of view as this semi-unicorn, pegasus creature, sparkles, that enjoys things like administrative tasks, bills, opening mail, organizing things. They exist, they exist. You might be one of those people.
Perhaps, as you're listening to this, many procrastinators tend to be on the more creative side of the spectrum. Maybe, you are really good at painting things, making music, coming up with new ideas, rearranging furniture. It's possible to develop relationships with other people where they can have a good time coming into your life and helping you do things that you can't really do that well. In exchange, of course for your energy, and talent, and abilities, and the value that you can bring to their life doing the things that would help them.
That may not be intrinsically part of their kind of skill set and value set. It could be even simple swaps with your partner. If you're getting into power struggles around certain tasks at home, seeing, “Okay, I don't procrastinate around these things. These are things I can get done. I can be in charge of XYZ. You do that over there.”
I think the central point is that not everyone is good at everything. Actually, nobody is good at everything. The sooner that we can move into a state of acceptance around that, and spend your time and energy really identifying your strengths, the things you do enjoy, and figuring out how to do more of those — a lot of this is instantly going to get easier for you. That would be strategy number one, is to swap or even outsource if you have the means to do it.
I felt terribly guilty for years and years about the idea of having a house cleaner come in periodically. I had all these mental narratives around that “I can’t, that feelings around it. I tell you what — I am not a fabulous housekeeper. I aspire to be. I look at things and I'm like, “Man, someone will need to clean that.” I see it, but in terms of my time, and I'm going 900 miles an hour, and not really good at it anyway.
To have a support in that area has been incredibly helpful for me. I had to work through a lot of guilt. And yes, of course, there's the money component. I understand that not everybody can do that. But if there are things that you can just cross off your list and get some help with, do it.
Another piece of this that is very, very common for many people… Maybe, it is something that you need to do. It is actually your job to do. Generally speaking — like big picture — it is stuff that you're good at, it is stuff that you enjoy doing, it is within your kind of sphere of talent, and value, and ability, and it's also difficult to do.
I know that many of my clients who are in creative positions or positions where their role is, even if it's not an artistic kind of creative position — I'm thinking of a developer, marketing people, project managers, product managers… In my group, we honestly work with a lot of people in the tech industries. Their role is really to come up with ideas and be solving complex problems with lots of different moving parts that might involve a lot of different people.
Or even I know for myself, sometimes, I love to write. I enjoy it, I think that I can do it somewhat well when I put in the time. Cognitively though, any of these activities are very cognitively demanding. They are cognitively heavy work. It takes a lot of mental effort to do these things. It may surprise you to know that your body, your physical body — okay, we all know we have physical bodies, and they burn calories. You have energy that powers your body.
Your brain, particularly when it is working hard, consumes more calories and more energy than anything else in your body which might surprise you because we think about all these moving parts, right? But it's actually your brain. I bring that up to reinforce and validate the fact that, sometimes, when we have these big complicated things to create or problems to solve, we can feel the enormity of that load in our brains, and it's like anticipating lifting something extremely heavy — just this like, “Ugh!”
I think what also goes along with that is that some things, whether they are cognitive in nature or even physical projects, can be quite complex. They have many different aspects of them. It looks like, on the surface, a fairly simple task like, “Okay, I'm going to paint the wall in the bedroom.” Something like that. It’s like a 97-step process.
You have to get to the paint store to look at colors, and then bring the colors home, and then take them to the wall, and then look at them, and then argue about them, and then take half of them down — that. Then, you have to get the paint, and then you have to get the stuff, and then when… When are you going to do that? Anyway, it's just like everything is complicated.
What happens is that we begin to feel the bigness of the project, either the all of the physical steps, and it starts to feel overwhelming, or the cognitive load of it. It turns into a situation where we can begin subliminally, subconsciously dreading the process. This sort of anticipatory dread about how hard it's going to be — even though intellectually, you want to do it, you enjoy doing it, and maybe, you want the outcome of having done it.
When it comes to — if you're feeling like, “Yes, this is what I do.” When it comes to the cognitive pieces of this, what I learned is that with the cognitive work, it is extremely important to do a few things. First of all, get really clear about your natural energy cycles. For example, I tend to do my best work. If I'm going to do something very cognitively heavy, I need to do it in the morning. For some people, their brains are not working at full capacity at five o'clock in the morning when I'm ready to write stuff and think about stuff.
They are at like five o'clock at night is when they turn on. But I think gaining that awareness about yourself, “Is it the middle of the day? Is it late at night? Is it in the morning?” Then, planning your cognitively heavy work during those times. That is one really important strategy right there. In addition to that, to have a dedicated chunk, big chunk of time to do deep work, particularly if it is cognitive in nature.
I work with so many people who are in roles where they're managing people, or they're guiding teams, or they're part of a team. I've had clients show me their work calendars before because they're telling me that they're procrastinating and have this big project to do. Then, they show me their work calendar and their fragmented days. They'll have 10 meetings in a day, and they're like, “I just can't make myself do this thing.” I'm thinking, “You might need an hour to settle in to even getting mentally prepared to doing this work.”
I think that people tend to underestimate the amount of time that they need to enter into this — I think it's almost like an altered state of consciousness in some ways to do really deep, creative work, or intellectually demanding work — but like a three-hour chunk, a five-hour chunk. I don't know what that might look like in your life. But if you're struggling to get those big things done, I would honestly recommend that you look at your calendar and see what you can do to move things around so that you have time and space that is protected and dedicated to those very heavy cognitive tasks.
That's what I began doing — blocking my calendar. I have different kinds of activities on different days. I do have days where I have meetings from morning to night — and it's fine. I have to do it, and I enjoy talking to people and having meetings, and having sessions. But I can't do that on days that I have to do things like make podcasts for you. I can't focus deeply enough to be able to create that for you, so I have to have days that are like my days to do creative work. I wonder what might happen for you if you tried that strategy.
Also, you're responsible for setting boundaries. People aren't going to set boundaries for you. But to be able to communicate those needs to your team, to your boss, say, “Hey, I have this big project to do, so I am going to be unavailable for the next four hours. I'm going to produce great results for you in the meantime.” Also, it's important that when you do have this protected time to be setting boundaries with yourself, and right now, I'm thinking of the notifications that come in or you see something on your phone, and 20 minutes later…
The protecting yourself from those intrusive kinds of notifications or interruptions that can shift you out of that deep work. In addition, though, and this is where we have to get very serious, is to identify the usual suspects that are — in Tim Urban's words, “part of The Dark Playground”, and knowing yourself well enough to know that you cannot actually look at YouTube or whatever for five minutes even though that's what the little voice in your mind is telling you.
I had to implement a new rule with myself that when I go into the office, first thing in the morning, I go in with my coffee. I had to start bringing my phone in with me because I would easily spend an hour just scrolling through crap on my phone during the most productive, high-energy time of day that I had. If I was going to get something done, it was going to be at that time — just noticing that pattern and being so annoyed with myself.
It's like these small habits that you can develop. I think you've heard on previous podcasts that I did about this idea of a keystone habit, which is the one little thing that you can implement that can lead to a chain reaction of other positive habits. For me, that is not bringing my phone into my office early in the morning. It sounds like the silliest little thing, but it's really that one keystone habit. I don't have my phone, so I sit down and I think about what I should actually be doing, and I'm much more likely to do it.
Perfectionism and Procrastination
I would encourage you to reflect on what your kryptonite is and find some keystone habits that will help you set some boundaries around it. Some of the other usual suspects when it comes to reasons for procrastination and things that you can do to manage them. I know we talk about perfectionism sometimes. I'm sure that that's a word that everybody is familiar with. I sort of take perfectionism to mean other things as a — one of the many disciples of Brené Brown. I loved her concept of perfectionism, and I want to share it with you.
She sort of referred to perfectionism as being a tendency to base your self-worth on what other people think of your work. So that when we are being perfectionistic, we are really working to get approval and recognition from others. We should probably talk about that in-depth on another podcast at some point, but that's kind of my working model of perfectionism right now. That is different than the concept of excellence of doing a good job, of striving to do something well.
I think that that is okay if we get feelings of satisfaction from that — to be able to think, “I did a good job, I did that well.” I certainly don't want to take that away from you, and I don't want you to think that if you are trying really hard to do a good job, you're being perfectionistic because that might not be true. I respect people that do excellent work. I'm sure that you do too, and probably aspire to be one of those people.
Where this begins to cause problems and lead to procrastination is when you, I, we tend to become so over-detailed and start broadening the scope of the project, and incorporating all kinds of things that maybe don't need to be part of the project or the thing we have to do, and begin to become attached to very specific and possibly over-ambitious outcomes that lead us to feel that overwhelmed feeling and dread the process of something as simple as reorganizing the kitchen like, “Man, my drawers are a mess. I need to reorganize this kitchen.”
If you're not careful, can turn into a full day of tearing everything out of the cabinets, and having to take a bunch of stuff to Goodwill, and re-papering all of the drawers, and, “We should probably get new organizers.” “While we're here, why don't we just repaint the place, and I should probably get new dishes.” I mean, it just explodes into all of these different things. I think that a real helpful goal here is can be to narrow our focus and notice when we're doing scope creep in any of the things that we undertake.
I know that I have a tendency to do this, and I know many of my clients have too. I do think it's attached to that noble intention of wanting to do a really good and thorough job — and that's great, but not if it prevents you from actually doing anything. If it sort of snowballs into many other ideas, and you can't plant flowers in the front yard before you figure out your whole concept for landscaping. We're probably going to put a new addition on the house at some point, so you have to figure out what we're doing that first when you could have just gone out and spent approximately 20 minutes planting some Iris bulbs, and it would have been fine.
To kind of have this mental jujitsu where you can help yourself stay focused on the one small task that would bring some value in the short term, and it would make things better than they currently are. Your life might be incrementally better if you literally spent 20 minutes just reorganizing your silverware drawer. But you have to have a mental boundary that stops you from going further than that. That is just another cognitive strategy that I've noticed can be really helpful for people — is actually making the bar lower, and much more narrow and focused.
Another neat trick is that if you have something that you need to do, and it is one of those smaller projects — ones that are easy to put off, but that probably should be done every once in a while — is to set a timer. “I am going to rearrange some of the silverware drawers to the best of my ability for the next 10 minutes. Siri, set a timer for 10 minutes.” Do your thing, and when the timer goes off, you stop. Your silverware drawer is halfway better, and it's still better than it was, and you have done something.
I think setting almost those little challenges with yourself is a way to gamify procrastination, and actually get yourself to do some of the things that you have been putting off in addition to finding a place and time to do them. That is kind of flowing us into another reason why people often procrastinate is because they have not developed what we clinically call “executive functioning skills”. This could be for a variety of reasons.
Many of us were never specifically taught “executive functioning skills”. We are sent to school, and given assignments, and do these things. But I never had a teacher show me, “Okay, here's a planner; here's how to use a calendar; here is how to manage your time in such a way that you can actually get these things done.” We're just given a syllabus, and like, “Good luck with that.”
I think that there's this assumption in the educational system, but also in many occupational environments that we know how to do that. For many people, that is simply not true. They weren't taught it or — this is also a very real thing — they may struggle with ADHD as adults. That can really mean that they have to work even harder to develop very robust executive functioning skills and systems in order to be able to manage themselves.
It can be simple things — like we all have that to-do list of the things. Unless you have good executive functioning skills, your to-do list will never work because you don't have a system for saying, “Okay, this is how long this task is going to take, and this is where and when I am going to do this task.” Just like we're told that things that, in order to have like an organized environment, we have to find a place to put our stuff, and that's like where its home is.
You also have to have a place in time to put the things that need to be done in, or they will just stay on that to-do list and your life will flow by, and you'll become increasingly annoyed with yourself that you haven't updated your budget or opened the mail in two months because you haven't identified when are you going to do that activity. There are all kinds of books on these sorts of skills.
If you, in listening to this podcast, become aware that, “Yeah, you know what? I never did learn how to do that. It could be super helpful just to look through some of those.” There are also such things as productivity coaches who can help teach you how to do that. But those are learnable skills. If you didn't learn them overtly somewhere along the way, you might want to consider doing that.
Those are some of the deeper things that I have found to be at the core of perfectionism. Some of the strategies that I've worked with clients around implementing — there are certainly others. Of course, like any of the podcasts that I create — this podcast is in no way intended to be an answer to the whole thing. For many people, it was certainly for myself. It took a long time. I had to work at this for years in order to figure out what was leading to procrastination, and also to develop the skills, and strategies, and practices that helped me move past it.
Connecting With Your Values
Before we end, I do want to share one other strategy that has really helped me and helped a lot of my clients. Again, this is a deeper thing. It's not something that you can just start doing right away, but it is very much worth doing. It’s sitting down and spending some time reflecting on your values — like what feels genuinely meaningful and important to you? Like getting connected to your “why”. Why do you do anything? Why do you want this job anyway?
Is it your family? Is your art? Is it other things in your life that are super important to you? Really get clear about those. Then, start to figure out which tasks, or projects, or habits, things that you may have been putting off — how they connect to these larger values. I tell you what, if they don't connect to the larger values, I would like to give you permission to just cross them off your list.
Unless, of course, they are extremely important values to somebody that you are partnered with, and crossing them off your list could lead to the detriment of your relationship. You certainly don't want to do that. But if you do this for yourself, what you will have left is a collection of things that are actually meaningful and important to you. Then, you can begin to create sort of goals around these.
When we can get clear about our values and the goals that kind of flow off of those, and then the tasks or the projects that we need to do in order to accomplish these goals that are a manifestation of our values, then there becomes much more meaning in our daily tasks. We also have a lot more clarity about what is important and why. That in itself can be quite motivating.
Something I've gotten in the habit of doing is every week, we'll think about my values, my long-term goals, and then, “What are just the three most important things I could do this week that would move me towards those?” Then, from those weekly goals, what are the three most important small things I could do today that would carry me towards that, and do those first. Do those during your most high-energy days, and respecting the fact that those times of day are very special times of day that not just anything should wander into your energy field at those times of the day.
That time is reserved for special and important things that are connected to your highest meaning and value, and getting in the habit of doing those things first. When you do that, every day will be incredibly productive because you'll be doing the most important things. Even if you don't do all of the things, you can feel good and confident that you are living in alignment with your values, and you're making the most important things happen because that's where it's at.
We all need to release this idea that we can do all of the “everything” — that's not possible. But we should strive to be doing the things that are important to us. That's one last tip. I hope it's helpful. But again, I don't want you to hear this podcast and think that you should be able to do all of these things that I've advised. Then, that just turns into another thing to feel bad about yourself around if you can't. That is not the way that people work.
These are growth experiences. This is a process, and getting information like this is a part of the process. But true growth — it's never informational, it is experiential, it occurs over time. I just wanted to remind you of that before we end so that you can be gentle with yourself as you are working on this. Anyway, thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I do hope this was helpful, and I will see you next time, next week. In the meantime, here is more Wimps.
I can’t tell you how many times a therapy or dating coaching client has asked me questions like these, usually through tears. They’re often reeling in the aftermath of a traumatic breakup, reflecting on a painful dating history, and feeling bleak about their odds of ever finding a healthy, loving relationship in the future.
When you fall for partners who cheat, who mistreat you, who don’t value you, or who just aren’t capable of being in a healthy relationship, it’s painful. When this becomes a pattern, dating can feel like a carousel of heartbreak and disappointment, where the only choices are between toxic connections and being alone.
But if you’re reading this, I’m here to tell you that you have other, better choices. You still have time to get off this ride, stop accepting relationships with jerks, and go find real love.
On today’s episode of the podcast, I’m going to tell you how. Joining me for this conversation is Sarah, a “Love, Happiness and Success” listener who graciously volunteered to share her difficult dating history, and to discuss how she broke free from a pattern of dating jerks to find a healthy, loving relationship.
We’re talking about why jerks can seem so darn datable, the romantic myths that keep you stuck, and the deep work you can begin today to banish jerks from your love life, once and for all.
No one deserves to be lied to, cheated on, used, neglected, strung along, ghosted, or gaslit. Unfortunately, many people experience a toxic relationship with a jerk at some point. And for some, dating jerks is the norm.
If you have a history of choosing partners who don’t treat you with love and respect, it’s time to examine your dating patterns, get curious about where they’re coming from, and start shifting them in a healthy new direction.
This is deep, fundamental, important work. It can improve your relationships across the board — not just in your dating life.
The Myth of the “Right Person”
Step one in breaking through a pattern of dating jerks is to let go of a story that’s pervasive in our culture: that you just haven’t met the right person yet, and that once you do, everything will fall into place.
Of course, meeting a kind, available, and trustworthy person (who’s also crazy about you) is a wonderful thing. But if you have a longstanding pattern of dating partners who don’t treat you well, you have some barriers to healthy relationships to dismantle first. Until you begin the dismantling, you’re likely to repel the “right person” when you meet them or to reject them yourself.
Your real work isn’t to continue sifting through potential partners and hoping for the best. It’s to heal and grow until a healthy, loving relationship is the only relationship that fits.
Attachment Issues and Dating Jerks
When I have a client — often a woman — sitting on my couch after yet another painful breakup, asking, “Why do I keep attracting the wrong man?,” I start with a few questions about her childhood.
Did you experience abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a child? Was trauma a feature of your early years? Do you have a difficult or painful relationship with one or both of your parents?
If your early childhood attachments weren’t safe, secure, and loving, this is the likely root of any unhealthy romantic attachments you’re experiencing as an adult. It’s very common for people to be drawn to partners who remind them of an early attachment figure and try to get the love and care from these partners that they didn’t get as kids.
These relationships often lead to heartbreak, and repeating them, again and again, is like injuring the same body part over and over. If you suspect attachment issues are at the root of your painful romantic patterns, book an appointment with an attachment-oriented therapist or divorce recovery specialist who can help you break the cycle.
Some of the biggest jerks in the dating pool initially present as attractive, fun, wildly successful types. These sparkly people make your brain dispense pleasure chemicals in their presence — a sensation that can be confused with compatibility or love.
But like most highs, the hangover is usually close behind. You may discover that this exciting person is all charm and no substance, or that their intense interest in you peters out shortly after they get you into bed.
Meanwhile, many non-jerks aren’t so sparkly at first blush. They may downplay their accomplishments, rather than highlight them. It may take some time to discover the best parts of their personality. They may not lavish you with attention or flattery right off the bat, instead, they may take the time to actually get to know you.
All of this can feel a bit… boring. Especially if you’re accustomed to “love” feeling like a quick dopamine hit.
Of course, there are some sparkly, charming people who also happen to be excellent partners (and some less sparkly people who also happen to be jerks). But if you’re overfocusing on chemistry — on how you feel in another person’s presence — you might be choosing a short-term high over genuine, enduring love.
Are You Actually Dating Jerks?
Sometimes we believe we’re dating jerks, when in fact our love lives are unfolding in the natural, sometimes difficult way that love lives tend to unfold — and yes, that includes the occasional breakup that’s difficult to recover from.
You may think your partner’s a jerk when you realize they’re not who you wanted them to be, and you’re feeling hurt or disappointed about that. This is a sign that you need to move slower and take more time to get to know people, before getting deeply attached.
It could also be that the person you’re dating just doesn’t have the same level of interest in you that you have in them, and is communicating this in various ways that feel a little jerky. They may be slow to respond to your messages, unmotivated to make plans, or unwilling to commit to your relationship. This kind of rejection hurts, and it can be hard to get over it. But it doesn’t make them a jerk unless they’ve deceived you in some way about your relationship (which happens!). To avoid situations like this, learn to judge potential partners by the effort they’re putting into your relationship. If you’re not seeing effort, that’s your cue to move on.
Finally, we sometimes think we’re dating jerks, when in fact our own unresolved issues are introducing unhealthy elements into the relationship mix. The way you show up in relationships will affect the feedback you receive from partners, and if you’re getting a lot of the same, unpleasant feedback, that could be a sign that your own style of relating needs to change.
And if you do need to work on how you show up in relationships, you’re in great company. Relationships are an opportunity for all of us to learn and grow into better versions of ourselves, and to develop essential relationship skills like empathy, communication, listening, and emotional intelligence.
How to Stop Dating Jerks
There could be a number of reasons for your pattern of dating jerks, and many of those reasons are best worked through with the help of a good dating coach or therapist.
But there is one thing you can do all on your own, that can change your dating life for the better: Get clear about who you are and what you’re looking for in a relationship.
Do you know what your values are? Do you know where you’re headed in life? Do you know where your boundaries are in relationships, what you’ll accept and what you’ll walk away from? If you’re looking for someone to spend your life with, what qualities will that person have? Once you’re clear on the answers to these questions, dating will feel a lot easier. You’ll find yourself drawn toward emotionally healthy partners who fit into the life you’re committed to building, and the jerks will lose their sparkle.
Episode Show Notes:
[02:33] A Harmful Dating Pattern
Gaining self-awareness can help you understand and recognize toxicity in your relationships.
Being stuck in a harmful pattern can be traumatizing and prevent you from finding the real, healthy love you want and deserve.
It’s ultimately your power — and your responsibility — to make things better for yourself.
Clear the deck for new ideas! It’s not luck or chance that will help you — it will be you and your growth.
[06:29] Jerks And Attachment Styles
You may have unresolved attachment issues from your childhood.
You might never feel safe or secure in relationships, requiring plenty of validation. On the other hand, you might be keeping people at a distance.
Involving yourself with someone with an unhealthy attachment style can cause you to act in unhealthy ways, too, even if you were secure before the relationship.
[12:57] Why Do I Attract Jerks? Jerks Are Attractive!
Jerks tend to be superficially charming — they’re often good-looking, fun, and successful.
It’s easy to get swept off your feet when you first meet them.
Jerks may have narcissistic or sociopathic traits or have highly avoidant attachment styles.
Nice, kind, and securely attached people are not that flashy. Developing a real relationship often feels like growing a friendship.
[16:15] Not Everyone Is A Jerk
Emotionally healthy people will get to know you over a period of time. It won’t be as exciting and will usually feel calm and peaceful.
If you’ve been dating a lot of jerks, a healthy person might seem boring.
Some people may realize they’re incompatible with you and reject you. This doesn’t mean either of you are bad people.
[22:16] Dating People Who Aren’t Jerks
Being a good partner is a learned skill.
If you can’t show up well in a relationship, your partner might pull away.
It’s critical to face yourself as well. What are you doing to create these outcomes? Are you bringing harmful patterns to the relationship?
Take time to understand yourself and your values.
[33:16] Unrealistic Expectations of Dating
A good beginning doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.
Some people might only show negative behaviors later in a relationship.
[41:51] Dating A Jerk Advice: “Red Flags”
Red flags can get buried by powerful feelings at the start of a relationship.
They also come in waves — you may have a great day, followed by multiple arguments.
Heeding the “red flags” in a relationship is a valuable lesson to learn.
[48:51] Attracting the Wrong People
Attempting to “fix” someone tends to backfire.
It pays off to introspect and understand yourself.
You deserve better; be with someone who builds you up.
[57:09] How to Date a Nice Guy After Dating Jerks
Focus on a potential partner’s demeanor before jumping to conclusions.
Cultivate mutual commitment, honesty, and authenticity in a relationship.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: On today's show, we are exploring a question. I know many of you have been asking yourselves at some point or another, which is, “Why do I keep dating jerks?” I know that this has been on your mind because I've had a lot of you reach out to me through our website — growingself.com, through Instagram. With these situations, you're like, “You know what? I did it again. Why do I keep getting myself in these relationships, in these situationships, wind up not being a good fit for me? I don't like it, I don't want to do it anymore, but I also don't know how to stop.” And that's valid.
Today, we are devoting a whole episode into unpeeling this onion and answering some of these questions for you. I have something exciting planned for us today. I am going to be doing a couple of things. I am an information person, as you probably figured out now if you've listened to the show before. I am going to be providing information and insight — just things that I have learned over the years in my role as a therapist, a dating coach, a counselor here at Growing Self.
Then, I also am going to be speaking with one of my listeners, one of your compadres, one of our community has raised her hand. We actually put a call out on Instagram recently around, “Have you had a pattern of dating jerks? Do you want to talk about it with Dr. Lisa?” Our friend, Sarah, raised her hand and said that she has been working on this for a long time, and she also had this pattern and has some very special and hard-won insights to share with you about her process in this area. Lots of fun stuff in store for us today.
If this is your first time listening — hello, welcome. I'll make this quick. Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby — founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I'm a Marriage and Family Therapist, I'm a psychologist, I'm a life coach. This show is all about love, happiness, and success, and your love, happiness, and success specifically. If you have questions, or topics you would like me to talk about on the show, if you have a question for me and would like to discuss it with me on the show, I hope you raise your hand and get in touch. email@example.com is how you can email. You can also get in touch on Instagram, @drlisamariebobby.
A Harmful Dating Pattern
First of all, let's just talk about this pattern, which is so common. I know that many people who come to our practice, Growing Self, we do a number of different things here. We do couples counseling, we do career stuff — even our individual clients that we work with, the work that we do is often very relational in nature. I've done a lot of research and writing on the topic of breakup recovery, and I think is an extension of that when people heal and grow. It can turn into dating coaching, which is wonderful.
That can also be a difficult experience for people, particularly if they haven't done a lot of this deeper work around patterns and subconscious motivations. Without that insight, without that self-awareness, dating can often be extremely discouraging and disappointing, I should say. The hope of this podcast today is to arm you with some new ideas to help make it more positive and productive for you. Again, as with all these podcasts, this is information. Information is not the same thing as having a growth experience. But hopefully, you'll hear some things today that you can put to use in your own life that would be helpful for you.
You deserve to have help with this because it's an awful experience of feeling like you try to have relationships with these people. Just over and over again, you're getting involved with people who treat you badly or they're untrustworthy — maybe they've cheated on you, maybe they weren't emotionally available, or maybe you just leave this experience feeling like they're not valued, and that is terrible.
It's hurtful to experience, but also, if we don't figure out ways to break these patterns, it can be traumatizing and can really hold you back in some ways from trying again, daring to trust again, and put yourself out there again, and finding the real, healthy love that you want and deserve. I am here to tell you — the good news is that these patterns are 100% within your power to change, and it is your power to change it. Meaning, that it is also ultimately your responsibility to change it.
Tip number one: one of the biggest things I found that can be a huge barrier for people on this path of growth is this idea that, “I just haven't met the right person yet. When I do, this will be completely different. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, I'm talking to all these different people, and sooner or later, I will meet the right person, and then I will have a different experience, and this will all be better.” I am here to tell you that certainly, meeting the right person can be glorious and leads all good things.
Unless you've done deeper levels of growth work, you will have a really hard time meeting that person. Here's the fun part: if you do meet that person, you will reject them. There's a lot to unpack here today. The first thing that I would like to request, as we do this work together today, is that you release that old narrative of I just haven't found the right person, and I'm just going to put it over here next to me while we're talking. I will hand it back to you the end of today's broadcast.
But in the meantime, just clear the decks for some new ideas that will have more impact on your life ultimately because it's not luck, it's not chance — it's you. It's you learning, and growing, and gaining self-awareness and clarity, and being able to understand your patterns so that you can ultimately find freedom from them.
Jerks And Attachment Styles
One of the reasons that people have jerks in their life — a string of jerks going back for decades, different shapes and sizes, but jerk-wise nonetheless, and this one is hard to wrap your arms around.
If this is true for you, it is likely that you will need some professional support in order to work through this. But if you emerged from childhood as many people have with damaging experiences in your very early primary relationships with one or both of your parents, it may have left you with what we call “attachment issues”.
You may be on either side of the spectrum, you may have a tendency towards anxious attachment where you never quite feel safe or secure in relationships, and you need a lot of validation and people telling you that they love you, and showing you that they love you, or you start to feel really anxious, and that can lead to controlling behaviors in relationships sometimes that makes it difficult to have the kind of relationship that you want.
You may also have come out of that with what we call an “avoidant attachment style”, which is that you, from a very early age, became heavily defended and even are now subconsciously really protecting yourself from getting too close to other people, which in practice typically looks like being extremely perfectionistic and critical of the people that you date and get to know.
You can start to get to know somebody, and it seems good so far. Then sooner or later, they're not perfect anymore, you have all these reasons why they're not your person, and you will withdraw from relationships — even if you don't want to. I've talked to so many people, and it's like a physical — like they feel grossed out by a person almost, it's like on a physiological level
It is very common for people who have anxious attachment styles and avoidant attachment styles to come together in a non-blissful union, and essentially torture each other for several months before breaking up, and then oftentimes repeating that with a different person with a same kind of complementary attachment style.
I also want to say that any of us in a certain type of relational system can exhibit an attachment style on one side of the spectrum or the other. If you are in a relation with somebody, for example, if you have a secure attachment style fundamentally, and if you are in a relationship with an avoidant person, you will become anxious and you will start looking like an anxiously attached person in that relationship.
If you are a securely attached person, and you start dating somebody who has an anxious attachment style, you will very predictably move into this avoidant relational style with them because of their kind of way of showing up in the relationship. One way to dig into this and to see if it's deeper attachment things going on at a much deeper level is to ask yourself, and it could be with the help of a therapist or you unpack this, “Did I essentially grow up, from the ages of zero to five, in a highly emotionally unsafe or physically unsafe environment?”
Not that you needed to have perfect parents. Everybody's parent is a weirdo in one way or the other. This is not parent-bashing, but patently unsafe. It was bad, you are suspect that it was left with traumas, left with scars, and it has persisted and been in these kinds of stable patterns in every relationship over time. But that would be a sign that there's some deeper work to do.
I just wanted to say that first because I think what these kinds of questions like, “Why do I date jerks?” We think that there's some simple answer, and if you've lived through awful things in your early childhood, I want to be a better friend to you than that by suggesting that there's some simple amp answer and do these three things, and it will be better. There is a longer road ahead, and it's okay, and it can be healed, and it's going to be an intentional process, and it's also difficult to do alone.
But until you do that, it's going to be hard to break out of those patterns because not only do you have your own attachment style that will interfere with healthy relationships anyway, but it's almost like your antenna is a little bit bent. You're going to be fundamentally more attracted to people who are going to be nothing but trouble for you.
Herr Freud, back in the day, noticed this in some of his patients, and it would show up in different places, but he termed it “repetition compulsion”, and observed the fact that people who had very traumatic experiences, particularly with their parents, particularly in early childhood, would try to heal it, close the gap, have a healing experience with a person in their adult life who was very similar to one of those abusive parents like, “I couldn't get the love and care that I needed from my abusive father, so I'm going to find this guy who's very similar to my abusive father, actually, and try to do this with him. In that way, have that healing experience”, and it doesn't work, and it is also highly subconscious. People don't even realize that they're doing it.
If any of this is ringing a bell for you, you can just stop listening to the “How to Not Date Jerks” podcast, and just make an appointment with a good therapist who has an attachment-based orientation to help you dig through some of this, and do a deeper level of more meaningful work. Just invest in it, and trust that through this deeper work, you will be ready to heal, and grow, and find a wonderful person. But until you do the work, that time that you spend dating will not be helpful to you. That's my first piece of advice, for better or for worse.
Jerks Are Attractive
Another reason that I often see why people have a pattern of dating jerks when we unpack this is because jerks are often incredibly attractive humans — they really are. When we think about the stereotypical jerk, they don't say terrible things, and act in horrific and shocking ways when you first meet them. No — they are often superficially charming. They are smooth talkers. They look good, they smell good, they often have admirable careers, and they can be really fun to talk to.
They’ll sweep you off your feet, an experience that I think a lot of people are craving. They are subconsciously, when they're going out and thinking about who they're attracted to — or feeling attracted to, I should say, is people with a lot of sex appeal who have established good careers and these kind of admirable lives, and who are again, good talkers. Sometimes, there are certainly wonderful humans in the world that can be all of those things — they're talented, they're fun, they're smart, they're charming, they're accomplished, and they're also kind. That happens, it's a thing.
But oftentimes people who are not all that kind, who may actually have narcissistic or sociopathic personality traits, or who have highly avoidant attachment style, which is can be associated with sociopathic or narcissistic personality traits, often present as all that and a bag of chips when you first meet them. That is actually something that I have — part of my spidey sense that I've developed with other humans over the years is if somebody seems too good to be true, and is flattering you, and love bombing you, and talking about all these amazing things, wants to fly you somewhere on their private plane, that makes my narcissist alarm start flaring.
Just pay attention to that and think about who you are attracted to, what those patterns are, and whether or not you might have a proclivity to sexy-hot chicks or the suave-debonair guys because again, there can be a pattern there. I think if you are prioritizing that charming experience, that butterfly experience, that exciting experience, that super sexy experience with people that you're just getting to know.
If that is what you're looking for, and that's what you're vibing in the direction of when you are seeking partners — if you're looking through online dating apps, or starting to text with people, or go first dates, you are going to be, by definition, rejecting people who are non-jerks, because most of the time, very nice, kind, decent, securely attached people are not that flashy. They're not trying to impress you, they're not trying to lovebomb you — they are just going about their life and looking for somebody nice to connect with, and go and do fun things with, and develop a real relationship with which often feels like developing a friendship with somebody.
Not Everyone Is A Jerk
A secure, emotionally healthy person is going to want to get to know you over a period of time, and it's going to feel relatively calm and peaceful. They don't want to have a 72-hour first date with you, so they often have healthy boundaries, they're being appropriate. If you have a pattern of being attracted to the feeling, if you're looking for that feeling, you're going to encounter non-jerks and think, “Hmm, they’re boring”, or, “This doesn't feel like it should”, because there isn't that sizzle sort of feeling.
Sometimes I'm sorry to say, people can even take this a step further. They have criteria that very nice, decent potential partners might not meet in terms of career aspirations, how much money they make, how much they weigh, how tall they are. If you are looking for superficial characteristics to guide your dating life, and not paying a lot of attention to things like values, and character, and who this person fundamentally is — you have a much higher likelihood of connecting with a superficial person because that's the energy that you're coming into this with.
I'm not saying that to be critical towards you, but just to bring it into your consciousness because this is a mistake that a lot of people are making and not even realizing that they're doing it. Again, knowledge is power, self-awareness is power, and if this is something that could be true for you, it's really important to get clear and reflective around this so that you can break the pattern and do something different.
Now, another reason why you may feel like you are dating jerks and have a pattern of taking jerks — you might not actually be dating jerky people, you might be dating people that, over time, you come to realize are fundamentally incompatible with you. It's not a good fit, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they're a bad person.
But if you are feeling angry, or disappointed, or let down by them because they are not who you wanted to be, that would be a good sign that one of the reasons why you feel like you're dating jerks is that you are getting involved with people on a more intimate level too quickly that if you had given yourself the time to slow down and get to know them a little bit better over time, you would have come to the realization that is not a good fit just in terms of who you are, what you want, personalities, the way that you communicate, values. It takes time to do that.
If you find yourself being really disappointed or surprised that people aren't who you thought they were, it's a good sign that you're probably moving too fast — and a fix for this would be to slow it down, and really understand dating as a process of getting to know someone. You're evaluating each other, “Is this somebody that I can have a nice long-term relationship with?” It is normal and expected that you would be getting to know people sometimes and saying, “Actually, no. Now that I've gotten to know you a little bit better, I'm not sure that this does feel like a good fit — not sure how much I like you anymore.” Totally fine.
It doesn't mean that person is a jerk, it means that you've done a good job and you're both free to go. Now, there's also a corollary to this. You could be, again, not dating jerks, but dating people who are not that interested in having a relationship with you. When you are trying to have an attachment and you're all excited about somebody, and they're not that into you, you are not their person, you are not what they're looking for — you're going to feel that, and it's going to show up in the way that they're behaving towards you.
They won't be committed to you, they may not be thoughtful about you, they may not be saying nice things, they might not be working that hard to try to make you feel good because this isn't a relationship that feels like something they want to build with you. In these cases, I think it can be easy to look at these patterns of behavior and think, “Oh, that is a bad person because they're not treating me kindly”, or “they're not being respectful”, or “they're not following through”, when in reality, maybe they're not like a fundamentally horrible human being, they're not a monster — they're communicating that this isn't a good relationship for you to be in with them. They don't want to do this with you.
What is also horrible, but it is true and it is common is that many people don't like to be alone, and they will happily date a good enough person that can get strung along and can be like a placeholder in their life while they're waiting for the right person to come along. If you're with somebody who has a pattern of being checked out, or isn't working that hard to be with you, there is a possibility that you might be occupying that space in somebody else's life. It is so crappy and horrible to think about this — it really is.
I feel like you deserve to know the truth so that you can make informed decisions on your own behalf into not try to make somebody treat you better or feel differently about you, that it's okay to just be done — and it doesn't mean anything about you either. I think we can all reflect, scrolling back through our minds about people that we connected with for a little while. For whatever reason, they weren't bad people. They were fine, They were attractive, they were nice in their own way, but they just weren't our person. I think we've all been in those brief relationships.
Dating People Who Are Not Jerks
I think that can help manage some of the self-esteem, “Oh, if I had done something different or better or whatever, then they would have liked me more.” Let's just not do that and accept the fact that there are people that you're not compatible with, and they're not compatible with you, and that can just be okay. They're not a jerk, you're not a jerk, and we can all move on. There's no need to demonize people in that space.
Then, the other situation that we do need to talk about — there are two pieces of this. There are situations where you can get into a pattern of dating people who are not jerks. If you are bringing unresolved stuff into a relationship with you — like going back to exhibit A when we were talking about attachment issues. If you have work to do in those areas, and you haven't, and you are dating people anyway, and you are engaging with them in some of those either avoidant or anxious attachment styles, people will begin to feel an act and be jerky-er than they were when you first met them.
Because relationships are systems, and I think it's important for all of us to be aware of how we are engaging with other people and the impact that is having on them. It might not even be due to attachment styles. If you haven't done work around like emotional intelligence, and maybe communication skills are not something that you've taken time to develop in yourself, and maybe if you haven't had a lot of relationships and haven't done some work around, “How do I be a good partner for someone else?”
Even simple things like learning how to be emotionally validating, being intentional about showing love and respect to other people — these are learned skills. If you are showing up in relationships, and you don't know how to do these things, and other people are having not-so-great experiences with you as a result, they're going to pull away from you, and they're going to decide — like what we talked about — that you're not their person, and they're going to be less responsive to you, they're going to be less interested in making you happy, and it's going to start feeling to you like they're being mean to you, they're being a jerk.
When in reality, they're having reactions to the things that maybe you're bringing to the relationship. Again, I am not saying these things to be harsh, or mean, or scary — but I think that there's a lot of somewhat questionable dating advice around social media and other platforms. What I'm here to do on this podcast is to help you gain insight and awareness into yourself. I think it can be very difficult to identify some of these things.
It is much easier to demonize others, to blame them for the experiences that we're having in relationships. It's difficult emotionally to look into the mirror and be like, “Okay, what am I doing to create these outcomes? What are the patterns that I'm bringing in? And what are the things that may be difficult to look at, but that I really need to look at because I want something better for myself?”
The path of growth is often one of reality-based, authentic, sometimes darkness. We need to grapple with things that are real and true and sometimes challenging on the path of growth. I just wanted to mention these things because I've seen them come up so often in my clients and with other people, and I wouldn't be doing you any favors if I weren't honest with you. For what it's worth, those are some of the reasons why you may feel like you are dating jerks.
Very lastly, and then we will shift gears, another thing that I have seen in addition to all of the above is, I think of what I've shared probably the most easily solvable of problems if you will, which is not that there's an attraction issue or rejection of good partners, or a way of showing up in relationships that's not ideal. But rather, that you haven't yet put the time and effort into getting really clear about who you are, your values — like the things that are most important to you to getting clarity about how you want a relationship to feel, the kind of partnership and life that you'd like to have with another person.
I'm not talking about like that extremely specific, “Okay, she needs to be 5’8”, and she needs to have sandy blonde hair.” Those kinds of things are not what I'm talking about. But it's more around, “I really want to be with an emotionally safe person that I can talk to about real things. I want to feel valued by this person, I want to feel fundamentally respected by this person, I want to feel like we're going on in the same direction in life. By the way, what is that direction that I want to go in? I have to get clear about that before I can figure out if somebody is going in the same direction as me or not.”
Doing that kind of self-exploration work can build the foundation of clarity. Then, when you do start dating again, you can be looking for people who are much more than just attractive or fun to talk to. It's more around, “What kind of experience would I have with this person as a long-term partner?”
Off the bat getting to know people for who they are, and deciding as you're dating whether or not this feels good for you, this feels compatible, “Am I experiencing greenlights with this person, and I want to keep getting to know them and getting deeper into the pool of a relationship?” Or, “Am I having experiences that don't feel really good for me, or making me worry that we’re not that compatible?” And, “Am I overriding my own good judgment here because I'm excited about this person because they feel attractive to me. I feel butterflies — they're sexy.”
Remembering that they're very different parts of our mind, and that the part of your mind that feels, the part of your mind that experiences, excitement, and attraction is not the same part of your mind that has the ability to think critically and make good decisions, and that's really the part of your mind that you need to stay engaged with when you're dating. Okay, so this was a quick crash course in things to think about when you're dating.
If you are interested in more on the subject, there's a lot more on this on previous podcasts. You can scroll back through, or certainly, hop over to the blog at growingself.com, and check out some of our good dating advice over there. We do also have a little dating coaching program. If you want to dig into some of this work, there are activities and worksheets, and things that you can do to gain insight. But I tell you, there's not, I think, a substitute for, in some ways, talking to somebody about this because that's where you really get help in uncovering those blind spots and developing the kind of self-awareness that we all need to make different choices and to get different outcomes.
This concludes the informational part of our broadcasts. Now, though, I really wanted to do something to make this more — not like real, but I'm a big believer in understanding, gaining wisdom, and understanding the depth of awareness by not just reflecting on our own experiences and taking in information, but really hearing about the stories of others.
For this reason, I have invited Sarah to join us on the show. Sarah is actually a listener of the podcast, and we began doing a new thing recently where we thought it would be fun instead of just talking abstractly and from a distance about your questions and the topics that were most important to you guys, “Hey, let's start bringing people on the show and actually having real conversations that I'm sure you'll be able to relate to.”
We put a little post out on Instagram who says, “Hey, who has had the experience of dating jerks?” Sarah was kind enough to raise her hand and share that — you're intimately familiar with those. I thought it would be so fun just to, maybe if it's okay with you, get some insight into your story, and the things that you learned along the way for the benefit of our community here on the podcast. So, thank you.
We do not have to go into all the details, of course. But when I'm working with somebody in the capacity of a therapist, or a dating coach, one of the most important places that we will start is with your relationship history because that's when we can start to see patterns. I think that when we're living in the moment, it's hard, sometimes, to know why we do what we're doing. But I'm curious to know you've shared that you over time noticed a pattern of dating jerks. Would you give us the short version of your dating history to the degree that you're comfortable? And when did you begin to notice that this was a pattern for you?
Sarah: I have only really ever been in two long-term relationships that were actually established relationships where it wasn't just talking or getting to know one another — those stages that are very popularized now. One of which I'm in right now, the other one was with a previous partner. We've been almost broken up for an entire year now, and my boyfriend and I currently have been together for — it'll be six months in four days.
Sarah: Yes — and he is wonderful. He's definitely not a jerk. Definitely not any of the things that I've experienced with previous parties. But out of everyone who wasn't in either of these two relationships with me who I did, myself, being attracted to and attracting, the qualities that I noticed, it was initially — I was expecting a spark. Dating coaches will say certain things like that — and it depends on the dating coach and their expertise, of course.
But the way that so many things are mainstream nowadays, it felt like I was supposed to be, “Okay, I know I have a chance with someone like this. Or maybe I feel like, “I feel a connection there. I feel like there could be something that can grow and transpire from this.” When really, I was giving my I was getting my own hopes up and give myself a way to easily, allowing myself to become vulnerably and emotionally attached and tethered to this person.
Any of these people, very quickly — with how much time we would spend together, what we would talk about, how I felt like they might have been different quote-unquote, “from the last person”, and it's kind of like whenever I noticed a pattern. That’s what I found myself doing most often.
Unrealistic Expectations of Dating
Lisa: That is so relatable. I see that so often in my clients. I'm hearing that they're these two pieces of it. First of all, it’s one that is so common — it’s looking for this feeling and expecting to feel a certain way that ultimately wound up not being a reliable indicator that this was actually a good person in our relationship. But can we unpack this for a second? Because I think especially with women — sometimes with men, but like I see people do this so often. What was that feeling that you thought you should have?
Sarah: I, now, can recognize it as an unsteady and unstable — dare I say like insecurity-ridden feeling, “Wow, this person will complete me. I'm only half of a person. I'm looking for someone to make me whole”, have nearly unrealistic expectations of how the relationship will pan out whenever you don't even know them for that long, whenever you are unsure of one another's moral compass — or if you guys want the same things, are they thinking of you the same way that you're thinking of them.
But that spark, that feeling is just butterflies — it's the nervousness, newness of it all, the magic of meeting someone new. It can't rely on a single spark. I know that I'm listing a bunch of different things aside from dating.
Lisa: Oh no, it's wonderful. I appreciate you unpacking all this perspective. I'm hearing that there's that spark, that kind of chemistry feeling. Then, I think I'm hearing that it bloomed into a lot of fantasy. You talked about having a hope that you found the person that could “complete you” potentially.
Can you say a little bit more about that? I know that you have a different perspective now because you've worked on yourself, obviously. But what can you take us back to that time of what would be some of the things that you would be imagining or telling yourself about one of these people who wound up not being a good partner for you?
Sarah: One person I can think of in particular would be my ex. He immediately swept me off my feet. At first, I felt, “Wow, he has a good head on his shoulders. He seems like he knows what he wants in life.” He seems very sure of himself — and it wasn't so much a confidence thing. It was more like, “Wow, he seems like sure about me”, at the very beginning. It made me feel wanted, and I deserve someone who's very loving, and caring, and compassionate about me.
But the way that someone appears to you at first is all you know of them. It doesn't give you much time to really make a good educated guess on how the rest of the relationship will transpire. It is easy to fantasize. But a lot of times, I found that I was let down by the discussions that we'd have and where I thought, “He was everything I wasn't”, or “He was super similar to me in certain ways.”
I thought that, “Oh, well — maybe he could very well complete me. Maybe, he could be that one piece of my jigsaw puzzle that has been missing and arrived for so long.” Struggling to figure out how to fit him in was where a lot of conflict arose.
Lisa: No, I get that. Then, to understand, there's so many people who are creative, and intelligent, and conscientious is that you used the word “fantasy”, but imagine these things, imagine qualities that you had and qualities that he had, especially in the early stages of the relationship where he was making you feel really good. He came on strong, he said all the things, you're like, “Wow, I am loved! This is it! I'm having this experience.”
But then, you're saying that there were ideas about what should be happening, expectations that you wanted him to fit into, and then that is when it started feeling hard sometimes. Is that it? What would be an example of that?
Sarah: An example would be, I think, whenever he was so chivalrous and charismatic at the very beginning, but then maybe there'll be an instance where I found that, “Oh, he didn't do that thing that he did once before. Why isn't that happening anymore? Why am I not getting a good morning text? Was that just at the beginning? Should I keep on expecting that?” I dug myself into a deeper hole because I was not as communicative as I am proud to say that I am now.
I was not as upfront in saying — just sitting down, having a one-on-one with him, and having a very intimate, serious discussion on, “Hey, I feel like these are some of my needs.” But then, there'll be instances where that didn't happen anymore, where it didn't happen all over again. To make matters worse, there would also be some fights that came out of those things where we would have disagreements. It didn't start off at the biggest problems, possibly.
It would also be various things such as we had a huge difference of opinion on certain civil rights movements, or I was very proactive, and I want everyone to be with who they love and for all the reasons that they can provide. As long as you're not hurting yourself or anyone or anything else around you, I think you're living your life. That's like my philosophy. He didn't like that.
He didn't like that I didn't have enough structure in my life. He didn't like that I would try and be communicative, but then it felt like attacking and accusatory to him — even if I would try and phrase it as civilized, and as diplomatically, and as heartfelt as possible. Truthfully, sometimes it wouldn't be enough to avoid the bigger confrontations and to try and see past the differences. I was a little bit more optimistic about our relationship. Honestly, I can admit now that I saw a lot of red flags, and I completely bypassed them. It was like — I saw a red light, ran it every time.
Lisa: Get swept away by those big feelings in the beginning. What I think I'm hearing in your story is that there was that first kind of relational piece that just felt so good like, “This is the way it should be.” Then, I think I'm hearing that he has stopped saying or doing some of the things that had felt nice to you in the beginning, and you were trying to get him to do that again. Then, that was leading to tension. Maybe, that went the other way, as well.
But I'm also hearing that as you two got to know each other better over time, that there were some fundamental differences and four defining values that started bumping up against each other. We never know what those are really until we get into the pool with somebody and have opportunity. That takes months, sometimes years, to really understand what those pieces are. Is that what I'm hearing?
Sarah: 110% accurate. You're right. If you were to go on a date and be like, “Okay, so what's your stance on religion?”
Lisa: Holding a clipboard. Right.
Sarah: I can be like, “Are you really a potential suitor?” I guess that's one way to do it. You'd be a very forward person and much more ballsy than I am.
Lisa: It's sort of like an assessment before the first date, “Here are 200 questions — true or false?”
Sarah: “We’ll get to you in a month.” Exactly. But it's not always like that. Maybe what he really meant to say was this, maybe what he really meant to do was this over here, maybe he's trying to show me that he loves me even though we had that disagreement that made me feel unheard and unseen — maybe there is hope for us. I would just keep on holding to that little bit of hope that I kept on trying to…
Lisa: That's also really common. As we've talked about on this podcast in the past — early-stage romantic love has a very intoxicating quality. It actually changes the way that people think, and part of what it does to our brains is idealize that other person. I think I'm hearing that there was that disconnect — that you were seeing things and observing things, and things like, “I don't really like that.”
But there was this other part of your brain that was in that space of hoping. But it sounded over time, you didn't really like the person that you were getting to know. You wanted him to be different than what he was. Is that the right way of saying it?
Sarah: Very true — it totally became that. I had fallen in love with a version of him that he was only going to be for so long — why not look past some of these things?
Dating A Jerk Advice: Red Flags
Lisa: But the feelings are so powerful in the beginning. I think that we're also trained by the culture to follow our feelings, and it's like hard insight and life experience. That is not always really helpful. We need to not follow some feelings — but it's so hard to do, especially when they feel so powerful, like in that early stage relationship.
But a moment ago, you mentioned that, as things went on, you were noticing, what you described as “red flags”, and you were like, “Oh, maybe it will be better.” But what were the red flags?
Sarah: Red flags, they came in waves sometimes. Sometimes, it would be like we had a great day, and there was no fighting, there were virtually no disagreements whatsoever. Then, there'll be other days where we had a ton of disagreements, red flags. He began to start to say some things that were borderline very questionable to my moral compass and the way that I view individuals on a worldwide global scale, saying things like, “Women don't have an opinion on that.”
Yes, I was flummoxed whenever he would say some of these things. I figured I really hope that we can come together and bridge the gaps because of our differences — not have to break up in spite of them. But certain things kept on rolling around. But anytime that we couldn't talk it out, it would turn into him screaming at me, yelling at me that my opinions were inadequate, that I didn't have the right to think certain ways. I wish I was making this up. I wish…
Lisa: Wow. No, I don't want to make you relive all of that on a public forum here. It got really nasty and really abusive.
Sarah: These are the most tumultuous relationship of my life.
Lisa: Definitely. Then, I think you're also describing something, though, that is so common, which is the old idea of the frog in the pot of boiling water. Have you heard that? If you turn it up slowly, the frog doesn't know when it's hot enough to jump out? Like doing that with yourself, “Okay, I don't like this — but can we work through this? Is it something that can be repaired?” And legitimately not knowing in some ways, which I think is really valid.
Especially for a younger person, it can be hard to see this stuff come in — even in an abusive relationship. It's not like somebody just punches you in the face on the second date. Any of us can be like, “I think…” at that point. But that's not what happens. The heat goes up slowly, and then you're emotionally entwined with somebody who is officially being really damaging and toxic. At what point were you finally, “I’m not doing this with you anymore, buddy.”
Sarah: Even while I was still in the relationship, I wasn't looking for better. I was trying to really stick with it no matter what. But to really put myself through so much turmoil, and emotional abuse and neglect, and everything else possible that could have gone wrong in the relationship, I kept on thinking to myself, “Maybe it's best if we end this, and I hope you find who or what you're looking for because I could never make you happy, I could never be enough for you in this.”
Because even if I didn't subconsciously or even verbalize it to myself, I wasn't enough for myself in that moment because I didn't choose myself right from the beginning. I didn't verbalize the way what he was saying was making me feel. He didn't take any of it into consideration to begin with. There was going to be no resolve ever that we were going to reach. Some people like that simply, as sad as it is, you cannot reach.
Lisa: Oh, I absolutely hear you. I'm so glad that you arrived in that space, as painful as it must have been, to get out there, Sarah. But it just says so much about you, and just what a fundamentally healthy person you are. No, really! You'd be like, “Ah, this does not feel good”, “I had hoped it would be one way, but this is not good for me”, recognizing, “That isn't good for me”, and also I think recognizing — this is the hard part for a lot of people, but there's like a self-betrayal component in a lot of these.
There was a lot of learning that happened through this experience, and not that anybody would have signed up for — but valuable, nonetheless, to be on the other side. Then, I'm curious to know, because you had mentioned that this was a significant relationship. But then there were other people that you sort of started to do this with is what I got the impression of, that same sort of pattern of that attraction and fantasizing, and then feeling really disappointed by people.
Were there others after this relationship, or going through that one relationship where you’re like, “I don’t learn enough about what not to do again, but I'm done with you people.”
Sarah: A really good question between my ex and my current significant other, there was nobody. I really took a lot of time to reflect on — I was wondering and questioning my worth for weeks, if not months on end, and it took a decent amount of soul searching for me to be able to say, “Even if there is no one out there for me, that is not the end-all-be-all of Sarah. That is not my composition.”
Lisa: Totally. Really spent some time stopping, and really spending some time connecting with yourself, “Who am I? What are my values? What do I care about? What do I want in my life? How can I serve the world?”, and these anchors to bigger things. I'm so glad that you did that. I see, so often, people are just jumping right back into a very similar feeling situation. I just think that says so much about you that you really slowed down, and just got really clear and okay with like yourself — like rebuilding yourself. Is that the sense I hear?
Sarah: Kind of what you were saying, this is another pattern that I noticed throughout my dating and up until the ex. I was not only attracting, but attracted to, and giving all my time, attention, effort, energy, even too emotionally unstable, if not entirely unavailable individuals. These were people who had — in more than one way and maybe not entirely verbally at that, they had said, “Hey, I'm not looking for anything long-term.”
But maybe it was with their body language, with their actions — because actions really speak louder than words. Just the way that no one really ever cared about what I was needing and what was best for, not just themselves, but for myself as well in and out of the relationship until I was to be single, and to really reflect on everything that had happened, and how much turmoil I'd experienced and to reflect.
Attracting the Wrong People
Lisa: There was a recognition of this pattern over time that you had been attracted to, as you say, most emotionally unavailable or unstable people. Can I ask you the zillion-dollar question here? I'm hearing that once you became aware of that, “I can't do that anymore”, that things change for you. But the zillion dollar question that I think so many people struggle with to define and articulate for themselves — can you say, “What if it was about those people in the beginning that was actually so attractive?”
Sarah: This is going to be a bajillion, bazillion dollar answer for you because as we're talking more about this, the more I'm able to be more specific. At first, I thought that they were very mysterious — and mysterious can always come off as attractive. But mysterious, in a dark, “I probably need help”, and I thought that I could help them kind of way. But first off, they did not act like men. They acted like children, and they most often had troubles and experienced something early on in their childhood with their parents, specifically their mother.
I wanted to swoop in, and make them my build-a-boy project — that's how I coined it. It's very — oh my gosh, this is not build-a-bear, but this is like the revamping and the refurbishing of someone who has been broken before, or rather bent. In order to get them back into shape, I figured maybe I could help them with that. I didn’t think about the fact that, “I'm not a therapist.”
Lisa: No, I totally get it. But how much insight? Because I think there's like an archetype for that — the wounded bad boy who's saying, “I'm not really emotionally available, I don't want to be in a relationship.” This can happen with men, too. I've seen this happen all the time with men who have wonderful values around helping and service, and who really are fundamentally nurturing people.
It's almost like that becomes a way to express those values, and get to be this person that you want to be — like the helper, the empathetic, the compassionate person, like, “I can help you grow and heal in that space. That was that attractor factor, it sounds like.
It's very intoxicating, isn't it? There's power, there's value — and I think all of us have been vulnerable to that. We can almost get trapped sometimes by our most noble virtues and gifts when they're in directions that are ultimately not good for us. Does that sound familiar?
Sarah: I couldn't have phrased it any better. That sounds 100% accurate to me.
Lisa: And everybody because there are a lot of people listening to this right now. I don't want to suggest that everybody's hook would be the same as the one that you've described. But I think the point is that you are able to do this marvelous reflection around, “What was it that was leading me to be attracted to that kind of person, and gain that insight and self-awareness?”
Because when things are happening subconsciously and automatically, we don't get a chance to do, “Oh yeah, there's that thing again, I'm going to do a manual override because I know that is going to not take me in a good direction.” But you were able to do that, and I would like to encourage anybody listening to this — that's how we break out of these patterns, is not being angry with yourself that, “Yes, I date these kinds of guys, and I need to stop doing that”, but really, with compassion, visiting with that question, “Yes, but why does this make sense?” And you did that.
Sarah: I feel like a lot of this pattern that had developed for me in my romantic relationships, more specifically, had been something that was not always in place, but was the majority of my time as a young woman actually dating — not just stating my kindergarten crush or anything.
To actually see people who had lived and experienced things, and to try and make sense of why they felt like they could treat me the way that they could, I felt like I'm such a giver. I so rarely in life feel like I want to actually take from people. I say that to totally not sound like self-centered, but I really do think that's like…
Lisa: Aware of your worth.
Sarah: But it took a lot of learning for me to be able to say and realize, “Maybe I need to really look deeper and wonder, ‘Why am I going after these specific kinds of guys? What is it about them that makes them mysterious, toxic — I'm willing to overlook all of your red flags and your stop lights just to be with you? What is it about that makes me attracted and that I'm attracting them?’”
Lisa: It's marvelous. I think, again, such a common element of these situations is that I think we can look to the other person as like this seductive force. But I think that there's less awareness that we are seducing ourselves in some ways by our own internal narratives and becoming intoxicated. Exactly. This is good stuff.
I know our time together is limited, so I also want to pivot because you had all of these marvelous awarenesses. I'm sure that we could unpack so many other things with additional time together — I know there's more to the story. But over time and after having a particularly bad experience, you're like, “I do not want to do that again.” You spent some reflective time. It sounds like you became more deeply connected with yourself, and I'm guessing kind of your internal values.
This is a question — did you find yourself being more intentional when you felt like maybe you were ready to try again? If so, how was that experience different in — not so much in terms of the person that you dated, but in terms of your process, like who you were attracted to? How you connected with them? What parts of your feelings were you listening to? And what parts of your feelings were like, “That's actually not as important as I used to think it was?” How would you describe that?
Sarah: I want to say, first and foremost, I love this question. It's one that I don't really think about — I think about, but I don't think about it. I don't think about how I'm going to answer it, but I'm very grateful for the way I'm dating after the really nasty breakup I experienced. I wanted to really take some time, after reflecting, to make a list of all the qualities in someone who I really do want to have. I want to share my time with someone who builds me up.
I want to share my time, and my love, and my energy, my body even — everything — with someone who is willing to try to get to understand me. Not have just a one-line response to what I have to say, but to really try and understand where I'm coming from and to build a connection with me that goes beyond the physical appearance. That will fade one day — I will not look the same that I look right now.
In 10 years, even much less 50, I feel like I'm so thankful for having the time to really reflect and be more intentional about dating. That way, I wasn't just going to put myself right back out there and not know what I wanted. I wanted to make a list — not based on the physical appearance, but to make a list of the qualities that I want to work on finding in someone else, see for myself, not have to dig it out of them, and then really try and work on those same things on myself. Why would you ask of certain qualities and someone else, and not have them yourself?
Lisa: Absolutely. “I want somebody who's compassionate, and trustworthy, and fun”, but then you turn it into, “So how do I be compassionate, and trustworthy, and fun”, of whatever those things were.
Sarah: Yes. There were all these — I was building a better version of myself, not for someone else to love, but for me. That way, I knew the most important relationship in my life is always going to be with myself.
How to Date a Nice Guy After Dating Jerks
Lisa: Ironically, having a better relationship with yourself is also the pathway to being a better partner — they're the same thing. I just wanted to mention that because I think when we hear people say, “Oh, focusing on me, my needs”, I think that it's easy to interpret that as being self-centered — and that is not how I took what you said, by the way. But it's a very generous act because that is how you become a better partner, and that's what you were doing.
Lisa: How would you describe the difference in your process when you finally met the person that you're dating now that you described it as being a really positive relationship? I'm curious to know — if it's okay to say — did you feel the same kind of attractions with other people, or was it different for you? Were you looking for different things? How long did it take to get to that pool?
Sarah: I love this question so much. I'm so thankful for him. I wanted to experiment with myself, if you will, and I put myself out there. But I would only ever swipe right on people who I thought had a nicer, kinder demeanor about them. Even if I felt like, “Oh, man, maybe we were two different people, but I want to not just jump to the assumption or the conclusion of that. But I want to actually make good conversation with them, and see how they interact with me in just trying to get to know me.”
Lisa: You were prioritizing kindness — your perceptions of kindness over other things.
Sarah: Another big one is — I swiped right on my boyfriend specifically because I just thought that something about him was different. Then, when we started talking, he was very kind, very positive, optimistic, career-driven, and he was very slick too. A day or two into talking, he was like, “Wow, this is so great. I love your career interest. We can talk about it more on Friday or something.” I was like, “Ooh, slick.”
Lisa: Just out of curiosity — do you think that you would have been attracted to him prior to having done all this work on yourself?
Sarah: No, because I wouldn't have been attracted to who I am today. I wouldn't have loved her first. I wouldn't have gone through all the mess, all the heartbreak, the turmoil — everything. I needed the turbulence to be able to show me and appreciate what was good when I had it good.
Lisa: What would you say was different about the way that early stages of your relationship unfolded compared to the experience you had in a relationship that wound up not being a good thing for you?
Sarah: Wonderful question. I told him right from the start, “I do not feel comfortable with us making open-ended promises. It really makes me get my hopes up. If we don't follow through, if no actions are done to set those parameters in place, I don't feel comfortable following through on actions if I know that the other person isn't. Blanket statement — please don't make me any promises, and I won't make you any promises.
Lisa: That we're just getting to know each other. Any promises made are incredibly premature — “I don't know you yet.”
Sarah: Exactly, “I can't rely on you, I cannot trust you because I can't trust myself in this just yet.” But we both talked about was that in our previous relationships, we did not verbalize. We both had breakups right around the same time — so ended up working out. But through everything we had gone through in our previous relationships, we came to the conclusion that, “Oh, a pattern that we're noticing with one another is much more healthy than these previous relationships.”
We want to keep up the good behavior and continue to have open discussions — just laying it all there out on the table. It's not to say that we say ugly things to one another. That is not the way that we discuss things, but to allow for the conversation. For all cards on the table, it's always up for discussion. If you set a boundary in place, and you're thinking about maybe changing that boundary or revisiting it to say, “Hey, here's what I'm now feeling comfortable with.”
Anything that we can discuss, it's not like we have to approach it with fear or an insecurity of, “Oh my God, my partner might leave me. What if I say this, and the whole world comes crashing, comes tumbling down?”
Lisa: That's so wise — let this sort of mutual commitment to being honest and authentic, and really talking about how you feel because that is, I think, always one of the most important things any of us could do to avoid getting into a relationship with a jerk. Because as soon as you do that with a jerk, you'll know quickly that this person isn't going to be a good partner for you.
If you're authentic and talk about how you feel, and it is met with hostility or defensiveness, or minimization and reset, you can be done. That's what dating is for. I think that idea — let's fail as quickly as possible by being authentic, and you guys did that from the beginning. You took those chances. You're like, “How does he act when I say this about how I actually feel?” And it was a positive experience, which is a green light — we keep going.
Sarah: I love the way that you phrase that beginning because we do have the most genuine, honest, and respectful relationship I've ever been in — will probably ever be in because of the way that we talk to one another, and the way that I feel so revered, and he will clarify with what I've said. Very similar to you actually, “I'm understanding what I'm hearing — the whole nine yards, right here. I'm like, “Yes…”
Lisa: Emotional intelligence, communication skills. But you gave yourself the time to get to know that those things were true about him. I think what is very easy to do, and what I hope some of our listeners take away, is that we can have that flash — like exciting feeling, and skip over that whole getting to know who you actually are part, and develop a very serious attachment to somebody.
Oftentimes, there's like a sexual component, which not in a morality-based way, but because we have a physiological attachment to people with whom we're sexually intimate and can get emotionally welded to people, and then start to find out that, “Oh, I can't communicate with this person in a healthy way. We don't have values that are in alignment”, “This person is not a good friend to me. I don't actually like this person, but there's this emotional thing that's already happened that's very difficult to get out of.”
I think what I'm hearing you say is that it was a more gradual process, more akin to building a friendship where you are getting to know who he was as your emotional connection was beginning to build. Is that how you would describe it?
Sarah: I would. There was a moment where I wasn't too sure because he had asked me to be his girlfriend, and I was still newly out of my last relationship, and still trying to figure some things out even though I did really like him. I love his personality, and I liked his friends. He just asked me and I was like, “I don't really know. Maybe we should just take a little bit slower than that.” But I remember specifically…
Lisa: But how did he react to that?
Sarah: He was like, “Okay, I don't see how things could go wrong.” But I said myself, “I don't want to mess this up. I really do want to take our time because there's no due date on this. There's no expiration date either. There's nothing telling us that we cannot take as much time as we can. I feel like we should just get to know each other better.”
I got to know a decent amount of him, and the way that he follows through on his actions with the way that he would treat me in the first month or so like us even knowing each other — very appreciative of that. Before we even established what we even were, he wanted to hear about what my day was like, and wanted to try and see what the future could look like together.
I love that we've taken the time to do some of the dirty work. I feel so much better with him. He doesn't complete me, but he's definitely something that complements my life, and I love that about him.
Lisa: Well, that's wonderful. Sarah. I'm so happy for you. Thank you so much for coming and just sharing your story with our community here today. I think it's one thing to have somebody like me — they like, “Okay, here are things to think about, and tips”, or whatever. But I think there's something so relatable in your story. I think so many people that have struggled with this just — I could imagine them nodding their heads and being like, “Yes!”
But I think it can be difficult to identify things in ourselves because we have blind spots. It's hard to see ourselves. But I think when we do hear other stories and insights of others, and we can resonate with them, it's such a powerful experience because then you can say, “Yeah, me too”, and start connecting some of those dots.
That is 90% of the work — is just bringing this stuff into awareness. I think that you helped a lot of people do that today. I heard you mentioned earlier that some of your core values were around kindness, and generosity, and helping others. I just want you to know that I think you probably helped a lot of people today. Sarah: Thank you.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
People Pleaser? How to Stop.
HOW TO STOP BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER: “Um, sure, I guess so,” Mia says, while her stomach churns and she feels a wave of exhaustion already at the prospect of picking her sister up from the airport at midnight on a Wednesday. She wants to say, “It’s a $30 Uber, and I need to get up for work early.” But she doesn’t. She’s annoyed all the way to the airport, all the way back, and irritable and sleep-deprived at work the next day. Why couldn’t she say no?
It’s because Mia is a people pleaser. Can you relate to this? Have you ever:
1) said “yes” when you really meant “no,”
2) accepted an invitation you would have preferred to decline,
3) or apologized because you couldn’t do something that wasn’t your responsibility?
If so, you may be a people pleaser. This is no cause for alarm — we all do things on occasion just to make others happy, or to avoid potential conflict. Healthy relationships require a balance of give and take. When things are in balance, our relationships feel satisfying and mutual. We don’t need to keep score, but overall, we have the sense that we’re getting as much out of relationships as we’re putting in.
But when we lean a little bit too far in the direction of people-pleasing, things can start to feel out of balance. Your relationships might be stressful and guilt-ridden if you have a tendency to people please. You might grow resentful toward the people in your life and feel powerless to stop them from encroaching on your time and energy.
If you’ve noticed you’re doing a little too much pleasing lately, it’s time to take your power back. The “people pleasers” who arrive in counseling or coaching here at Growing Self to work on themselves around people-pleasing tend to be highly empathetic people, who understand and care deeply about other people’s feelings, wants, and needs. They know that it’s time to work on healthy boundaries and learn how to be appropriately assertive with confidence.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about on today’s episode of the podcast. My guest is Kathleen C., a therapist and life coach here at Growing Self who has helped so many people reclaim their priorities, draw their own boundaries, and tilt the balance away from people-pleasing and toward self-care.
I hope you’ll listen, and put these insights to work in improving the quality of all of your relationships — including your relationship with YOU. You can find this episode on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll subscribe!
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
People Pleaser? How to Stop.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
People pleasing is something we all do from time to time, and it’s not always a bad thing. But for some, the balance can tip a little too far in the direction of people pleasing, making it difficult to assert yourself, ask for what you need, or draw healthy boundaries with others.
If you’ve noticed a pattern of people pleasing in your relationships, this conversation will help you take back your power and put your focus back where it belongs: on your own needs and desires.
What is a People Pleaser
People pleasing is a pattern of putting other people ahead of yourself, at the expense of your own wellness. This could take many different forms. You might have trouble telling other people “no,” and so end up with a schedule so jam-packed with other people’s priorities that you have no time for the things that are important to you.
Or, you might not feel able to ask for what you need to feel emotionally safe in a relationship, like regular communication from a partner, and so you endure relationships where your true needs aren’t met.
Signs of People Pleasing
How can you know if people pleasing is an issue for you? Here are some signs that you may be doing a little bit too much people pleasing in your relationships:
Feelings of anger and resentment toward the people in your life, especially when they ask you to do things for them.
Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or drained by all of your commitments.
Experiencing feelings of guilt when you need to tell someone “no.”
Feeling inadequate, like you can never do enough.
Feeling like you don’t really have a choice when someone asks you for something.
The Danger of People Pleasing
To stop being a people pleaser, it helps to understand why you do it in the first place — as well as truly understanding the toll it takes on you and on your relationships.
When was the last time you said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no,” or put someone else’s priorities ahead of your own? Can you remember what you were thinking and feeling at the time? Maybe you felt worried about some outcome if you asserted yourself, like losing a valued friendship or angering your boss. There may have been a story you were telling yourself, about how the other person would react if you didn’t go along with what they wanted — and what that reaction would mean about you. For example, you might think, “If I was a good partner/friend/employee/person, I would do this for them.”
By reflecting on what feels difficult about not people pleasing, you can begin to question the beliefs that are making it hard for you to draw your own boundaries and speak up for your own needs. Doing so is not selfish; it’s taking care of yourself.
It’s also essential. People who struggle with setting healthy boundaries for themselves will, over time, often start feeling very angry, resentful, and even depressed. Feeling like a doormat can damage your self-esteem, but also damage the very relationships that you’re working so hard to protect.
Your feelings of anger and resentment will start to be *felt* by others – whether or not you’re saying how you feel out loud. If left unchecked, people pleasing can actually lead to passive aggressive behaviors, and increasing disconnection and distance in your relationships.
People Pleasing and Boundaries
The key to overcoming people pleasing is having a good sense of where your boundaries are. For all of us, this is easier said than done. Healthy boundaries are firm but flexible and can be negotiated depending on the relationship and your needs and the other person’s needs at any given time.
But understanding where your own boundaries are will help you have clarity about what you actually want, so you can notice when your impulse to people please is creeping in.
One key to understanding where your boundaries are is tuning into your feelings. If you’re feeling angry, resentful, pushed, or infringed upon, that’s a sign someone may be stepping on a boundary for you, even if your conscious mind is not aware that this is a boundary you need to hold.
How Values Can Help People Pleasers
Values are crucial. They’re the lighthouse that guides you in the direction of the life you want, and being clear about them can help you overcome a tendency to people please.
If you value your physical health, you won’t overcommit to too many responsibilities, spreading yourself thin and adding excessive stress to your life. If you value emotional honesty and authenticity, you’ll want to be open with others about how you really feel, and what you want and need.
Stay in touch with your values and you’ll have more clarity about whether you’re doing something because it’s what you really want, or because it’s what someone else wants.
How to Stop People Pleasing
For recovering people pleasers, there is plenty of reason to hope: You can get better at assertive communication, self-care, and staying in touch with your own boundaries and values. Many people benefit from working on themselves in therapy or life coaching, and this is especially helpful if you’re struggling to get clarity around your needs, rights, and feelings — and hope to confidently communicate those to others.
People pleasing can be a hard habit to break, but once you do, you’ll be able to enjoy positive, mutually-fulfilling relationships, without all the stress, guilt, and resentment. You’ll feel happier, your relationships will improve, and you’ll feel the love and respect you’ve always wanted and deserved.
People Pleaser Podcast Highlights
[02:27] The Signs of Being a People Pleaser
When you're people pleasing, you get into a space where you want to defend yourself, and you feel angry and resentful
Over time, you feel really exhausted, inadequate, overwhelmed, drained, and burnt out.
You feel that you can never do enough
People pleasers also talk about feelings of guilt and irritability.
[06:32] What Is a People Pleaser?
A person with a pattern of putting other people before themselves to the detriment of their personal well-being.
It is a pattern of doing things in conflict with your own value system, abandoning or betraying yourself, your mental health and physical health, and boundaries.
There is a loss of power and safety that makes an individual feel the need to prioritize others over themselves.
There are relationships where people are bullied into this behavior. It can also happen because of past experiences.
[11:26] Acknowledging a People Pleasing Personality
Recall a time when you felt pushed against a wall, guilty or resentful doing something that you didn't feel comfortable doing.
Be honest with yourself and reflect on the motivation behind your actions.
It’s not about self-judgment but holding a space for you to be clear about your feelings.
We sometimes fall into autopilot or find justifications for our actions.
[16:17] Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?
People pleasing behavior can range from simply taking the path of least resistance, to being afraid of major consequences.
Finding balance and checking within yourself to know the pros and cons of your actions is an art.
[20:23] People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger
People pleasing can metastasize into insecurity and anxiety because there has been a pattern of feeling like you need to earn taking up space.
It can also show up as physical symptoms: headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, fatigue.
These are the body's way of expressing that it has been holding a lot of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, or guilt.
Feelings give us information about ourselves, but not necessarily facts about the situation.
Connecting with yourself, including feelings like anger and resentment. It’s only human to feel angry when you’ve stretched yourself too thin.
[28:37] Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing
Guilt comes from a well-intentioned place of empathy.
It comes from that place of caring, but it gets distorted when we aren't able to hold that empathy and also hold space for our own needs at the same time.
People pleasing can also feel like love in the moment. However, there is always time and space to be compassionate and empathetic.
[33:10] Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing
Reflect on your motivations. Think about what you’ll feel and the consequences in the long and short-term.
Use your values as anchors. These values can also change over time and depending on your needs.
Take time to decide and think about what you need.
It's helpful to have scripts and assertiveness techniques that give us something to lean on and guide us as we're starting out.
Assertiveness opens up the lines of communication, and it is respectful. If someone chooses to escalate things in response instead of respecting your boundaries, it gives you good information about that relationship.
Music in this episode is by Austin Archer, with the song “People Pleaser.”
You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Austin Archer. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: I'm so glad you've joined us today because this is a very special episode. Today, we're going to be talking about people pleasing, which I know is something that we all struggle with from time to time. I'm guessing that if you're like basically everybody else in the universe, that every once in a while, you might agree to do things that you don't really want to do just to make somebody else happy. Or if you've ever accepted blame for something that you knew wasn't really your fault, just to keep the peace and put things behind you.
Things like that — many of us engage in those behaviors once in a while, and there's not anything terribly wrong with doing that sometimes. This can be kind of a social lubricant, right? People are good at relationships, pick their battles. And sometimes it's a good idea to avoid conflict or keep things pleasant and positive. But the problem arises when the balance tips too far in the direction of your people pleasing a lot of the time, when it starts to turn into a pattern for you and the way you engage with others.
Because when that starts to happen, it stops being harmless. If you have a hard time telling people “No”, or disagreeing with other people, or sometimes even putting yourself first, it can start to feel like all of your time or energy is being swallowed up by other people's priorities. And that's not good for you. It can start to feel angry, or resentful, or might even spend so much of your time and energy taking care of other people that you're not doing a good job of taking care of yourself.
So if this is feeling a little bit familiar for you, I'm glad you're here listening to this episode, because today I am joined by my colleague, Kathleen, who is a therapist and a life coach here on our team at Growing Self. She is such an expert in helping people build happy, healthy relationships, improve their communication, build their self esteem, and especially strengthen their boundaries.
I know that she has so much insight into this people pleasing pattern to share with you today. So Kathleen, thank you so much for being here with me. This is such an important topic and it's hard.
Kathleen: Yes, I love this topic. Thank you for having me. I'm here, excited to be here today.
The Signs of Being a People Pleaser
Lisa: Well, okay, first of all, can we just normalize this a little bit? I know that people pleasing is not something that is like, great for any of us to do, but I totally do this. I do this and I think that sometimes isn't there a time and a place for a little bit of people pleasing? Just a little bit?
Kathleen: Right, I really loved the way that you talked about that. Yeah, it's true. I mean, first of all, you mentioned so many examples, some of which I hadn't thought about in a while, like accepting blame. But yeah, it's necessary for lasting healthy relationships, too, to put your needs aside for someone else's sometimes. And I think that's part of what makes it hard to stop people pleasing, is telling the difference between healthy give and take and compromise and unhealthy people pleasing patterns. Yeah. So it's a good point.
Lisa: Let’s just start right there. I know that you do so much amazing work with people around this. And I guess, maybe just to begin, what are some of the things that you notice or that you listen for when you're working with clients and you start thinking to yourself, “I think I'm seeing an unhealthy people pleasing pattern,” like it's going too far. What are some of the things that you see people doing or saying or the impact maybe that it's having on them?
Kathleen: I think listeners can probably relate to this, too. A lot of times people will come to me, clients will come to me in this space, already feeling angry and resentful. So there's a lot of — they’ll come in initially complaining a lot about other people in their lives. I think that's one of the first signs I get to see from my point of view when I'm meeting with someone and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and stretched to thin and really defending themselves a lot because it— I mean, I do people pleasing too, at times.
Lisa: Which iswhy we're such great friends with each other, Kathleen. Why our relationship works so well, we're both doing that.
Kathleen: When you're people pleasing you get into a space into a spot where you want to defend yourself, and you feel angry and resentful. You're kind of checking in with other people. “Hey, isn't this right, aren't I right? Didn't they do this wrong? Didn't I do enough?” Like those are sort of like the very early signs when I'm just getting to know someone like a client for example, right? So some of your listeners might relate to that.
But I think overtime, just feeling really exhausted, inadequate, overwhelmed, drained, burnt out, is one of it, the impact, like you can never do enough, never make everybody happy enough.
Lisa: I hear that. But it's interesting, what you were saying is that sort of the ringer, one of the key things that you listen for, as a therapist, and you're thinking “they may be people pleasing,” is actually that people are feeling angry and resentful, and like aggrieved and like, “okay, who's right, who's wrong here?” Which is sort of interesting to me, because I think I probably don't actually have that experience as much. But like that, there's an angry component to it.
Kathleen: And maybe that's because they're coming to see me and to vent. Because those are feelings and thoughts that they may not feel okay and safe to share. Guilt is the other side of that coin that they share a little bit more, I think, with other people in your life, but perhaps, when I get to meet with them, and if you're a people pleaser, you might search inside yourself and realize “I'm pissed off”, or know that you are already, but not necessarily talk about that as much. It's definitely a real piece of people pleasing. Irritability.
What Is a People Pleaser?
Lisa: We started talking about this, I realized that we probably skipped over a relatively important first step of this conversation, which is defining our terms. I mean, like, for somebody who may not be familiar with us, as deeply, professionally or personally, as you and I are, Kathleen, what is people pleasing? How would you define it?
Kathleen: Let's see, I think I would define it probably, as you know, a pattern of putting other people before yourself to the detriment of your well-being. So if there's a pattern of it conflicting with your own value system, or abandoning or betraying yourself, your own well-being, your mental health, your physical health, your boundaries, that you need to feel emotionally safe in a relationship. If we have patterns where we're violating those sort of foundational basic needs, in order to keep other people happy, or maintain relationships with other people. That was really long.
Lisa: No, that was so good. It made perfect sense. You're saying that it's really like harming yourself to keep other people “happy” or to maintain a relationship. It's like you're hurting yourself because you feel like you have to, in some way.
Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. There's that element where you feel like you don't have a choice, where you don't have power, where you're not accepted or safe or loved. And this isn't just personal relationships, this could transfer to family, work, where you don't feel safe, where you feel like you don't really have a choice to be a part of what's considered in the situation. Yeah, a lot of power loss there and safety loss. That's a big part of it.
Lisa: Yeah. Well, and you know what, your definition of this, too, is so helpful because I think it's really painting a very clear contrast. What we kind of talked about in the beginning of the show, which is those little social niceties, like, “Oh, no, no, it was completely my fault.” Or, “Oh, no, it's fine.” Like that you're not like under duress when you do those kinds of things. What you're talking about is this pattern where it's like you really feel like you don't have a choice, something bad will happen if you don't take the blame or make things better for somebody else. That's really different, isn't it?
Kathleen: Yeah. I think it's interesting, because you're making me think about, sometimes we are under duress. And other times, we think we're doing it to ourselves because of what we believe we need to do. So there are relationships where we really are bullied into people pleasing. And then there are others, especially if we've experienced that in the past, There are other situations where we feel we don't have a choice, we feel under duress.
But we could safely assert ourselves and that's why being aware of how you're feeling and why you're choosing what you're choosing and owning that choice is such an important part of moving past people pleasing, which I'm sure we'll get to today, but that choice piece is important, is a big part of it.
Lisa: Oh my gosh, this is so interesting. So you're saying like, sometimes this happens, because you're actually in a situation where maybe there are even like power control things happening, or it's really like a toxic relationship. Maybe you feel like you have to be overly pleasing or accommodating to your own detriment, not because of the current relationship you're in or the person that you're interacting with, but because of real, old historical core beliefs, or maybe previous relationships that have tricked you into believing you feel like you have to even if you don't really,
Kathleen: Absolutely, yeah. I hope that's good news that sometimes we might think “If I say no, I'm going to lose this relationship, they're gonna blow up at me, they're gonna hate my guts.” And that isn't necessarily the case. We could really feel like it might be. Sometimes it is and then we need to work on working those relationships out of your life, if possible. Hopefully, that's a whole other topic. But hopefully, that's good news that it doesn't — it isn't. Our feelings aren't always facts, as they say.
Acknowledging Your People Pleasing Personality
Lisa: So we're gonna go with this. So you have somebody that you're working with, and they're describing feeling angry because they have been interacting with people from feeling like they have to, where do you even start? Like, if somebody is listening to this conversation right now thinking, “Yeah, that's me.” What would you encourage them to begin thinking about,
Kathleen: I would say right now, even if you're listening, and you have something in mind that you've experienced, maybe recently, or where you can think of an example, because it does feel familiar to you, maybe you can think of an example of a time recently, when you felt really pushed against a wall, and either guilty or resentful, ultimately doing something that you really didn't feel comfortable doing.
What I would do with a client and what you could do, even now, as you listen is think back to that moment, and reflect on what you were feeling in your body, how you were experiencing those emotions and what you were telling yourself about it. “I have to do this because…” why?
What did it mean for you? What were you afraid was going to happen if you stood your ground? If you could be honest with yourself for a moment and just search within and notice what your motivation was for doing that.
And this isn't about self-judgment. This is about actually the opposite of that, taking a little time with yourself, holding space for you, and listening to yourself in a way that we don't get to when we're people pleasing. And really listening with some curiosity. “Okay, what was I afraid of? What was my main motivation for saying yes, when I really wanted to say no?” That's where I usually start in the process.
Because then we can start exploring what's so hard about not people pleasing, other ways to get those fears addressed. And some of the thoughts and beliefs that keep that cycle going, and where they come from. That's where we start. Over time, we work through that part of the process.
Lisa: What's coming up for me as I'm listening to this is just how hard it can be even to figure out what your own boundaries are, or should be like what you're not comfortable with or don't want to do. Like, I know that when I kind of get into people pleasing mode, I honestly just start like doing a bunch of things for people. I don't even think about it being a problem for me. And I think sometimes with like, naturally, not saying that I'm particularly competent and what I have observed and others is that people who are really competent, organized, it's easy for them to do things.
They do it because it is easy, they can do it more quickly. They can just take something else off of somebody else's plate. As they're doing it, and I think I do this sometimes, it's not even realizing that I'm doing things that I shouldn't be like for other people. Like there needs to be clarity around what you want to do and what you don't want to do. And that sounds so weird, but it's like it's easy to just do all kinds of stuff without really being clear about “Should I be doing this? Do I want to be doing this?” It's easy just to go on autopilot and do all kinds of things.
Kathleen: Especially when we get caught in getting all those tasks checked off the to-do-list, being in productivity mode, we just slip sort of unconsciously into “Yeah, I'll take that on. Yeah, I'll get that done. What's the next thing I'm going to get done.” That can happen. But as I was thinking about our meeting today, I was thinking about gosh, for me, when I've noticed my brain is sneaky and tricky.
Sometimes, I will just immediately find a justification for why I can do this, or this is a good—I want to actually know what I do want to do this, that will convince myself because that can be when you've been in people pleasing habits that can be easier, it can be easier to convince yourself that you want to do something you really don't want to do, than to say no. And when you have really deeply-rooted beliefs around the risks that might be there if you don't people please.
It's easier to just avoid those risks, suffer through it, push through, I'll just get this done, and by next week, by tomorrow, by next month, I'll have a little time for myself, or whatever it is, “I can get through this. You convince yourself and it can happen.” Sometimes, if you're not practicing that self awareness, automatically. You don't even realize you're doing it.
Finding Balance: Is Being a People Pleaser Bad?
Lisa: Where it comes up for me, and I think I wonder how true this is? Well, I've actually heard clients talking about this as parents, and really like, I think, to the detriment of our children, but fold the laundry, there's laundry in the hamper, that needs to be put away, whatever, it would take me 30 seconds, just gonna put the crap away in the door, or like, pick the sock up off the bathroom floor and put it in the hamper because my kid didn't do it, that kind of thing.
Because otherwise, it turns into this little mini, like, not conflict with a capital C, but a thing really “Come back in here, put your clothes in the hamper”, where it would just take me like, literally five seconds to do the thing. And it's almost like I don't even want to go through the trouble of it. But it's not— it can happen on autopilot. And I know it's to the detriment of my kid if I'm putting his stuff in the hamper. But it's like just doing those tiny little things for people as opposed to having it be a thing. And there are little ways, like what I was describing, but also what you were saying, which is that fear of big consequences. If you're like, “Actually, I'm not going to do this.” And that fear that it's going to turn into a fight. Is that right?
Kathleen: You're right, it can range anywhere from “this is just a little bit easier and more convenient for me right now even though it may not be best for me or the other person.” This is just the path of least resistance—
Lisa: The path of least resistance. Yeah, that was… I'm sorry, you were about to say it could go all the way to—
Kathleen: All the way to being afraid of major consequences if you're assertive instead of people pleasing. I think it's an art. I wish I had a handbook of rules where you had an index, and you could just search alphabetically file for…
Lisa: Page 43—
Kathleen: And follow the handbook. But I do think it's an art and that it does take energy to kind of be sensing and checking in with yourself and weighing, doing a sort of check and balance and weighing the pros and cons intuitively what you need, right? Then one day, you may have the energy to say, “You know what, it's best for my kiddo to learn to pick up the socks”. And on another day, you might need to spend that energy somewhere else and just pick up a sock.
There isn't a right answer when it comes to knowing your boundaries, even though we want them to be clear, they also need to be flexible. And it's very personal to you. That's another thing that's tough. Tough, but also gives us some wiggle room.
Lisa: Well, that's good to know, though, that it doesn't have to be like super black and white. And these are the boundaries with a capital B and it turns into a list of rules that you ultimately get to decide and be flexible. But I think I'm hearing that that's one of really the biggest first pieces for somebody working on this is to get real clear around their own understanding of what they should be doing and what they should not be doing. Or would you say that in a different way where that kind of clarity comes from and I'm sure it's probably different for everybody?
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, maybe I would say it's so helpful to have a good connected relationship to yourself so that you can be in touch with yourself throughout the day. And then you know what you need most, moment to moment. So you kind of manage that on a microcosmic level, day-to-day moment-to-moment.
And then big picture-wise, you kind of look at the overall pattern, which you mentioned pattern earlier. And I think that's a really important word with this kind of stuff with boundaries, with people pleasing. If you step back overall, am I taking care of my top priorities? Overall, pattern-wise, am I honoring my top values? We're not going to be perfect at all of it, ever. So it's kind of, what am I needing most right now? And then overall, how are things balancing out?
People Pleaser Anxiety and Anger
Lisa: Like being connected to your feelings of that, like canary in the coal mine, like what we were talking about at the very beginning is that when people aren't staying connected to their values, and kind of being really intentional, they start to feel it emotionally, over time. First, it's anger and then it's just like this— what I think I heard you say is it sort of metastasizes into self-esteem, self-worth stuff? Is that true kind of progression if people keep ignoring their values and not setting limits with others as they should? Or would you say it differently?
Kathleen: No, I think that's exactly how I would say it. And yes, over time it can metastasize into “I just feel so insecure,” and just, “I feel so much anxiety when I go into work that day” because there has been a pattern of feeling like you need to earn or prove taking up space. So yeah, that's a great way of putting it. Then for those of us who don't necessarily—it's harder to be in touch with our feelings, or put words to them, it can sometimes show up in physical tension and exhaustion and digestive issues and things like that. Not to get too far off into the mind-body connection today.
Lisa: No, it's really important. So what were you thinking of just then?
Kathleen: Let's say that canary, for example, if your canary doesn't always speak the language of emotion for you, if your feelings are hard to identify, for you, it might show up, especially for people pleasers, we might stuff those things, sweep those feelings under the rug, and have got really used to ignoring them. So for you, sometimes it might show up as physical issues, digestive issues, fatigue, muscle tension, headaches.
All of those can be the body's way of expressing at it, that it has been holding a lot of stress, anxiety, or fear, anger, guilt. If we've sort of separated ourselves from feeling those emotions for so long, that we don't really become aware of them, or we don't know how to express what they are, put our finger on what they are, sometimes noticing how you feel in your body is just another way of practicing mindfulness and self-awareness. It's a different canary.
Lisa: That emotions can show up as— I think the technical term for it is somatic that like, the physical manifestations of feelings, that are not listened to, as in the form of emotions. Like maybe you won't listen to that feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach, and then your body's like, I'm going to give you a headache, and then maybe you'll listen to me.
Kathleen: Yeah, those emotions, they exist in your body. So they're there. Even if you're not acknowledging them.
Lisa: So really getting tuned, if you want to make some changes around those people pleasing patterns is that getting tuned into your feelings is a huge piece of this.
Kathleen: Yeah, listening more to yourself. And look, we can start there, we don't even have to go straight into being assertive and saying no, and setting boundaries. If we can just start with hearing yourself more then already, we're making more conscious, aware choices about things. Even if where you need to start is “I'm going to choose to people please right now.” It feels safer and a little bit easier or less uncomfortable than this other option. That's okay.
It takes time to break habits and to change our beliefs or heal old wounds that may be contributing to the people pleasing. So we start with just holding the space for yourself that you haven't felt like you've had permission to hold. That can be an internal process and experience before we start expressing that stuff externally. We can begin with steps that don't feel quite as scary. Just like anything else that new that you might be learning, you begin with the intro point.
Lisa: At the shallow end of the pool, right? What I'm just thinking about as you're saying this is, again, it sounds easy when we say be in contact with your emotions. And in my experience, many times, and not always I have known plenty of men who will fall into people pleasing kinds of patterns. But a lot of times it is more women who tend to fall into these patterns. And I think that one of the core emotions that you're saying we need to be connected to is an emotion of like anger, or resentment, or like, “Actually, I don't want to do that.”
And I think that those are dark emotions that are really powerful and important, but a lot of times I think women have been socialized out of. I think, for a lot of times, many women are uncomfortable making contact with their own anger, like it feels like something that we shouldn't feel. Do you work with clients around that like sort of legitimizing their own anger? Or do you see it manifest differently in your work with clients?
Kathleen: Oh, no, that's a really good— the answer's yes. I do work with clients around that and that's a really good point. Men, too, also yes, will feel a lot of guilt and not allow themselves to feel anger, not as commonly. You're right, but I definitely see that. Just for anybody out there who isn't aware that men feel guilty too right.
Lisa: Do yeah, especially nice men.
Kathleen: But yeah, looking at it differently than maybe you have before where it's like, “If I stretched myself farther than I can reasonably realistically sustain, it is a natural response to feel anger”. And I show up as resentment, irritability, all the various levels and forms of basically anger. Because anger is, like all the feelings, important. We have it for a reason. It's there just to start to get this information. And so really validating that if we've been through some experiences, and we've taken on some beliefs that now lead to certain habits that are hard to break, it is going to be sort of an inevitable conclusion that you're going to feel angry. So it kind of neutralizes that it takes away the stigma. It's human.
Lisa: Yeah, because I think for a lot of women, it's, “If I feel angry that I must be a bad person.” And there for you to be saying, no there's a reason why you feel angry, and it's most legitimate, it's healthy, for you to feel angry.
Kathleen: And sometimes dig under that, and we're really angry with ourselves, too. But it's there to give us information about what we need and what's going on that's not okay, and to move us to take better care of ourselves. So yeah, feeling angry doesn't mean you're a bad person or an aggressive person, or that you have anger issues. We all feel angry, it's one of the basic human emotions, but guilt too doesn't necessarily mean that you're a bad person or that you've done something wrong. Feelings give us information about ourselves, but not necessarily facts about the situation.
Guilty Feelings in People Pleasing
Lisa: Say more about guilt, because I'm hearing that normal reaction is that when you're really legitimately doing more for other people than you should be at the expense of yourself — yes, gonna feel angry. But also, I think that guilt is such a big component. Can you say more about your observations and the role that guilty feeling plays when it comes to people pleasing?
Kathleen: Oh, gosh, it's so powerful. I think we usually probably even start there before we feel angry. We're motivated to people please, first by guilt. I mean, that's what people have shared with me and it's what I've experienced. So I'm making a universal assessment there.
Lisa: I feel guilty too when I— yeah, that's part of what motivates me to go into that space.
Kathleen: Yeah, and it's so strong, it's so powerful. And it comes from such a good well intentioned place of empathy. I feel badly that you're struggling or that I could make this easier for you, or I could help you out or I could make you happy if I just sacrifice in this or that way. So it comes from that place of caring, but I think it gets distorted when we aren't able to hold that empathy and also hold space for our own needs at the same time.
When we personalize, if I don't do this for this person, if I don't take care of them, make them happy, help them feel good, manage their emotions, take care of their responsibilities, whatever that might be, then I am not a good person or I don't really care about them. I'm not being a good employee, friend, spouse, partner. That's really wrong of me. That's really bad of me. That’s so selfish of me.
Lisa: Yeah, it's really such a little thing for me to do. Why not? It's so easy.
Kathleen: Right. I mean, I believe that good people do those little things that sometimes I think we can. Sometimes we need to, again, it's an art, it depends on where you're at, in that moment, the pros and cons, your sense of choice and control your motivation. But it's quite a big jump and a black and white jump to go to if I was a good person, or if I were a good partner, friend, daughter, brother, husband, whatever, then I would say, yes, I think that's where the guilt comes from, is that assumption. Is that what you experienced?
Lisa: Let me think about that for a second. When I find myself doing things that I probably shouldn't be doing, what I think happens in my mind, I think it is that empathetic place. I think I connect with my either perceptions, or maybe even my own personal narrative about their suffering, they're having a hard time, this would make it easier for them, it would help them feel better. And so I think that it's that sort of motivation a lot of times is to ease, not pain, but to try to see the other person's perspective. But I think where I run into trouble is when the other person's perspective becomes more important, or more real than my own perspective and my own news.
I think the guilt feeling comes when I don't act on that, then I'm like, “I should have helped. I should have done something. I should have—,” but I think when I'm actually doing the people pleasing, it sort of feels like love in the moment and maybe sometimes it is like what you were saying there's that art that maybe there is a time and space to be compassionate and empathetic and loving. But then like, how do you know when you're sort of crossing that line?
Kathleen: Exactly. Yeah, it's like you come from such a positive place, empathy, really being able to put yourself in their shoes and that can go into this beautiful direction of love and support.
Lisa: Yeah, but then it's like, but then I'll rearrange a meeting to accommodate somebody else's schedule, because somebody else's schedule is more important than my schedule or, like, then it starts after a while.
Recovering People Pleaser: How to Get Over People Pleasing
Kathleen: There is a lot of— that's why I think it is important to check in and, okay, “What is my motivation here?” Here's a tool that I sometimes use, right? Okay, “How am I feeling right now? What am I telling myself about this?” If I do this thing, okay, picture yourself going through the steps, perhaps it is changing, moving around your schedule or something else. Doing whatever it is you need to do. Imagine that and see how it feels in it. Now, imagine yourself after the fact, how are you going to feel? What are the consequences going to be? Maybe even short term and long term. How am I going to feel immediately after, and then after some time has passed, because you'll get different information from this for different situations.
It's going to feel a little uncomfortable to change my schedule around, but I will feel really good about the fact that this is going to have a major positive impact for them. Or perhaps this is about something bigger or more for you or you're actually overlooking bigger consequences for yourself in the heat of that emotional moment when you're caught up in the empathy. Kind of playing the tape all the way forward. Yeah, give you some information and figuring out where the balance is for you. Yeah.
Lisa: Well, and that's such a great strategy. And I'm sure that why I hope other people listening to this right now might experiment with that because like, as you were saying that I was thinking about what a nice exercise that is in pushing you into contact with the other values that are kind of in play. Going back to the example of the kid and the laundry. The big value is this needs to be a fully functioning adult man who is capable of putting away his laundry after a certain period of time.
Or like if I'm pushing around to work meetings, and staying at work later, to the detriment of my family, like cutting into that personal time and like thinking about those big values and what they're connected to. So those are mine, of course. What are some of the other values that you have found your clients kind of connecting with, as you use that exercise with them? Where they're like, “Huh, wait a minute.”
Kathleen: Yeah, I mean, what might come up first, it's easier to access often, is just the value of relationships and connections of harmony that often drives people pleasing. But then as we dig into it a little deeper and go through this exercise, just peace of mind. Authenticity can come up. Physical health is a value, a big important value for a lot of people. Big one. But that's a good question.
Lisa: Those are great values, and just to like to find anchors in those values that can kind of help be a lighthouse, and how should I handle this moment? So that's a great intervention.
Kathleen: And that's something you can explore and and sometimes I'll work with clients around is different exercises to help identify different values and what yours are. And again, that's not something we can check off of a to-do list. We’ll never be— we're not supposed to be perfect at all of our values all the time. It's about patterns and balance. If I step back, what is this about for me? What choice do I need to make in this moment?
This is also something I want to make sure that I mentioned is that this is not static. Your values even can change, that's okay, we go through different phases in our life. We also go through just different periods, where you may be able to give more or less depending on what you're going through and what you needed that time. That's why listening to yourself and being more mindful and connected to yourself is so important to stay in tune with that. It's not “Okay, this is what I've decided. And now this is what I have to stick to, or else I am failing at something.” It's okay to change your mind and to be in different places at different times. You're human.
Lisa: That's a great reminder. And I know that this is a big topic. I mean, there are so many different elements of this here. There's like historical relationships. And then there's the mindfulness component and values. I also know that when you do work with clients on these issues, this is months of work, sometimes years. So this isn't, you flip a switch and change things. It's not that simple and as you say it kind of changes over time, too.
I'm curious — for our listeners who maybe they've done a lot of that clarification work, and they are more in touch with themselves and are more clear about their own boundaries — I would imagine that there's another kind of growth curve for people when they do begin practicing things like saying no or holding their boundaries or having limits or being more assertive. In our final few minutes, can you share any tips or ideas that could help somebody who's practicing that part of the work? Because that's hard.
Kathleen: Yeah, definitely. I think when we're starting out with that, it's helpful to have some scripts, some assertiveness techniques, or scripts that kind of gives us that — I don't want to say a crutch — but it gives us something to lean on and to guide us as we're starting out. Because it is an art form, it gives us a map as we start to figure out our own way of expressing assertiveness. So there are techniques and strategies that we can learn, but I think what a lot of them have in common is coming from a place of “I,” focusing on your own experience and not talking about the other person in an accusatory critical blaming way, right?
This can neutralize it a little bit because, often, we will think that if I'm assertive, that means that I'm blaming them or I am trying to take control of the situation. There are all sorts of assumptions around it. When, really, we're just expressing some facts. Just kind of stating some facts. It's important to remember that perspective. “Right now I'm feeling really tired and I'm not able to give the focus and energy I would like to to this meeting. So I'm going to need to postpone it to next week.” I'm just stating the facts from a place of my own experience, my own needs, my own feelings. I think all of the assertiveness strategies sort of have that in common. It helps people to not get as defensive too, I think. Is that what you mean, just for, as one example?
Lisa: Yeah, totally just just how to set those boundaries, because I do think that that's hard for people. And I love the way you just said, just state the facts and sort of a neutral way and just to be clear about that. And also, I think I'm hearing in there and knowing ahead of time what you're going to do and what you're not going to do, so you're sort of informing people, as opposed to asking.
Kathleen: That being said, it's okay — and this is a part of being assertive, and moving away from people pleasing — to say, “I need some time. I need to think about this. I'm not ready to answer yet. I don't know. I need to think about it.” As you know, I see that a lot.
Lisa: I love that.
Kathleen: That's okay, too, because especially when we're practicing this, and we're just becoming more self aware. We may not know. I hear clients say to me a lot, “I'm just not good at thinking on my feet. I don't want to bring it up, because then they might say something or ask a question. And I'm not good at doing this on the fly, so I just don't do it at all.” It's okay to say, “That's a really good question. Can I get back to you on that?” Or the “I don't know how I feel about that right now. I need to think about it. I'll get back to you on that.”
Lisa: That's good. Well, and that's really interesting because if you think that a lot of the anxiety of people pleasing is that kind of fear of conflict. And I think a lot of times anxiety comes from not exactly knowing and feeling like you need to know what you're going to do or what's going to happen next. That can create a lot of anxiety for people is just sort of being prepared and giving yourself permission to say, “I don't know,” “I don't need to know,” “I'm going to think about that,” as sort of a way of helping them feel more competent to handle those situations if they do come up.
And then to that piece what if somebody does get mad at you? What would your advice be to them? For a listener who's like, “I don't know. If I say no, they're gonna get mad at me.” And like, actually, they might get mad at you. What would your advice be?
Kathleen: Yeah, okay, so there's two parts. One is, first of all, assertiveness, actual assertiveness opens up the lines of communication, it does not close it off. If we're using the tools and skills, like for example, taking a break and asking for time, it can manage and prevent escalated conflict. So that's part of the purpose of it. However, if you do all of that, and someone still gets upset, and that can range from “Jeez, I'm really disappointed. This isn't what I wanted to hear,” all the way to name calling and yelling at you. Because some people experience that. That's why sometimes we've become people pleasers if we've experienced that.
Those things could happen. I think they give us good information. On the one end of the spectrum, we have now opened the lines of communication, which is what we wanted, we are now mutually holding space for each other. You are now learning how to hold space for yourself and create space for yourself in your relationships. And so we need to still do that for other people when they do have natural emotional reactions. “I'm disappointed. This isn't going to work out for me.” Okay, we need to know that. So kind of taking away some of the fear and the stigma around that.
Relationships are — should be — always sort of connected and negotiating and open. On the other hand, if you use all of those tools, and you're respectful, because assertiveness is respectful, and someone escalates things in response. Then we really have some good information about that relationship. That can be a transitional period where you start to have awareness of things that you didn't look at before. And that's a process to sort of process that and decide which ones we want to keep. What are our options around that? Which is sort of a whole other topic, which we maybe will get more time to talk about if we meet again.
Lisa: I love that.
Kathleen: But if the purpose is for everyone to have space, and for everyone to know what they're in for, then getting a negative reaction — “negative reaction” — is still getting that information. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have sort of screwed up on assertiveness, if that makes sense, or that you've done anything wrong.
Lisa: I love that advice, Kathleen, that you just got new information about this person in this relationship and that if you're not willing to twist yourself into a pretzel and do things that aren't good for you in order to maintain this, or they're going to freak out, you need to know that you're. Thanks for talking about that.
Kathleen: Sometimes we can dodge some real bullets if we knew that sooner than later
Lisa: Yeah. Oh, man, this definitely feels like a to-be-continued conversation to me. There's so much good stuff. I know we're out of time. But thank you so much for visiting with me today, Kathleen, this is wonderful.
Kathleen: Thank you. This was wonderful for me as well. Thanks for letting me be here to chat about it. Loved it.
Lisa: Thank you, so good. Well, we'll have to do this again sometime very soon. And I'll talk to you soon.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Hi there. Are you reading this “advice from a marriage counselor” article because your partner just forwarded it to you, as a way of attempting to communicate that you invalidate feelings or they feel emotional invalidation and that they would like this to change? First of all, sorry, but second of all… never fear. I'm the couples therapist in your corner. This one is going to boomerang nicely and wind up working out in your favor. Promise.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret that your partner — possibly not having read this article themselves before impulsively texting it to you on the headline alone — might not know yet: we all invalidate our partners accidentally. I'll bet you probably feel invalidated by them from time to time too. Am I right? Yes? Welcome to relationships.
How do I know that you're feeling emotionally invalidated sometimes too? First of all, I've been a marriage counselor and relationship coach for a long time. It is extremely rare to find a couple where one person has *actually* been exclusively responsible for all the hurt feelings and conflict. (Except in the tiny percentage of couples counseling cases that I could count on one hand where the hurt-inducing partner has actually been a diagnosable sociopath and/or narcissist. But I will save that tale for another day.)
Secondly, I've also been married for a long time to someone I adore and would never want to hurt on purpose. And I'm a marriage counselor! I should know better! And To. This. Day. I still do things that accidentally invalidate my husband and make him feel bad. More than once I have had to apologize for making him feel like I don't care, despite the fact that I love him very much.
But I'm working on it and it's better than it used to be. You can do the same. On today's episode, I'm talking all about emotional invalidation and what to do when you're feeling invalidated to make it stop. Listen below or scroll down for show notes and a full transcript of today's episode.
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
First of all, let's talk a little about what “invalidation” means. When you invalidate someone, you basically make them feel like you (a) don't understand them or their feelings or (b) if you do understand, you don't care. The impact of this original invalidation will then generally make your partner swing one of two ways, towards either hostility or withdrawal and emotional shut down. Neither of those are good.
In order to not invalidate feelings anymore you need to be self-aware of when it's happening, and what you're doing to cause it. This is the hard part, because almost nobody is intentionally trying to make their partner feel diminished or unimportant when it happens. If you call an invalidating person on it in the moment, they usually get really defensive and start sputtering about how “that's not what I meant” and protesting that their intentions were good.
Again, except in the case of narcissists (see link above) this is true. Emotional invalidation is generally unintentional. So, no need to beat yourself up if you've been unintentionally hurting someone you love. But you do need to take responsibility for how our actions impact others. We all do.
So let's get familiar with what invalidation actually looks like so that you can become more self aware. Emotional invalidation comes in many flavors, and can happen in both subtle and dramatic ways.
Types of Emotional Invalidation
Now, take a deep breath and non-defensively read through the following descriptions of “emotional invalidators” and see if you can spot yourself.
See if you can spot the invalidating behaviors your partner uses. (They are in there, I'm sure).
But again, the hard part is recognizing your own. Bonus points if you can think of other ways you might be invalidating sometimes that I haven't put down here. The possibilities are limitless!
But here are some of the “usual suspects.”
Inattentive Invalidators: These types of invalidators don't pay attention when their partner is talking about something important. (C'est moi! I totally do this.)
Example of Inattentive Invalidation in Action:
Them: “I had a really hard day at work today. I think I might be getting sick.”
You (And by “you” I mean “me”): “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. Newfoundland! What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start checking flight prices.]
Belligerent Invalidators: Their M.O. is to rebuttal rather than listen, and put their energy into making their own case instead of seeing things from their partner's perspective.
Example of Belligerent Invalidation in Action:
Them: “I feel like you were rude to my friend.”
You: “Your friend is an annoying idiot who drinks too much and if you want to avoid these problems you should stop inviting him over.”
Controlling invalidators: These types of invalidators are extremely confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct, (i.e. “help”) them. This happens in many situations including parenting, housekeeping, social situations, and more.
Example of Controlling Invalidation in Action:
Them: “No, Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.”
You: “You need exercise, Timmy. Be back before dinner.”
Judgmental Invalidators: These types of invalidators minimize the importance of things that they do not personally feel are interesting or important to them, in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.
Example of Judgmental Invalidation in Action:
Them: “What should we do this weekend? So many fun things! Do you want to go to the farmer's market / prepper expo / rv show / rodeo?”
You: “Pfft. NO. That is so boring, why would anyone want to do that? Personally, I'm busy anyway. I have to spend the weekend finishing my Fortnite challenges. Wanna watch? No? Okay see you later.”
Emotional Invalidators: Then of course there is the stereotypical, garden-variety Emotional Invalidator, who feels entitled to “disagree” with other people's feelings, or argue that other's feelings are not reasonable, or to talk them out of their feelings.
Example of Emotional Invalidation in Action:
You: “You shouldn't be sad. At least we have one healthy child already….”
You some more: “….That's not what I meant. We can try again next month. The doctor said that this could happen for the first time….”
If this conversation sounds even remotely familiar… I'm glad we're here right now!
Fixit Invalidators: Then, there is the “Fixit” Invalidator, who would prefer to leap over messy feelings entirely and go straight to helpful solutions — having zero idea they are making things infinitely worse by doing so.
Example of Fixit invalidation in Action:
Them: “I am heartbroken about my argument with my sister. I feel really bad about what happened.”
You: “She's just a drama queen. Forget about it. You should make plans with some of your other friends. I'll see if Jenny and Phil want to come over on Friday.”
Does this sound like something you might say?
Owner of the Truth Invalidators: Lastly, there are the reflexive “that's not what happened” invalidators who pride themselves on being rational and who sincerely believe that their subjective experience is the yardstick of all others. If it didn't happen to them, it is not a thing. A kissing-cousin of codependency, this type of invalidator will often follow up their original invalidation by explaining to you how you, actually, are the one with the problem.
Example of a Truth Owner in Action:
Them: “I am feeling really invalidated by you right now.”
You: “I am not invalidating you. You were just telling me that your day was hard and you're feeling overwhelmed, and I know for a fact that you shouldn't be feeling that way because it wasn't that bad. You just need to get more organized. You're overreacting.”
Good times, right? Yes, there are so, so many ways to invalidate someone. This is just a small sample of the many ways, shapes, and forms emotional invalidation shows up in relationships. There are many more. Not sure what kind of invalidator you might be? Ask your partner. I'm sure they'd be happy to tell you.
Next, now that we've “cultivated self awareness,” as we say in the shrink-biz, we're going to talk about how to stop doing that, and start helping your partner feel validated instead.
Step Two: Understand The Importance of Validation
While the first step in learning how to stop accidentally invalidating your partner is to figure out what kinds of emotional invalidation you are prone to, the second step is to learn what it means to be validating and why it's so important.
What is “Validation” Anyway?
So, what is “validation?” To validate someone means that you help them feel understood, accepted, and cared for by you. It requires empathy. Empathy happens when you really get how others see things, and that you support them in their perspective — even if you do not share their perspective.
This is super important in relationships because validation is a cornerstone of emotional safety. And emotional safety — feeling like you are accepted and valued for who you are, like your thoughts, feelings, and preferences are important to your partner, and that your relationship is loving and supportive — is the foundation of a happy, healthy relationship.
Just consider how wonderful it feels to hear these words, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” No matter what's going on, when you hear that it feels like you're accepted by the person you're with and that it's okay for you to feel the way you feel. That right there is the strong foundation from which you can then find your own way forward. (And in your own time).
Also, if we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, 98% of the time, arguments start with one person feeling invalidated by the other. When anyone feels invalidated the natural response is to then escalate their efforts to be understood. Which can sound like yelling. Then if the invalidator doubles down on defending their invalidating behaviors in response, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick.
So if you work towards being more validating, you will not just stop pretty much any argument in its tracks but your partner will feel emotionally safe and accepted by you, and you will have a much stronger, happier relationship. Win, win, win.
Step Three: Validate Feelings Intentionally, Through Practice
The real problem with changing your (our) tendency to be accidentally invalidating is that it can be really hard to wrap your (our) brains around the fact that we really are hurting the people we love without meaning to.
In none of the examples of “types of invalidators” was I describing anyone who was tryingto be hurtful. They were just failing to understand their partner's perspective or needs or feelings, and prioritizing their own instead.
Human beings are generally self-focused, unless they put purposeful effort into being other-focused. Sad but true.
The good news is that it's not hard to be more other-focused if you decide that it's important enough to make it a priority. It just takes intention and practice, and a genuine desire to want your partner to feel more cared for by you.
Here's what my perspective of me being invalidating (and then trying to practice validation) looks like at my house:
My husband is telling me something but I'm not really connecting with what he is saying. He's talking about his day at work, and how he's not feeling great. And now he's going on and on about this guy he works with who's super annoying, and incompetent, and how he's thinking about taking the day off tomorrow to go take photos and how he might drive out towards the mountains, and now he's talking about this new video game that he started playing with our son, and how there are these avatars that build sawmills and jump over sharks and there are dances (or something) and …
….I've now officially zoned out, and am now following the spark of ideas that whatever he just said to me has just ignited into being, through the chambers of my own mind. Day off… Mountains…. Nature documentary…. Camera lenses…. Majestic landscape photos…. I want to go somewhere beautiful… Catherine said good things about Quebec…. He's still talking but I'm now having an entirely internal experience. I know he's still there, but it's the muffled, “Wa-wa-wa” like the adult in the old Charlie Brown cartoons. I am now entirely absorbed by my own thoughts rather than what he is saying, but not on purpose.
Sometimes he can tell when I'm not there anymore, but most of the time neither of us realize what is happening until I say something apparently out of the blue, like “I was just thinking that it would be fun to go to Canada this summer. Or Newfoundland. What do you think?” [Picks up phone to start researching flight prices]. Then I look up from my phone to see his shoulders slump a little and this look cross his face like, “Do you even care about what I'm saying?” Only then do I realize that what he was talking about felt important to him, and I made him feel bad. He's annoyed. He should be.
Because in that moment, my lack of attention left him feeling invalidated in our conversation. He was left feeling like he wasn't important or interesting enough for me to pay attention to, or worse, like I just hijacked the conversation to talk about whatever I was thinking of instead of what he was bringing up. Which I totally did.
But like you, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings. It just happened because I wasn't making him a priority at that moment, but indulging my own self-absorbed thoughts instead of really deliberately tracking what he was saying to me. (If you, too, have a tendency towards adult ADHD, I'm sure you can relate.)
In contrast, when I remind myself of my intention to be a good friend to him, to help him feel cared for and validated by me, it's a totally different experience. I will myself to focus on what he is saying. I look in his eyes. When I feel my mind starting to slide towards something other than what he is talking about, I bring it back to him by very deliberately reflecting something I heard him say. I think about how he might be feeling and ask about that. Or I ask open-ended questions to help him say more about what is going on for him, but also as a strategy to keep myself engaged. In short, I am using communication skills and empathy to help him feel validated.
I try really hard to stay present, and stay on topic. Sometimes I am more successful than others, but I know he sees me trying. We know each other well enough now and we can even laugh about it, as we do when I glaze and he just stops talking and makes a face at me. Humor helps. So does managing your expectations that your partner can or should be perfectly perfect at validating your feelings all of the time.
But truthfully, if you want to stop making someone else feel invalidated it requires a certain level of courage and humility. It's hard to think about, “What's it like to live with me” and really allow yourself to understand, deeply, what you do and how it makes your partner feel. I think that embracing personal responsibility without being defensive is one of the hardest things to do in a marriage, and helping other people move into this receptive, honestly reflective space is often the hardest thing for me to do as a marriage counselor. That's why I wanted to model this for you.
How to Validate Someone's Feelings
Every flavor of invalidation has an antidote that's a little different. Just as there are infinite ways to invalidate feelings, there are many strategies for how to validate someone's feelings too. I could go into great detail about what the antidote for each involves, but then this would be an actual self-help book rather than a blog post. But, briefly, here are some pointers:
Inattentive invalidators need to stay present and use mindfulness skills to focus and not drift away.
I hope that this discussion of how you may be accidentally invalidating your partner was helpful to you, and gives you clarity about how to shift the emotional climate of your relationship just by making your partner's feelings and perspective as important to you as your own. Not easy to do. It requires emotional strength, the ability to be honest with yourself, and the willingness to grow in service of your relationship. But it is so worth it.
Now, please send this post and episode back to your partner so they can think about what THEY need to be working on in order to help you feel more heard, valued, and understood by them.
The music in this episode is “Dive” by Beach House from their album “7”. You can support them and their work by visiting their website or on Bandcamp. Each portion of the music used in this episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Please refer to copyright.gov for more information.
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[Intro music: “Dive” by Beach House, from their album “7”]
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: Hey friends. Today, on the show, we're going to be talking about something that we need to talk about. It is a silent killer of many relationships. You may be experiencing this on your own. It's feeling invalidated. Either you might be listening to this because you are feeling routinely invalidated by your partner, which is hard, or perhaps you are listening to this because your partner is telling you that you are making them feel invalidated.
This is a really significant issue and one that we need to address together. So that's going to be the focus of our time together today, is talking about what invalidation is, why it happens, and most importantly, what you can do to either feel heard and understood by your partner in your relationship or potentially do a better job of helping your partner feel validated and respected by you.
If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'm so glad you found us. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am your host. I am also the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I'm a licensed psychologist. I am a board-certified coach. But what I love doing more than anything else is helping people improve their relationships. I am very married. I've been married for a long time. I've also just worked as a counselor and a coach for so many years.
Just one of, I think, my main takeaways from all of this life experience is that truly, our wellness, our happiness, our health comes from the quality of our relationships largely. That's why so often on this podcast, I want to talk about things that can help you improve your relationships. Because when our relationships feel strong and successful, everything just feels so much easier in our lives. We feel better emotionally. We have more fun. We have a nicer time. We have a strong foundation from which to launch off and do amazing things. So I am a relationship person.
That's what we're talking about today is in the love quadrant: what you can do to increase the emotional safety in your relationship. I think that that's one of the things that happens when invalidation is present in a relationship is that it really erodes the emotional safety between you and your partner. And ugly things can start happening in a relationship when people aren't feeling safe, and respected, and heard, and understood. That's what happens when invalidation is a frequent issue in a relationship.
What Is Validation?
To just dive into our topic today, first of all, allow me to just take a couple of minutes to orient you to validation, what it means, why it's important, to set the stage. When I am talking about either validation or invalidation, to validate someone, it means that you're helping them feel understood by you, that you get whatever they're sharing, you are accepting what they are telling you about how they feel. In that space, also, helping them feel cared for by you, that they're not just saying something and dropping a stone into a well.
There's this response. You get them. You understand how they see things. You can see the situation through their eyes. Also, there's the sense that their perspective is supported by you. I also want to say that in a truly healthy, vibrant relationship, there is always some diversity of thought. We're not partnered with clones of ourselves, right? People can have different perspectives, different opinions. But there's this sense of fundamental respect for each other's perspectives, even if it is different from yours. It's like this: “Yeah, you know when I look at it that way, I can see why that makes sense.”
Just think about it. When somebody says that to you, “I can understand why you would feel that way.” I've had friends in my life just naturally say things like that to me in conversation, and it's the relational equivalent of somebody just walking up to you and just folding a warm, soft blanket around your shoulders. “Yes, that makes sense. You make sense. Your feelings make sense. I can see why you feel that way. I would feel that way too if I were in that situation.” It's just like this, “Ah, thank you so much for saying that.” It's just such a nice experience to have.
I think that we all crave that from our partners from time to time. Again, that's a cornerstone of emotional safety. Now, if the phrase emotional safety is a new one for you, I would encourage you to scroll back through my podcast archive. I have done a podcast episode on emotional safety, specifically, where I talked a lot about that concept and how important it is in healthy relationships, and would encourage you to check out that episode if you'd like to explore more about all the different elements of emotional safety. Keep in mind that to be able to validate someone's feelings is an incredibly important part of that.
When we're creating emotionally safe relationships, and when we are validating people that we love, it is, again, it's like this experience that people are having with us, that we accept them, that we value them, we respect them for who they are. We think that their thoughts, and feelings, and preferences are important. They're important to us, right? In that context, over communicating that regularly, through the way we're communicating and the way that we're interacting with our loved ones, it just creates this very loving and supportive relationship. That's a foundational component.
How Does Emotional Invalidation Happen?
I have to tell you, as a marriage counselor, 95% of the time, when a new couple drops into the practice, and they’re, “We'd like to work on our relationship.” “Okay, great. What's going on?” 95% of the time, it is some variation of communication. “We're not communicating as well as we'd like to. Communication feels hard.” When you dig into that, like, “Okay, what about communication is feeling hard right now,” invariably, one, often both partners are not feeling validated. It's not that the words coming out of each other's mouths are not terribly problematic in and of themselves.
It's that they're not getting a validating response from their partner. The problem with communication is that they are not feeling like their partner hears them or understands them. They're feeling like their partner is misinterpreting their intentions. They say something well-intentioned, well-meaning, their partner takes it the wrong way. Here's something that they are trying to say that is interpreted very negatively, that is responded to in an angry way. Or they're feeling like their partner just doesn't have empathy for their perspective, or slaps whatever they're trying to share out of their hands, or making them feel uncared for, or that their feelings or perspectives aren't important in that moment.
That is very much about a validation issue. Because validation, really, at its core, is around having empathy for the other person. Being able to accurately understand their feelings, understand their intentions, and then reflecting back to that person: “Yeah, I can understand that. I'm not sure that I see it exactly the same way. But when I look through it, at the situation through your lens, I can understand that. Also, I understand that this is important to you. And I understand that you are actually feeling this way.”
I think the other big meta message within that is “I love you, and this, whatever this is, is important to you. You care a lot about this. This is making you feel a certain way. Because you are important to me, I care about it too because I care about you.” Again, it's just this whole experience of being cherished when we're talking about validation and how impactful it is. So many arguments, again, start this way. If we were to dissect pretty much any basic argument that a couple can have, almost all of the time, these arguments begin with one person feeling invalidated by the other.
When that happens, when anyone feels invalidated, the natural response to this is to escalate your efforts to be understood, which often sounds like yelling, am I right? If you say, “Yeah, I feel this way,” and the response you get from your partner's like, “That's wrong.” Right? “That didn't happen, or no, it's not that big of a deal.” That, I think, makes all of us say, “No, you don't understand. No, this is true. This is happening.” All of a sudden, we're really fighting to be understood, aren't we? We are not fighting to win. We are not fighting to control. We are fighting to be heard and to feel like we're cared about, to feel like we're important.
So the other thing that happens, so one person feels invalidated, and then they escalate, “No, I really need you to understand this.” Then, what also happens is that the invalidator, the person who originally came out with a less than ideal response, will double down on defending their position and will defend their invalidating behaviors. “No, that's not what I said. That's not what I meant. Why are you making such a big deal out of this? This always happens when we talk about your mom or your job,” or whatever it is, right?
How Fighting to be Heard is Invalidation
When this starts to happen, one person is like, “No, I really need you to understand how I'm feeling right now.” The other person is like, “That's dumb.” It can get extremely ugly, so fast. I think everybody within the sound of my voice right now has had this experience at one point or another in their relationship. I know that I certainly have. Truth be told, if we're all going to move towards healthy humility here, I think that our partners have probably felt this way with us from time to time.
I think that when we are fighting to be heard, we are experiencing invalidation. We're not getting the response that we want. We are really looking for comfort, or connection, or reassurance, and when that isn't what we're getting, right? It feels bad. I think it is very, very easy to miss the moments that we are accidentally and unintentionally making other people feel that way with us. Because I have to tell you, it is so easy to do. When I sit with a couple in marriage counseling, or couples therapy, or whatever it is, and unpack all of this at the core, I do not find narcissists. I do not find sociopaths. I do not find people who are irredeemable and incapable of having healthy relationships.
What I find are people who are simply unaware of the impact that they are having on others just because they're in a different place, or they're not fully understanding how important that particular moment is. It's just all these missed opportunities to connect. I have been so guilty of that in my own life. I think that chances are, if we are going to be humble and with healthy humility here together, you could probably reflect on some moments in your own life when you have unintentionally done the same.
The reason why I want to talk about this part for a second is because one of the easiest ways to just melt away all that defensiveness, and restore emotional safety, and increase love and validation all around, is when we can be humble and reflect on our own process because it helps us be more emotionally safe. It helps us be more validating and responsive to our partners, and I think it also helps us handle the moments when we are feeling invalidated by someone else.
It helps us handle those moments so much more effectively because we can shift away from that automatic response of, “You just totally invalidated me. I'm going to be mad at you.” “No, that's not what I said. I'm going to start fighting to be heard.” We can shift out of that and into a much more helpful and respectful way of getting our emotional needs met in that moment when we are able to stay soft, and empathetic, and emotionally generous with our partners, and make an effective repair attempt, which is, “You know, let me try that again. I feel like maybe you didn't fully understand what I was trying to communicate to you in this moment and how important it is for me right now just to feel heard by you, and respected by you, and understood by you. So I'm going to have a redo.”
Particularly, if you and your partner have had the opportunity to work on some of this stuff together in couples counseling, or relationship coaching, like it's not the first time they've had this conversation with you, it immediately orients them back to, “Oh, this is one of those moments when you're not looking for me to do anything. You are not attacking me. You are not presenting me with a problem that I need to solve. I don't have to be defensive right now. This is one of these moments when you're just trying to connect with me emotionally. I can do that. So thank you for giving me another go at this so that I can be a better partner for you right now. Because I love you, and you're important to me, and that is what I want to do. Okay? Okay, so let's do this again.”
Then, you can literally have a redo with your partner, where there is a different outcome. That outcome is one where you feel loved, and cared for, and respected, and supportive, and have had the opportunity to share your feelings about something that's on your mind, and not have it turned into an argument. It turns into a conversation where you just get to share and be heard. Maybe that is 100% the goal. That's fantastic. No other action is required. We do not have to change anything. We do not have to fix anything. You got to say it. It was received, and we're done. That's fantastic.
Other times, I think another component of validation can be attached to, “I'm feeling this way, and I would like to find a solution to this problem because I'm feeling bothered by the situation. I'd like to have a productive conversation with you where we could maybe just talk about different ways of handling this because I don't like feeling the way that I'm feeling right now. So I'm just hoping that we can sort through this.” When there is validation happening on both sides, it isn't just you saying, “I have a problem, and we need to fix that because I'm not okay, right now.”
It turns into, “Let me tell you about how I'm experiencing this situation and help me feel like you understand what I'm saying. Now tell me how you are feeling in this situation and what you see is the ideal outcome or different options here.” Because when you are being intentionally validating, and respectful, and supportive, you start asking your partner questions like that. “I'm not the only one in this relationship. You might have a totally different perspective here. Tell me more about how you see this, or how you've been feeling in these situations. How are you experiencing me when this stuff happens?”
Because in that space of emotional safety, when you are able to validate your partner and help them feel really understood and cared for by you, they will tell you how they're feeling because they trust you. You're not going to freak out when they tell you how they're actually feeling. But if there isn't that trust in your relationship, they won't tell you. The trust has been broken to the point that people do not feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling with each other.
Overcoming Emotional Invalidation
We think of trust many times as something that is broken through betrayal. There's an affair or there's some catastrophic lying going on in a relationship, and that can certainly damage trust. But there are many more subtle kinds of betrayals of trust that I think people don't fully recognize or understand the significance of because they're subtle, and a betrayal of trust that happens all the time.
Unintentionally, nobody's doing this on purpose. But when someone tells you how they really feel, or what they need, or what their hopes are, or what is upsetting them even, and when that is invalidated, or dismissed, or rejected, or reacted to with hostility or contempt, it is a betrayal of trust. The message that people receive is, “I don't care about how you feel. I disrespect your experience right now. I reject this.” What happens is, they're like, “Okay, cool, noted. I am never doing that again. The next time you ask me how I'm feeling, I don't think I want to enter into that ring of emotional intimacy with you because I don't trust you enough to tell you how I really feel right now.”
This is hard. This is, I think, a place where I find with many couples, I often need to stay for a fairly significant period of time in couples counseling or in relationship coaching, because people really do not understand the impact that they are having on each other. Again, and I say this as someone who has done exactly the same thing, we all get so focused on our own perspective, our own needs, and whether or not they are being met in a relationship, and whether or not we are feeling validated, or getting the response that we want.
We get very hyper-focused on what is happening in that regard and really miss the systemic nature of relationships, which is, “When I'm feeling that way, what do I do? How do I approach my partner? How do I engage with them?” Because especially people who perceive themselves as really fighting for their relationships, fighting to have greater emotional intimacy or greater connection, have no idea how scary or emotionally unsafe or even threatening they themselves are being in these moments when they feel like they're seeking emotional intimacy.
I'm going to do a whole other podcast on that topic, that concept, specifically, around emotional intimacy and what to do when we're feeling lonely and disconnected in a relationship. So more on that topic to come soon. Just that one takeaway from today would be to ask yourself: Are you validating your partner? Are they feeling invalidated by you in those moments? Or has trust been broken in the past that accidentally trained them to hide from you, and to not communicate with you, and to not tell you how they're really, really feeling even though you want them to, but something has happened, where they feel like they can't?
That's a really, really common thing that happens in relationships. It is frequently due to that primary issue of people feeling invalidated or rejected by each other in these potentially tender moments of connection.
What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like in Action?
With that in mind, I would really like to turn this conversation to talking a little bit about understanding what invalidation looks like in action so that we ourselves can be more conscious of the times that we're doing it and then, also have a little bit more empathy or understanding for the times when our partners may be doing that to us without fully realizing it. Because empathy is so key.
To begin, when invalidation is happening, what we are communicating, what is happening is that people feel like we don't understand them. We are misinterpreting them. We are taking what they are saying, and then running it through our own filter of meaning, and coming up with something different than what they were trying to communicate to us that they don't feel understood. Or that if we do understand what they're saying conceptually, we don't care about their feelings. Not that we don't care, but that we are rejecting it, and it can be very, very subtle, you guys.
It could be like, “I'm sure they didn't mean that when they said X, Y, Z. You're probably just overreacting.” Those kinds of things, which might be true. I don't know. But the truth of what is happening or not happening is so insignificant that the truth of what's happening is that your partner is actually trying to tell you how they are feeling, emotionally, in this present moment. You have just been offered the gift of trust and emotional intimacy. What are you going to do with that?
Are you going to make them feel like you don't understand, or they're stupid, or their feelings are ridiculous or not important, or they're being overreactive, or they're just not thinking about this the right way? Because that doesn't feel good. We all know how that feels, right? It is not good. Or are they going to be leaving whatever interaction they just had with you feeling like, “I love them so much because they love me.” Just feeling loved. In order to improve this experience, we need to be self-aware of when it's happening and what we are potentially doing to cause it.
Types of Invalidating Behaviors
There are different flavors of invalidation. We all have our unique styles, I think. When I am being invalidating to my husband, I'm usually doing it in one of a couple of ways. So let me just run through these types of invalidating behaviors. See if you can see yourself in any of these and maybe if some of these are true for your partner.
One, and I think this is probably the most common, and this is the one that I am so guilty of, is an inattentive invalidator. These types of invalidators, they're just not paying attention when their partner is talking about something important. Oh my gosh, I can so easily do this, because I don't know what you're like. Me, I'm just kind of usually zooming along at 900 miles an hour. I am a habitual multitasker. I know it's not good to do that. But I am doing the dishes while I'm on the phone with somebody, and I'm thinking about five things that are happening.
Sometimes in these moments, this is when my husband wants to tell me about something. What happens is, they will say, “Oh, I had such a day. I'm not feeling good. I think I might be getting sick.” Then, you might say — by you I mean me — you’d be like, “You know what, I was just thinking that we should go on a trip to Canada.” Or, “Oh did I tell you that Julie called. She was thinking that we might go camping this… Would you want to do that?” So, I am now picking up my phone and researching campsites or travel reservations.
My husband just said something totally unrelated to that. He was trying to tell me something about how he felt. It triggered an idea in my mind, or I wasn't really paying attention to the impact of what he was trying to say. Because there can be emotional connotations to certain things that people say. They're very easy to miss unless we're really paying attention. So he, in that moment, felt like I was totally disconnected from what he was trying to communicate, which I was. It's just because I wasn't fully present.
I was kind of thinking about something, and he said something, and I had a random thought in my head and just sort of impulsively acted on it. I'm nowhere near where he is in terms of what he's trying to communicate or what he is needing for me in that moment. It’s not intentional. It’s not like I'm trying to harm him in those moments. I'm not mad at him. It's just really a simple lack of attention. I, in order to be a better partner, need to slow down sometimes. Also, one of the things that I have found over the years, and I see this routinely with the couples that I work with too, is to be able to set some boundaries or guidelines around these conversations.
When I can tell that he is trying to communicate about something that might be more important, and I am not in a headspace where I can do that. I have a crisis situation at work that I'm thinking about or needing to deal with and that maybe he doesn't know about that, right? So he's trying to talk to me all of a sudden, and I have learned to say, “I want to hear all about this. Can you give me 15 minutes? I need to take care of this. I need to X, Y, Z or whatever.” Then, 15 minutes later, I am like, “Tell me more,” blink, blink, and I’m looking in his eyes asking appropriate questions. I'm all there.
But I need to communicate to him when I can't be present. Because if he doesn't know that, he's going to try to communicate with me and not have a good experience. I think we've learned a lot about each other over the years. He's like, “I would like to talk to you about something important. Is now a good time? Or when can we talk about this?” That conversation right there has been a game-changer, I think, in our relationship. But for so many couples that I work with, particularly, in relationship coaching, people come in, and they have been feeling so badly with each other, and it's just felt so hard.
When we unpack it and when we dial down into it, sometimes, you guys, the answer is as easy as that. “Tell me what is going on in the moments that you're trying to communicate, and it's not going well, or it's feeling frustrating. Literally, where are you?” It could be, sometimes, people are telling me, “It was during dinner, and our three-year-old was having a meltdown, and X, Y, Z.” They start talking about all of these different circumstances. When we're able to identify the practices that people are using, the boundaries that they're setting around their communication, and how they are communicating their needs in those moments to each other, it's so much easier.
It was actually not this big, horrible, catastrophic thing. We don't have to spend nine months in therapy talking about, “Yes, your mother was an alcoholic, and all of these big things about why you can't communicate.” No, it's actually learning how to say, “Is this a good time to talk?” to your partner. Not always. Sometimes, there are old things, and it goes deeper. But, you'd be amazed at the impact of making these small procedural changes can make on the way that everything unfolds. So I just wanted to share that. If inattentive invalidation is a thing at your house, just try it. Let me know what happens.
Now, there are other kinds of invalidating behaviors that we should talk about. Another common one is a belligerent invalidator. The MO of a belligerent invalidator is to rebut rather than listen and put their energy into making their own case, instead of seeing things from their partner’s perspective.
Example, somebody, either you or your partner, is talking about, “I didn't feel good about that situation. That person was being rude, or that felt uncomfortable.” A belligerent invalidator will basically tell you why you're wrong for feeling that way. Or say, “Yeah, well, this is what was actually going on.”
What's happening in those moments, and again, it's not on purpose. It's not intentional. But it's like they are replacing your perspective or whatever you just shared with their own perspective. They are not trying to be hostile or belligerent. But it really feels that way. Because it was like you just put something out there, and then, they just steamrolled over it with their concept of reality.
This, again, is super common. I think it is very easy to identify people or situations when we have felt that way. Less easy to identify when we ourselves are accidentally doing that. Somebody shares something, and it's very easy to say, “Oh, no, that's not what happened. Let me tell you what really happened.” Sometimes, when you do that to people, they'll fight back and it'll turn into an argument, which in some ways is great. It's healthier in some ways, and it’s like, “ No, I need you to listen to me right now.”
Other times, you will do that to someone. You'll say, “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me tell you what actually happened.” People will just take it, and you will have made them feel really bad, and uncared for, and disrespected. They just kind of go inwards. You just steamrolled right over them and broke their trust in you. You're not emotionally safe. But they're like, “Okay.” We'll exit that. You might not ever know what just happened. You'll feel fine because you were just telling them what you thought. What's the harm? You're just calling it like you see it right? You’ll never know that that was actually a real wound.
That's another thing about relationships. We've all heard that saying, “Death by a thousand cuts.” These micro-moments? Those are cuts, and if you're with someone who isn't real assertive in telling you how you're making them feel, you can just keep cutting, and cutting, and cutting, and they'll just eventually be done with you, and you will not have known why. That is a terrible thing to consider, and it is a reality of relationships. So, belligerent invalidation. Please keep that one on your radar.
The next time somebody tells you something, particularly, if it has anything to do with how they felt, or perceived something, or reacted to something, is just to keep in mind, they are telling you how they feel right now. Their truth is how they feel. Your job as a partner, or a friend, is to help them feel understood by you, not corrected by you. Nobody's asking you for that. So, again, I'm being direct. I am being your friend right now. Because the alternative when you're doing that to people and not fully aware of it can be really bad for relationships, and it's very easy to do.
Another very common kind of invalidating behavior are the controlling invalidators. These types of invalidators are often extremely confident, which is a good thing in many situations. But they are very confident that their way of doing things is right and just, and will either intervene or undo things that their partner does in efforts to correct it.
Now, I have also been guilty of this in my relationship. Again, I think it's more due to impulsivity than ill will, right? When someone is invalidating in a controlling way, they often feel like they're helping. They are stepping in. They're going to manage something. They're going to prevent a possible problem that they foresee in the future and that maybe their partner doesn't. But this happens in so many situations, including parenting, housekeeping, social situations around finances.
One example would be, one partner saying, “No little Timmy, you can't go out to play because you have to take a shower and clean your room.” The other partner is, “Oh, yeah, Jim's mom called and wants you to play. Just be back before dinner.” So it's this really subtle and common kind of invalidation that happens when one person's preferences or things that they are trying to create or do are, again, just undone by someone else.
This can happen in very small ways, too, around someone's preferences for how you do things. I think, for many couples, teamwork can feel hard. One aspect of every successful relationship is just being able to work together as a team, right? Like the most banal things. Who does laundry? Who folds the laundry? Does laundry get put away in the drawer? Or does it stay in the laundry basket even if it's clean? Who gets the mail? Who opens the mail? How often does this happen? Who pays the bills?
These little procedural things, even around cleaning, cleaning the house, or making the bed, or cooking a meal that people who have a tendency towards this controlling kind of invalidation, they wind up taking over for a lot of different things because they have stronger opinions about the way that things should be done. The message that is sent to their partner is, “You're not doing it right. Your way of doing things is wrong, and I am taking this away from you.”
The experience on the other side, again, can be very subtle. People may or may not be talking about this, but it leads to a lot of withdrawal in relationships. It's like this: “Okay, I tried. It wasn't good enough. Fine. You do it.” It is this sense of being, sometimes micromanaged, but just disrespected. “My preferences, my ways of doing things, my feelings in the situation are not important to you.” It's like, “This is your show. This isn't my show.”
It comes through these small interactions and through these very subtle and seemingly insignificant, controlling kinds of invalidating behaviors that many of us are not aware of. Because, again, our intentions are not bad. We're not trying to make our partners feel micromanaged or disrespected. It's that we maybe have done this before, maybe we have our preferences; we already have a system. “No, the bread goes here,” that kind of thing. But again, what it leads to, particularly, if it's a pattern in the relationship is the other person withdrawing and just feeling like there's not space for them.
I do not want to genderify this because these patterns can exist for both men and women and in same-sex relationships, certainly. But usually, controlling invalidators, in my experience, tend to be women. Not always, but many, many times. So just check in with yourself. “Am I doing this?” See if you can notice it in yourself. Again, notice, too, that when this is happening, you're not trying to be disrespectful. You're not trying to be damaging. You are not trying to communicate contempt. But that's how it can still be received.
Again, I'm not saying these things to make you feel bad. When we shine the light on ourselves and understand how easy it is to accidentally make other people feel this way, we can become much more gentle and compassionate when we are experiencing invalidation from others. We can see the other person not as this invalidating enemy who is trying to hurt me emotionally. It's, “Oh, they don't understand what's happening right now.” Because I, sometimes, don't understand the small things that I do make other people feel a certain way.
When we can move into that space of compassion and collaborative understanding. It's so much easier to talk about that authentically and have grace for the other person to say, “Let's have a redo. This is one of the things that we've been working on. We've been talking to Lisa about this or whatever.” It softens it. It makes it much more likely to have your needs met when you can have empathy for the noble intentions of your partner, noble intentions much of the time.
One other thing, a couple other kinds of invalidating behaviors, there is also such a thing as a judgmental invalidator. These kinds of validators, again, in my experience, they are truly trying to be helpful. But what they do in action is that they are minimizing the importance of things that they don't personally feel are interesting, or important, or significant that their other person sees. They do so in a way that creates disconnection in their relationships.
An example of judgmental invalidation would be somebody saying, “What should we do this weekend? There are so many fun things. Do you want to go to the farmers market? Do you want to go to the RV show, rodeo, anything? It could literally be brunch with my friends.” The judgmental invalidator would say, “No, that's boring. I want to spend this time playing video games with my friend. Or I am not even remotely interested in brunch or your friends. Why would I want to do that?”
Again, they probably feel like they're being authentic, right? They're telling you how they really feel. Also, a judgmental invalidator can also communicate this way about emotionally laden things. “That's, again, the wrong way of looking at it.” Or “Why would you think that?” What they're doing is, they're so entrenched in their little perspective of the world, their own little fiefdom of reality, that it is very difficult for them to look over the wall and understand that other people have other interests.
They have other cognitive filters. They have other expectations of relationshipse. They are interpreting the world differently. They have different motivations. They have different tastes. They're just, again, so stuck in their own one worldview. It's like they're just looking down at their feet. This is the way things are. To have that acknowledgment of the diversity of all humans, they struggle with that. But again, they're not doing it out of maliciousness. They are simply being authentic.
They’re like, “Why would I do that? I've never gone to a rodeo. I don't really get it. No, I don't want to do that.” Again, what happens is that it sends this message of what you are interested in doing, what you like, what you might want to try, “First of all, I don't understand that, and I will not participate in that with you. That isn't important to me, so I won't do it.”
Again, it can be very subtle. But I tell you what, I have seen so many relationships break apart on those rocks, I can't even tell you. Because what happens is that the person on the other side feels like if they want to maintain a connection with this individual, they have to enter their world. They have to be into what they are into. They need to hang out with their friends. They need to participate in their interests because their partner is not coming over the line onto their side of things.
Now, just to state this very plainly, and clearly, it is also true that in vibrant, healthy relationships, partners have different interests. It is 100%, okay, to have hobbies, or sports, or activities that you are into that your partner is not into. You don't have to be doing all the same things together all of the time. I think, in some ways, to have that kind of diversity in a relationship is quite healthy because you have this sort of interdependence. You can have your separate lives and separate friend groups.
I think that makes for a more interesting relationship, right? You can go do something fun with your friends, and your partner can go through a different thing. Then, you can come back together and have an interesting conversation because you have stories to tell and things to share. It's great, right? So that's how people grow and evolve. All of those things are healthy.
But I think when there is this, almost absolute refusal to enter into someone's worldview ever, what is experienced is a lot of judgment. Because, again, I think people are not intended to come across this way. But the meta-message is that “Well, that's dumb. Why would you want to do that? Ew, no, that's boring.” For whatever it is. That feels really bad. It feels really bad to be partnered with someone who is judgmental of who you are and what you're into.
I think that the lesson we can take here is that even if you are not into the things that your partner is into, it is okay to help support their interests by talking to them about it or doing things with them sometimes. You don't have to spend every weekend of your life doing the thing. But, what we want to communicate is that “Your interests are important to you. Therefore, they are important to me.”
Listen, you guys, I have a 13-year-old who is super into video games right now. Candy Crush stresses me out. That's all I can take, right? Not only am I not interested in playing video games, I do not really care that much. But my 13-year-old is super interested in this. So, I will be a video-game spectator. I will watch him play. He's telling me about all these different missiles, and guns, and squads, and things, and whatever. He is so excited.
To connect with him, I am not being judgmental and rejecting of the things that are important to him because it would be so easy for me to do that. Because inside my head sometimes I'm like, “Why would you want to, anyway?” But in those moments, my role is to like, “Tell me more. What do you like about this game? Or tell me about what happened when X, Y, Z. Or who's your favorite character? Or what do you like about? Tell me about the plotline.”
Asking questions being engaged, because the alternative is to subtly communicate judgment, and rejection, and invalidation in a way that can create a lot of disconnection in a relationship and sends a message, “You're not important to me. What you're into is dumb. I think you're dumb. I don't care about this.” It feels like “I don't care about you.” We don't want to do that for the people that we love. Again, easy to do. Easy to do.
Now, there are a couple of other kinds of invalidators that I'm going to talk about really briefly. One of the most important, and this, oftentimes, I think, is a very obvious one is the emotional invalidator. How many times have we encountered these people in our lives? This is the stereotypical garden-variety emotional invalidator who disagrees with other people's feelings, or argues that other people's feelings are not reasonable, or tries to talk them out of their feelings.
For example, if you have ever been crying for some random reason, and your partner wanders in and says, “You shouldn't be sad about that.” Or “It wasn't that big of a deal.” Or doesn't even acknowledge the fact that you are in the grips of a big emotion, or tries to cheer you up. Again, these responses to emotion often come from — this is hard to even say out loud, but it's so true — they are honestly well-intentioned.
Somebody thinks that they're trying to make you feel better. “Look on the bright side. Or at least, X, Y, Z.” Or, “You know? Forget about that. Let's go do something fun. Let me distract you from your feelings.” Oftentimes, people are trying to help you because they perceive emotions as being problematic, dark emotions as being something negative that need to be avoided. They themselves are often not that great in noticing how they feel or being able to stay engaged with their own negative emotions, which is a core component of emotional intelligence. It's hard to do.
Again, not to genderify, but many men, as we've talked about on this podcast previously, are not socialized to have a really deep relationship with their own feelings. So many little boys to this day get yelled at for crying or punished for having “negative,” I prefer to call them, dark emotions. There's a lot of negative connotations around those. Emotional invalidators often will see someone in the grips of a negative emotion and be like, “Oh, no, I have to get them out of there because that's not good,” not recognizing that it is so positive and so important for all of us to really be in those fully present spaces sometimes.
Like, “I am having an authentic experience right now. I am feeling really, really sad about this situation.” Or “My feelings were hurt.” Or “I just feel really bad about this situation that happened at work. I don't know what to do.” Or “I'm feeling so overwhelmed” Or… Whatever it is, in order for us to grow and to be genuinely healthy, we need to go into those spaces, and stay there, and process our feelings, and take wisdom from those feelings.
The best thing that any of us can do when our partner is in that space is to say, “Tell me more about what's going on.” Open-ended questions. “When did you start feeling this way? What were the triggers? What happens to you in these moments?” Or to say nothing at all, just to sit there with somebody and allow them the luxury of having their feelings validated in your presence. Because just to simply be present with someone when they're not okay is such a gift. It's so emotionally intimate. We don't show everyone in the world that side of us.
But in our most intimate relationships, we are extending this treasure of, “This is how I really feel. This is who I really am. This is what is true for me.” To simply have that be acknowledged, and accepted, and not argued with, and not to have someone try to change it or do something about it, is the greatest gift that we can ever give. That really is how to connect with someone. Anything else leads them to feel like, “They don't care about how I'm feeling. My feelings are not important to them. My feelings are making them uncomfortable. So I need to fix myself back up again because they can't handle it.”
Do you want somebody to feel that way with you? I don't. So just to be aware of that in those moments. Even just a hug, or “I hear you,” or “Yeah, that is a really hard situation. That is legitimately so hard. I'm so sorry that that is happening. I know that there is nothing that I can do, and I'm just so grateful that you're sharing these feelings with me right now. Because I appreciate that we have that kind of relationship where you let me into this.” Just even saying simple things like that can be just the most amazing thing you could possibly do.
A close cousin of this emotional invalidation, somebody who's very uncomfortable with dark emotions, is the other well-intentioned person that is a Mr. Fix It or Ms. Fix It in those moments of, somebody is struggling with something hard and what they're trying to do, honestly and legitimately, is saying, “I love you so much. I'm going to solve this problem. Let's fix it because I don't want you to feel bad about this. Let's fix it.” So it is, “I'll pick the kids up tomorrow.” Or “Let me. It's okay. Here's what we should do instead,” and jumping right into solutions.”
Hey, I am all about solutions. Yes, all couples need to solve actual problems together. There are so many moments of opportunity for productive, collaborative problem solving that do actually make changes in the way you do things, where you talk to each other, the way you handle things, related to parenting, or finances, or boundaries. So much stuff. There is a time and place to actually focus on making specific changes.
What often happens to the detriment of relationships is when people jump into that problem-solving space at the expense of the emotional-connection space. Again, it is so well-intentioned, but I can't even tell you how many couples I've worked with in couples therapy or relationship coaching, where we had to stay awhile on helping people understand how those efforts are actually received on an emotional level by their partner.
Because when someone says, “I'm just feeling so overwhelmed by the situation, right now. I'm feeling so frustrated.” And somebody is like, “Okay, well, let's just do this. And then, it'll never happen again,” they don't experience that as being helpful. The message it sends is, “I don't want to hear about it. We need to just fix this immediately, stop talking about this. I don't want to know how you're feeling about it. I am going to shut the door of emotion. We'll fix this, so we can never talk about it again.” It's kind of how it's experienced.
Again, noble intentions, problem-solving is good. But without the space of being able to connect and really talk about the feelings and help your partner feel genuinely validated in that moment, it does the opposite of what is often intended, which is to fix something. What it actually does is create emotional disconnection in the relationship. It turns into, “Well, she doesn't want to hear about it, or she's just going to tell me to do this thing differently. So, whatever.” It creates withdrawal. It makes people feel uncared for and they're not truly known by their partner, which over time leads to serious disconnection in a relationship.
Again, we'll talk more about that emotional intimacy in upcoming podcast episodes. But be aware if this is something that you tend to do in relationships is that rushing in to fix or trying to talk people out of their feelings. I will bet you a cookie that subjectively, you feel in those moments like you're trying to be helpful. You're trying to make them feel better. You're trying to look for solutions, all positive things. But there is a whole other dimension of relationships.
We must make space for the authentic emotional experience of our partners, and help them feel understood, and respected, and affirmed, and validated by us. Because even if we're fixing things, and trying to keep things positive, our relationships, over time, become really hollowed out when that emotional connection, emotional safety, emotional trust, emotional intimacy is eroded. That is what happens when people are invalidating each other.
The Arc of Change is Experiential
Lastly, just want to share that these patterns are often entrenched in relationships. They can be difficult for all of us to see when we are doing them because our intentions are often good in those moments. I would just like to float the idea that your partner probably experiences those moments similarly. They struggle to understand how their responses may be impacting you. So, certainly, would invite you to get them to listen to this podcast if that would be helpful, just to raise some awareness.
Also, these things are hard. I spend, easily, several sessions with couples, helping them gain self-awareness about these interactions, in these small moments that invalidation is happening in order to help them recognize them and do something different instead. So I always feel bad in some ways. I love making these podcasts for you. I hope that you find the information in them to be helpful. But I also just want to say out loud that the process of creating change in these areas is not just about getting information, listening to a podcast, and being like, “Okay, cool, I'm gonna do this instead.”
The actual arc of change is experiential. It occurs over time. So I just want to say that because I always worry that people will hear one of these podcasts and then assume that they should be able to do all of this stuff now that they've heard this, or even worse, that their partner listens to this podcast and should be able to do this stuff differently because of having benefited from this information. Personal growth does not work that way. Personal growth is never an event. It is a process that starts with maybe information. But then, it has to turn into self-awareness and recognition. That is very experiential in nature.
I just wanted to offer that so that you are gentle with yourself if this is a growth opportunity for you. Also, so that you are gentle with your partner. I hope that if you take nothing else away from our discussion today, please do take away this idea that if you are feeling invalidated in your relationship, as is so common, to take away that the fact that when people are engaging in behaviors that are experienced as invalidating, they are not intending to hurt you. There is a huge lack of awareness around the impact of these behaviors.
To be gentle and compassionate with your partner, and shift into a more effective stance of “Let's work on this. Let me help you understand what's happening in these moments. Let's try this again. Here's what I'm looking for you. I'm looking for emotional intimacy right now. I'd love to feel more of this with you. When these things happen, I don't feel emotionally connected to you. I'd like that to change.”
Having those kinds of conversations are just so much more helpful in the long run than having it just turn into a fight or being really critical with your partner because they maybe don't have the self-awareness or the skills yet to help you feel validated in those moments. Because we all engage in invalidating behaviors, sometimes, it's so easy to do, and I hope that we can all have grace with each other and help each other grow and evolve. That is my intention for us today.
I hope that you took something away from this podcast. Hey, if you did, as a favor to me and your fellow travelers on this journey of growth, if you could, trot over to wherever you're listening to this podcast, and leave a review. That helps this podcast reach more people. As you probably know, we don't do any advertising. This is not a mercenary thing.
This is me trying to help people who are probably never going to be my clients but to take hopefully valuable little bits of information away that will help them have more happy, and loving, and stable, honestly, relationships, and marriages, and families, and homes that can improve their lives, also the lives of their children, for kids to grow up in a home where there is an emotionally safe relationship happening with them, and their parents. To witness that in their partners, that is what lasts for generations.
So help other people find this show. Review it. Share it on social media, this episode and others. I would really appreciate it not just for myself, but for everybody that can benefit from hearing this message, too. So thank you again for being here today. I will be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. Bye-bye.
Few things are as frustrating, or as hurtful as trying to engage a disengaged partner. It's hard NOT to get upset and angry when you're feeling rejected, unloved, or uncared for. The problem is that many people who clam up as a defensive strategy when things get tense don't understand how destructive their behaviors can be to your relationship.
But there is help, and there is hope. Because these types of communication problems are so common, I thought it might be helpful to you if I put together a “Communication Problems” podcast-mini series.
“Communication Issues” is the single most common presenting issue that brings couples to marriage counseling. The first thing to know about communication problems: Absolutely ALL couples struggle to communicate with each other from time to time. Just because it's happening in your relationship does not spell doom. Truthfully, by making a few positive changes in the way you interact with each other, you can avoid many communication problems — and start enjoying each other again.
In episode 1, “Communication Problems and How To Fix Them” we discussed the most important and empowering things you can remain mindful of if you want to improve the communication in your relationship: Systems theory, and your own empowerment to affect positive change.
Specifically in episode 2, we looked at this communication pattern from the perspective of the “withdrawer” (i.e. the person in the relationship who might be perceiving their “pursuing partner” as angry or even hostile). In that episode I gave you some tips to help get back into the ring with your partner, some insight into why they may be so angry, and things that you can do to help soothe their anger and bring the peace back into your home.
If you've been feeling frustrated or angry because your partner refuses to talk to you, this one is for you. In this episode I'm talking about what may be leading your partner to seem emotionally withdrawn, as well as things that you can do to help your partner come closer to you emotionally, and start opening up again.
Communication strategies to help make it easier for your partner to open up to you
The paradoxical trick to making your partner feel more interested in coming towards you
I sincerely hope that this series helps you understand what may be happening at the root of your communication problems, as well as some real-world tips for things that can help you improve your relationship.
P.S. One fantastic, low-key strategy to start a dialogue with your partner is by taking our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz together. You can send your results to each other, which opens the door to talk about how you're both feeling — with out an anxiety-provoking conversation for your conflict-avoidant partner. Just be ready to learn some things you didn't know! Here's the link to get the relationship quiz. xoxo, LMB
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Communication Problems and How To Fix Them, Part 3: When Your Partner Refuses to Talk
by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success
Music Credits: Nick Drake, “The Time of No Reply”
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