In the aftermath of trauma, getting to the heart of your client’s pain can be complex – especially when that client is caught in a defense response pattern that trauma researchers often identify as please and appease.
For many clients, chronic people-pleasing bleeds into every relationship. . .
. . . and when that includes the therapeutic relationship, it can block your client’s ability to open up (and ultimately stymie healing).
So how can you tell whether your client might be stuck in this type of pattern? And beyond that, what can you do to address it?
In the video below, Pat Ogden, PhD shares one telltale sign of a please and appease response, as well as two strategies to help ease clients out of it.
So exaggerating a primary indicator of please and appease can be really helpful. My other favorite one is to work with boundaries, to have clients in some way construct a boundary around themselves. Many times I can do it just with their arms to have a sense of it. Other times we’ll sit on the floor and I’ll have ropes or tinsel or something to put around to make a boundary around you and your space. First to start to feel yourself because people who are into please and appease, they’re often out of themselves and into the other person. So we’ll set that boundary.
I’m remembering one client who she couldn’t feel it with her arms or even with a rope. It felt so weak. So she took pillows and objects from the office so that she could really see that this was her boundary, and then she felt different inside herself.
From there, we start to do experiments with the client saying no. And they can be simple experiments of coming into the boundary or taking a pillow that represents a person or a demand that’s coming towards them, invading their own sense of boundary and have them say no. And it’s amazing how much these physicalizing experiments bring up because they’re not just physical exercises, they’re connected with implicit memories that are just full of meaning and emotional pain.
When we do these experiments, it’s not about the content anymore. This is one of the things I love about this work. It’s around how a person organizes around a particular issue. So we’re not talking about how she pleases her husband all the time or he’s always pleasing everybody. We’re not talking about it. We’re getting under the content into implicit phenomena that drives the content. So we’re changing patterns of organization through that, which is I think at the root of healing and change.
For more expert interventions like this one, check out Working with Please and Appease. In it, you’ll hear from experts like Stephen Porges, PhD; Terry Real, LICSW; Janina Fisher, PhD; Richard Schwartz, PhD; and more.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What have you found helpful in your work with clients who please and appease? Please leave a comment below.