Clare had a big fight with her boyfriend Tom. She wanted him to come to dinner with her passive aggressive, dysfunctional family.
Tom, understandably, did not wish to subject himself to this torment. Tom’s own family was critical and demanding. He had few happy memories of his family growing up. In his mind, “family” was associated with shame and emotional pain.
Clare was the prisoner of pleasing. As usual, she was feeling like a failure because she couldn’t make everyone happy. Clare did not prevail. She couldn’t get Tom to go. She felt angry, but she did not know why.
In counseling, she identified her anger at Tom for not ‘appreciating’ her (which means, good for nothing and worthless). She learned of the anger towards herself for failing to please everyone. Clare also reported fictitious guilt for failing to make Tom happy, as if happiness had anything to do with dinner at her mother’s house.
Clare’s roles as the pleaser, the responsible child and martyr were in tatters. There was nothing to take their place. Her devastation and her pain were real. In a sense, pain was Clare’s way of punishing herself for her failure to solve the problem of pleasing everyone in the “right or best” way.
Since she was not “right,” she must be “wrong” or guilty, which every child knows results in punishment. She couldn’t see why she shouldn’t punish herself for her wrongness. She was scapegoating herself. She didn’t see why she shouldn’t.
In counseling, Clare learned the difference between ‘right’ or ‘best’ and healthy. She had been trying to control Tom to force him into being happy according to her way. Tom resisted being controlled.
Clare’s homework was to give Tom a choice, and then accept the decision that he makes. She can choose to stop trying to make him do what he should do. She learned that “should” is a demand. But actually, she merely had a preference. She was allowed to have hers and he could have his.
It was not a matter of right or wrong, nor was it about “knowing” what is best. She had feelings, opinions and preferences, which are really a matter of personal taste. If she pushed these on Tom, it put her in position of judge and makes everything a matter of guilt. Clare was just an imperfect human being who had the right to have preferences that were different from others.