People Pleasing and Defiance

While Neurotypical People find interacting with most people quite easy to navigate, Neurodivergent People often don’t. Two major ways to deal with this are either People Pleasing or Defiance. People Pleasing is driven by anxiety and tries to anticipate the other person’s wants and needs to fulfil them before they ask, or agreeing to anything that is asked for you. Defiance is driven by anger or being overwhelmed, and is often labelled as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) for people that appear more ADHD, Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) for people that appear more Autistic, or Antisocial Behaviours for people who labelled with either Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).befo

Both People Pleasing and Defiance are at the far ends of the spectrum of trying to solve the “dealing with other people’s wants” – where one end is either taking too much responsibility and trying to do everything (People Pleasing); or by refusing immediately and avoiding doing anything. 

Child with their hand raised saying "No!" They don't look fierce, they look sullen.
“No!” Behind the defiance is a feeling of powerlessness

Fear/anxiety, poor communication/ambiguity, poor personal boundaries, history of abuse, history of trauma, fatigue, hunger, triggers and not taking suitable medication can all be contributors for someone using either method.

ODD and PDA are falsely given as diagnoses of mental illness. Both are actually descriptions of certain known behaviour traits, where the label of the behaviour helps to guide treatment plans that generally work for that label. Unfortunately, the labels were given by professionals that did not truly understand what they were looking at, and often the treatment plan resembles this outsider’s view. While some ideas and methods in these treatment plans can indeed help, the lack of comprehension from the professionals makes it hard for them to know why this particular person responds well to this bit of the treatment plan and not another. Effectively, these professionals are generally following the script laid out before them with either no insight into why, or with a false comprehension of why, and thus they may try to apply all of the wrong methods in the wrong ways. This can lead to victim blaming.

The heart of People Pleasing and Defiance are a combination of an untreated mood disorder, unmanaged triggers and powerlessness.

The mood disorder is keyed to the freeze, flight and fight aspect of the adrenal system, where either the person has too much adrenaline, or often not enough. I’ve talked about that problem before, so please refer to that. People will often call that Anxiety, Depression or tell you that you need Anger Management. Sometimes you will try to treat this by self medicating mixed with a strong dose of denial.

Triggers can be in the form of being overwhelmed by sensory, overwhelmed by events, a loss or corruption of pattern, particular people, or particular phrasing. The first three will overload your decision making. Often they are exacerbated by fatigue, poor interoception, low blood sugar, poor diet, or not taking your medication yet (if it is the right medication). A key indicator this is happening is that you will find your problem solving skills are poor, and you will seem irrational. The second two are generally related to present or historical interpersonal conflict, poor communication skills, and a misperception of others.

Powerlessness is complex. It is too easy for exhausted parents to just tell their children to do something without working with them, or explaining how or why, or giving them a choice in what happens. Many Neurodivergent People experience this same pattern throughout their lives. Responsibility without choice is incredibly disempowering. The victim cannot change the outcome that they are going to be punished for. This can lead to anxiously trying to find a way to solve the impossible and trying to ensure the prospective punisher is feeling kind – People Pleasing. This can lead the victim angry at the injustice of punishment, which will either be aggressive opposition, defensive avoidance, or despairingly giving up.

Relearning the boundaries of what you are actually responsible for, and learning what you can control and affect will bring your power base back to you. It is very important to learn how to see through the mechanisms of control that others use against you, and a sliding scale of response to those who use them based on whether you are over perceiving malice, they are mistaken, they are ignorant or they are malicious. I’ve covered that before as well.

Learning how to get past these extremes of conflict management will take help from safe others who actually do understand the how and why. It can be tempting to fall into making others responsible for your actions, or for saving you. Avoid that. It is your life, and you are going to to be at the centre of it for the rest of your life. There are always going to be things and people that can trigger you, or take advantage of you, or be poor communicators with you. If you don’t learn how to manage that, you will always be a victim.

Once you recognise that you are using an extreme version of managing conflict with people, you can start to look towards what you are doing and moderate that. Get your mood under control (skills and medication as needed), learning your triggers and patterns, upskill yourself with better strategies, learn earlier threshold warnings (interoception of mood and mind), get rid of toxic people, and exercise thought out choices that bring your power back to you.

You can do this.

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