Virginia Satir (1916–88) was a family therapist with an eye for seeing what those she worked with couldn’t.
In her work with families, Satir categorised 5 types of behaviour she noticed people defaulting to. These behavioural defaults emerged in times of discomfort — around arguments or moments of emotional charge.
In this article, we’re looking at one category: the placater. You may see yourself here. Or not.
How a person acts during times of high emotion says much about his or her emotional adjustment and emotional intelligence — their EQ (emotional intelligence quotient).
For example if someone:
- Avoids arguments by agreeing with people to keep the peace.
- Keeps quiet when values are down-trodden or ignored.
- Puts up with ‘the burnt chop’ … the leftovers, the smaller portion and expects no more.
- Grits their teeth and bites their tongue when not heard or listened to as what they’re saying isn’t worthwhile hearing.
- Blinks back tears while the pit of their stomach twists in knots, yet tries to smile throughout.
Then, you’ve met a placater. One who owes everybody gratitude — even for simply talking to them. Placaters believe they are responsible for anything that goes wrong. They’re sorry. They apologise. They aim to please. They never disagree.
Breaking Unhealthy Patterns Learned In Childhood.
“Every word, facial expression, gesture or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. It is sad that so many parents don’t realize what messages they are sending.”
“So much is asked of parents, and so little is given.” — Virginia Satir
To mature and live a successful life, unhelpful patterns (often learned from childhood) need updating.
It’s in placing them under a lens, and highlighting behaviour not aligning with values that real awareness begins. Seeing what’s no longer serving can be difficult at first. But it’s the most important step in growing emotional maturity.
To ignore this, is to let the emotional bully (who’s taken up residence within) win.
If you choose to ignore the bully within?
Then the fairy tale life you hoped for has won. But not in the way you dreamed. You’ll remain the princess running away from the ball, leaving the glass slipper behind.
For fear of being revealed for the person she was. Deserving of being treated like the left-over she felt. The one who’ll never be good enough — no matter how hard she tries.
- She’ll never look quite right — her clothes outdated.
- Never be the right shape — too thin or too thick.
- Never young enough.
- Never worth noticing.
If this is causing a heaviness in your heart, there’s a reason for this.
Truth that’s ready to be seen often presents in this way.
And it’s time to listen to the wisest person you know — the tiny voice inside you, who may barely whisper now, the one who desires to grow — to be the person she can be.
Reality Check: No One Else Feels Your Pain.
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” — Virginia Satir
Except those of like-minds who gravitate to you.
Look at your friends. How do they view the world? How do they embrace or fear their world? What act are they hiding behind?
It’s easier to see the problem in others rather than identify it in yourself.
And while convincing yourself that one day ‘you’ll get over this’ — this debilitating wall you’ve built around yourself that keeps you in and everyone else out — the chances are slim to none you’ll do this without some intervention.
“Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.” — Virginia Satir
I’ve known too many women living half-lives because their actions and values aren’t aligned.
They believe in equity, in sharing, in giving before receiving. Yet live as a martyr denying themselves the same.
They value love and friendship, and blame themselves when what they receive falls short.
Nothing ever will be right.
Because the standards of hope set are so high, that no one could ever meet them.
You don’t meet them yourself. That’s why being your own worst bully protects you. If you can beat yourself up before anyone else does, then no one can hurt you more.
Except it doesn’t work that way.
Removing The Mask
“I give life to that which I notice. What I don’t notice dies.” — Virginia Satir
The hope to connect more with others leaves an empty feeling when you don’t.
It’s impossible to really connect with someone else when you’re not connected to yourself.
And without realising it, you’re mirroring this to the world. Through the way you hold yourself, the sound of your voice, the tilt of your head, the dullness in your eyes. The sunken “I’m beaten” expression worn as a mask.
So you wrap your core in emotional vulnerability. Then cover this with a hardened exterior. All to protect yourself.
And if one knock against that hardened exterior nudges your day off-centre, you feel like breaking. Physically and emotionally. Whether real or imagined, you’ve been watching the world behind blinkers for so long you believe you’ve got the gift of ‘mind reading’. The idea you can project your limited view of yourself onto someone else. It’s a sick game. With only one loser.
Burying The Bully.
Vulnerability is our greatest strength. But only if vulnerable to yourself with compassion and self-care. — Barbara Grace
To hear the cry of loneliness and hide from it is a form of self-bullying.
To see the child suffering within and ignore it is a form of self-bullying.
To feel the needs that may have been ignored in younger years and continue ignoring them is a form of self-bullying.
Offering Yourself Compassion Means Taking Off The Mask.
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” — Virginia Satir
The only person your mask has been protecting you from is yourself. Perhaps it’s a mask you’re not even aware of.
It’s the one that’s transfixed into a frozen grimace.
It’s the reason you dislike photos of yourself. You see your mirror. And it’s not who you set out to become.
You know there’s a stronger person inside. If only you can break through.
I know you can.
I See You …
I know this place myself.
I was caught behind a mask too.
Pretending all was ok.
It. Was. Not. I was not. The more I said, “I’m ok”, the further I buried myself. I believed I was surviving. I was drowning.
Until I took stock. Of myself. My emotions. And embraced the fact that to be the best person I could, something needed to change.
And that change began with me.
Today I help people around the world rediscover themselves. To fight the bully within by standing up for themselves. And reaching into that inner well to fill it with clean emotions — not ones derived from shame.
I know there is hope. If you want it.
What’s taken years to cement on, can take moments to melt.
It’s a process. And you can start today.
Get Excited To Be You.
“I want you to get excited about who you are, what you are, what you have and what can still be for you. I want to inspire you to see that you can go far beyond where you are right now.” — Virginia Satir
Start with creating a profile.
Do This Joy-Finding Activity:
Find a photo of yourself when you were at your most joyous and happy.
This may be from younger years or from more recent times.
Paste (or place) the image into the centre of a fresh page in your journal and write down these questions:
- What do you see when you look at this person?
- What do you love and respect about this person?
- What makes this person’s light shine?
- What can I do to take care of her?
If you need more space to write in your journal, then take each question onto a fresh page and spend as long as you can with each question.
Have a dialogue with your younger self, this person smiling back at you. And in this space see the child within who needs the same care and nurture as you offering others.
There Are Five Freedoms:
The freedom to see and hear what is;
The freedom to say what you feel and think;
The freedom to feel what you actually feel;
The freedom to ask for what you want;
The freedom to take risks on your own behalf. — Virginia Satir
Martyrs became so by being burned at the stake. Modern day ones simply smolder within — until they’re emotionally burnt out.
It’s painful running your life as a ‘placater’ as Virginia Satir describes.
But you have a choice. While there’s still time.
I know you’d encourage anyone else to do this. To take this step.
It’s up to you whether you choose to, or simply click away thinking … tomorrow.
Yet. You know tomorrow will arrive and little will change.
If you can feel this speaking to your heart, then take action today.