When impression management of the “nice-guy” leads to deceptive behaviour.
Future-faking is a manipulation tool used by coercive people to obtain a short-term objective by giving the illusion of long-term rewards for the victim, which never eventuate.
Basically, a carrot on a stick, or a desert mirage.
In many cases this tactic is used by scammers, narcissists, MLM schemes, and gambling businesses to extract as many resources from a willing victim for as long as that victim remains invested in the future mirage. To these folks, lying about a sham future is all about deliberately sucking people in to get what they want. There is no intention on following through on any promises, no concrete strategy for going from the present situation towards the future scenario, no timeline of intended results, and no conscience for the devastation left in their wake. Trying to pin them down on details is like pinning down a cloud. Holding them accountable for the scam is equally ineffective.
However, there is a subset of people who do future-faking without malicious intent, although the outcome is still damaging to the people involved. These are the chronic people-pleasers who cannot bear the idea of someone not thinking highly of them, so they resort to inflated fantastical delusions of grandeur where they can be the hero via empty words. Their own grip on reality is not particularly tight, so in many cases they totally believe what they’re promising… one day… in the future. But the future never comes, it remains futuristic.
Do they spend most of their lives faking the niceness out of desperation to be liked? Do they morph their own identity to become accepted by others so frequently that they no longer have a sense of self? Are they fundamentally lacking in executive functioning and self-control?
Yes, on all three. Let’s tackle them one at a time.
People-pleasers tend to be so overly nice to everyone and conflict avoidant that the niceness cannot possibly come from a genuine place. On an instinctive level other people pick up on this and a healthy person will start to avoid the people-pleaser because their ingratiating behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable. The only ones who stick around are those who are either so fragile from abuse that they need solace (even if it isn’t real) and those who enjoy or demand the ego-stroking.
In the study pictured below, they found that impression management is a tactic used by people attempting to ingratiate themselves with others and these tactics can include performing favours for others. If a people-pleaser cannot actually perform the favour, they can still talk about volunteering to do the favour… then never actually do it. In the short-term it equates to façade management, but in the long term they get a reputation for future-faking.
All of this niceness as a means of gaining reward is taxing on the people-pleaser, which is why the study below found a correlation between surface acting and alcohol consumption.
Addiction can become a major issue for people-pleasers because maintaining the fake-nice persona is taxing and ultimately soul crushing because it isn’t who they really are. When people don’t behave in genuine ways, they must release their true feelings somehow, somewhere else. They cannot blow up at their boss for exploiting their time, so they go home and drink. They cannot say no to their friends, so they go home and rip their partner a new one. This is the dark side of the people-pleaser. They’re actually not that nice underneath.
Out of Control
When someone chronically people-pleases, they place their self-worth into the hands of other people and then use manipulation of those people to inflate their value. Ultimately, they have no control over how others perceive their worth, which is why in a weird sense they have the liberty to let go of responsibility for their behaviour. Their behaviour conforms to other’s whims, therefore they bear no accountability for it.
In the table below from the study by Hart et al. (2020), it lists key behaviours of self-presentation tactics and what they look like:
This list is usually associated with personality disorders such as narcissism, but people-pleasers tend to fall into the highlighted categories of deceptive tactics as well. They’re not narcissists, but they can behave in ways which are just as damaging to the people closest to them, simply because pleasing people is such a compulsion.
For example, they may avoid accountability for how their decisions have impacted other people because they are slaves to being liked. They may apologise profusely and promise not to let it happen again, but it is such an addiction to be liked, that they will be found a week later selling their wife’s car to a friend for half of what it’s worth and making her take the bus. Or they may promise to help someone move house, but then ensure that they have a work trip in that week and place an insurmountable obstacle in front of following through for people, thereby effectively future faking without being caught. Or they might exaggerate their skills in carpentry and offer to build a dog kennel for a friend, but three months later nothing has been done because the people-pleaser is just so important and needed by others and busy, but it’s still going to be greatest dog kennel of all time.
So many circumstances out of control for the people-pleaser… they really wanted to do everything for everyone… they’re a hapless victim of circumstance! Dang it! They’re still the greatest guy you’ve ever met though, cos if they could have done it, they would have. Isn’t that awesome.
It’s classic future faking.
Identity Disturbance & Maladaptive Personality Traits
At the end of the day, chronic people-pleasers do not have a firm sense of who they are without the approval of others. They are such slaves to the feedback that they cannot regulate their own emotions without it.
They’re addicts. Approval junkies. They would whore out their cat for a dopamine hit.
Ok, maybe not that far, but you get the idea.
As I said before, they’re not narcissists, but they have some of the higher-order domain traits listed in the DSM-5 associated with maladaptive personalities. The five traits are these: Negative Affect, Antagonism, Psychoticism, Disinhibition, and Detachment.
These traits are the dark-side Big-5 personality traits, similar to the standard personality profiling used in psychology which is often known by the acronym OCEAN (openness to experience, consciousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Where a well-adjusted person will be on a sliding scale of the OCEAN Big-5 traits, a maladjusted personality will be on a sliding scale of the DDNAP Big-5 traits.
In my opinion, the chronic people-pleaser displays shades of these traits. However, where the narcissist is intentionally malevolent, the people-pleaser does not seek to harm others with their actions, they just don’t know how to function if they show up as their authentic self. The potential perceived threat to their identity is too overwhelming to contemplate, which justifies any fallout for other people in their reasoning.
They simply do not know who they are, and they cannot exercise self-control. They invest too heavily in a fantasy version of themselves and others which does not exist and in the attempt to perpetuate a myth, they switch off their executive function which staves off the emotional dysregulation they experience when reality intrudes on the daydream:
This makes them just as damaging as a real narcissist to a partner, who is also forced into the slavery of the fantasy life, and who may be bearing the brunt of re-regulating their spouse’s emotions at the back-end of operations.
In terms of their romantic tendencies, according to the study below, they will tend towards a combination of Eros and Mania love styles:
These are the ones who sweep you off your feet in a whirlwind of romantic future faking where everything is rose-tinted and nothing is impossible. Where they diverge from the narcissist is that they fully intend to see this fantasy play out, which is why their sincerity can be disarming for so many people. However, their future aspirations are not grounded in reality and cannot be attained.
To cope with the disconnect between reality and fantasy, they will procrastinate, manufacture obstacles or excuses, and mentally check-out of the relationship. They will also swing wildly from one projected future to another, selling people on cloud real-estate each and every time with their enthusiasm.
They might not have bad intentions, and they might be a seemingly great person, but they make terrible life partners in the long run. You simply cannot make concrete plans with them and set timelines because they will incessantly shift the goal posts.
One of the biggest red-flags for this type of person is if they talk about their future plans A LOT, but don’t seem to be taking steps towards that ideal situation. The other big red-flag is when they spend beyond their means and try to live the life of a high-flyer without the appropriate income bracket to back it up.
If you start dating someone and they enthusiastically adopt all of your dreams and then blow them up into something so extravagant that it cannot be done, or if they are so agreeable with your opinions that it’s like they haven’t formed any of their own before meeting you, disengage immediately. This person will become the overly attached Eros/Mania lover of your nightmares and it does not get better with time.
Grandey, A. A., Frone, M. R., Melloy, R. C., & Sayre, G. M. (2019). When Are Fakers Also Drinkers? A Self-Control View of Emotional Labor and Alcohol Consumption Among U.S. Service Workers. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(4), 482–497. https://doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000147
Hart, W., Tortoriello, G. K., & Richardson, K. (2020). Profiling personality-disorder traits on self-presentation tactic use. Personality and Individual Differences, 156, 109793. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.109793
Huang, C. (2013). Relation between self-esteem and socially desirable responding and the role of socially desirable responding in the relation between self-esteem and performance. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(3), 663–683. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-012-0134-5
Jonason, P. K., Lowder, A. H., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2020). The mania and ludus love styles are central to pathological personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 165, 110159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110159
Shalala, N., Tan, J., & Biberdzic, M. (2020). The mediating role of identity disturbance in the relationship between emotion dysregulation, executive function deficits, and maladaptive personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 162, 110004. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110004
Tal-Or, N. (2010). Indirect Ingratiation: Pleasing People by Associating Them with Successful Others and by Praising Their Associates. Human Communication Research, 36(2), 163–189. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2010.01372.x
Wilson, S., Elkins, I. J., Bair, J. L., Oleynick, V. C., Malone, S. M., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2018). Maladaptive Personality Traits and Romantic Relationship Satisfaction: A Monozygotic Co-Twin Control Analysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology (1965), 127(4), 339–347. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000343