By | October 14, 2011 147 Comments

Appeasement–an impossible goal with psychopaths

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)

The term appeasement is commonly understood to refer to a diplomatic policy aimed at avoiding war by making concessions to another power. Historian Paul Kennedy defines it as “the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody, and possibly dangerous”¦

The word “appeasement” has been used as a synonym for weakness and even cowardice since the 1930s, and it is still used in that sense to denounce policies and behaviors that conflict with firm, often armed, action in international relations.

From Wikipedia

I have a little dog that was rescued from an abusive prior life, where his owner’s adult sons didn’t like him and apparently physically abused him. He is a Jack Russell Terrier, which is known for its feisty nature and general hardheadedness, as well as for being quite smart. My little dog, though, if spoken to roughly will cower, belly crawl, and attempt to appease what he thinks is my anger at him.

Appeasement is something done from a “one-down” position of weakness, from a lower status individual to a higher or more powerful individual who has become angered at the less powerful individual. It is meant to calm the rage of the more powerful.

Dogs have “castes” within a “pack,” which can include other dogs, other animals or humans. Because I don’t want my dogs to do things that are harmful to me, others, or the environment of my home (like pooping in the house), I establish my gentle dominance over my dogs. I become the “alpha” (highest) member of the pack. If they do something I don’t want them to repeat, I respond to them like another alpha dog would, I growl at them to indicate that is unacceptable behavior. If they repeat it or refuse to acknowledge that I am alpha, I may grab them by the scruff of the neck and actually pinch it or shake them a bit (not enough to give them have shaken baby syndrome or harm them, but essentially the way their mother weaned them). Dogs understand this kind of pack dominance and do not “resent it” or cower from it for long. But if they have been beaten or screamed at, they respond by cowering in an effort to appease their owner from some rage that they do not know the cause of.

Humans also have appeasement behavior. If your boss is in a foul mood and you’re not sure quite why, but s/he yells at you or someone else, you may try to appease this angry behavior by being quiet, not asking questions, or going about your business to avoid running into him or her.

If your spouse is in a grouchy mood, you may fix their favorite drink or offer a back rub, or some other thing to make them feel better.

Reaction to abuse

If you have been seriously physically or emotionally abused, though, you may respond a bit like my rescued dog and go into serious appeasement mode if you become aware that someone is angry or out of sorts, and do the human equivalent of the dog’s “belly crawling, tail wagging” appeasement routine.

You may have even been trained to do this as a child if you had controlling or over-bearing adult caregivers or parents. You may have been told and shown that certain behaviors would elicit rage from someone more powerful than you were, or you may have experienced random rage from those powerful people. You could not discern what prompted it, so you might be hyper vigilant around people, continually wondering when the next outbreak of rage might come, and doing all you could to appease that rage even before it happened.

Responsible for their happiness

For some people, and I am one of them, I was convinced early on that the happiness and satisfaction of other people depended on how I behaved, and that it was my responsibility to make them happy. If they were not happy, it was because I was deficient in my “happy-making behaviors.”

This way of thinking about myself and my behavior made me try hard to keep everyone happy all the time, to blame myself if someone else wasn’t happy, and to continually try to work harder to appease them if they were unhappy. I continually did the human equivalent of the dog’s belly crawling appeasement behavior. I would rush to wait on them, show my hospitality, fix everyone’s favorite food, so no one felt left out. I would ignore patently rude behavior because I didn’t want to “hurt their feelings.” (That would have been a big crime, I felt.) Just like my little dog, instead of fighting back against abuse from a one-down position (and I realize an 18 pound dog doesn’t have much chance against a 180 pound man with opposable thumbs), like him, I cowered down, made appeasing noises, polished up my whining voice, and jumped at any request or suggestion, ignoring however passive aggressively it might be phrased. In short, I learned to “let’s pretend it never happened,” no matter how hurt I was, or how bad the emotional abuse had been.

I learned to savor the “pats” and to quickly forget the “slings and arrows” of every day life from those who I allowed to be in the “one-up position” from me.

I have a choice

My little dog didn’t have much of a chance to defend himself, or to find a new home, but as luck would have it, his previous mother asked me to take him in. Though I’ve not been able to totally reassure him that he is not going to be beaten or kicked, he is living a much more normal life now.

Unlike my little dog, though, I DO have a choice in how I live, and how I react to those “slings and arrows” that are thrown out by others who would place themselves superior to me, and expect me to dance to their tune, regardless of how abusive they are to me. I do not have to endure endless physical or emotional kicks any more. I have realized that you can never truly appease someone who is abusive to those around them. Not all bosses are abusive to those who work under their supervision; not all spouses are abusive to their spouses or significant others. As human beings in the western culture and civilization, we have the right to choose who we associate with. We are not required by law to associate with someone who is abusive (except in the case of people who have to “co-parent” with these individuals, even then the abuse and the association can be limited).

My problem is though, that I, like my little dog, was trained as a child to appease those who show their displeasure toward me in any way, and this is the natural “fall back position” for me, just like it is for my little dog. Because of that, if someone shows however subtly that they are displeased with me, my almost immediate almost INSTINCTIVE reaction is to think, “What did I do wrong?” Then, “What can I do to make them happy?”

During my healing journey, though, I have learned that if someone is unhappy with me, it is not necessarily that I have done anything wrong to cause their unhappiness. Even if something I have done to make them mad is why they are mad, it does not necessarily mean I have done anything wrong, or failed to do something right. I have learned intellectually that I am responsible for my own happiness, and not responsible for the happiness of others. I do my best to treat others fairly, honestly and politely, and if they are not happy with that, it is absolutely okay for them to not be happy and is not my problem. I do not have to belly crawl, whine, whimper, and beg other people to appease them. I do not have to FEAR the displeasure of others, unless I was breaking the speed limit and the cop is standing by my car door asking for my license. In that case, I am going to do my best to appease him, with my pity ploy, and my very polite little old lady act! 🙂

In short, when other people are demanding or abusive, we do not have to appease them to our emotional detriment. Sometimes it may mean finding another job because your boss is abusive; I’ve done that. Sometimes it may mean leaving a love relationship because your partner is abusive, or sometimes it may mean severing one or more family ties because your relatives is/are abusive. (And by the way, passive-aggressive IS AGGRESSIVE!)

Learning a different reaction

Trying to appease the demanding and abusive, though, is a continuing and impossible task to accomplish. If you appease them on one issue, then they will raise another one, then still another one. It is like a game with them to find things to abuse you for. Learning to not “instinctively” respond from this “one-down” emotional position, though, will take some practice, as well as continual vigilance of your own responses. In fact, last week I found myself trying to appease someone who was very demanding, very unsuccessfully trying to appease them, by the way. Then, I pulled myself up short and asked myself, “Why are you trying to appease this person, Joyce? Their demands are unreasonable and rude.” I didn’t confront the person about it, it was someone who was not important in my life, so there was no need to make a big “to do” about it, but I did adjust my own thinking, my own emotional response to the their narcissistic demands. It didn’t change anything about how they acted, but it went from being an irritation to me to a laughable exercise in my own growth.

Back again to the bottom line of dealing with psychopaths and other dysfunctional people: We can’t change them, but we can change ourselves and our responses to how they behave. We can quit trying to appease them. It won’t be successful anyway.

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Appeasement doesn’t work with most people, least of all spaths. Spaths have a hidden agenda, usually multiple hidden agendas, the most dominant of which is that if any other ” has a win” (receive ANYTHING of benefit), then by default they have LOST, and with a prime directive to be WINNERS, that negates any possibility of appeasement, EVEN IF it’s in their best interests. They will commit suicide in order to WIN, that’s how driven they are. Farked logic, but there it is.


Excellent article Oxy. Appeasement just reinforces the abusive behavior because they got what they wanted. You bent to their will and that makes them feel powerful. Even the passive aggressive bully gets a powertrip from it.

Oxy – so true, so true.


I strongly believe a sociopath will stay with a particular “victim” until 1) a new victim is targeted; 2) the new victim can meet all the sociopaths needs; 3) the sociopath is close to being unmasked. Thus, appeasement might work with a sociopath if the sociopath still has a need for you. For example, the sociopath finds a new sexual partner, but that partner cannot provide the sociopath a place to live. Thus, the sociopath may appear to make some accommodations with the current victim, but this is not to fix the relationship. Rather, it is to buy time…


A truly wonderful article, and great comments too.

On a similar note, I was rather shocked and dismayed to read this:

What I had assumed was an indication of me being affectionate as a child (which I was and still am) was actually “safety-seeking behaviour”.


I have to honestly say that as a child, I was raised in a very loving and supportive family environment that includes a huge family – we took up half the congregation at our church.
It wasn’t until I became an adult and had relationships with others that the appeasement factor came in –
really tho – my last marriage with the spathx was the only time I felt that I had to appease anybody to prevent the rages that would come out of nowhere – the comments randomly made – the walking on eggshells and anxiety it caused me.
Since then – this is a definite boundary with myself.
Those who know me, know me – those who don’t, don’t matter. If I step on someone’s toes to speak up for myself when something has been said or done against me and they don’t like the reaction – then I have just learned that that was someone I could live without. I don’t have a problem with people telling me when I’ve done something against them and I will immediately apologize before trying to defend myself and try to be understanding.
I don’t miss the comments – “I’m sorry you have such thin skin that you can’t take some spiteful joking”

Thank you Oxy – a very informative article and great analogy with your puppy –

Ox Drover

Thanks guys,

Annie, VERY good article and link, thanks. I have noticed this (see quote below) very behavior in the child being raised by a friend of mine who is her grandmother….she is such a “loving” child, but attaches immediately to any adult who pays her attention and “hugs” them and says “I love you”….

” One common behavior is “indiscriminant” attachment. All children seek safety. Keeping in mind that attachment is important for survival; children may seek attachments– any attachments–for their safety. ….Clinicians become concerned because these behaviors contribute to the abused child’s confusion about intimacy and are not consistent with normal social interactions. Furthermore, although the child seeks safety, these inappropriately affectionate behaviors can, ironically, put the child in very dangerous situations.”

Sheila Leanne, good points!




Constantine – I’m impressed (and kind of jealous, frankly). How on earth did you ever get your hands on that?

I’m always amazed by how few people seem to be aware that in the beginning Churchill was ostracized and seen as the bad guy, and Chamberlain was held up as being almost saint-like for being so ‘reasonable’.

Churchill is one of my heroes, but more for his persistence in staying with his own truth in the face of immense censure than for what he did during the war.




Bumper Sticker —> Speak your mind, even if your voice trembles.


Sure have, but there are far too many wonderful Churchill quotes to pick a favourite.

Since we’re on the subject of appeasment – this one seems apt: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Although I don’t truly believe that Chamberlain ever realized he was negotiating with a crocodile until it was too late.

Not a one-liner – but I use this one as a personal motto:
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”


Hens – love that one too!


Sorry to take this off-topic – but does anyone remember which thread EB was telling us about discovering what her mother did re: her uncle’s funeral? Or which thread the woman wrote in about her granddaughter (may have been a niece) where her mother was making the child afraid of everyone (it was similar to Rosa’s story).

I wish there were an easier way we could search on User here!


Of course you cant appease a socipath. They like fighting.

May I ask a question on this topic? 🙂


I appeased for threeeee yeeears – threeeeeeeeeeee loooooooonnnng yeeears – never was enuff,, it was me lying to myself –


Its truly scary that the most remarkable achievement of WW2 was accomplished by Stalin. Does it take a psychopath to beat one?


afondmemory – is that a trick question?


I actually forgot what I was going to ask. 🙁 Sorry.


BBE – now thats a very scary thought. But a very good question…

Hens – that was funny!


Oh right! Do sociopaths like each other? I mean maybe if they like arguing and junk, I would think they’d like someone else who would argue with them.


Out of curiousity, what most remarkable achievement of WWII are you attributing to Stalin?


hmmm I knew it was a trick question – he must of liked me alot cause we argued alot – guess i am spathy.


I grew up in an an environment where appeasement secured my safety. For many years after I turned 18 I became what I believed was a strong woman. Lol..Sadly I see now that although I appeared strong I was still trying to make everyone around me happy no matter what, why, or how they treated me. I assumed it was my fault if I pissed them off and my my responsibility to change it.. I was me: I did something wrong and I needed to fix it. My spath saw that and used that to every advantage possible.
I am trying to re-learn so many things. Especially setting up personal boundaries. Sad to say- I don’t think I ever really had them. I’m working and trying very hard on this. It’s very difficult. You can’t re-learn your life overnight. It’s hard and honestly painful. With every step forward a new obstacle seems to arise… Calling all old patterns into question.


Spaths don’t LIKE argueing. They LIKE winning. This is accomplished via many modes: yelling, walking out, ridiculing, ignoring, etc etc


Ok, so, that makes sense when I think about my dad and how he treated us. But it doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t wrap my head around it. Why would anyone want to do that? Its not real conversation or anything. They arent really getting anything out of it other than I guess enjoyment of being mean. And its not even real “winning”. Its like playing against a game on the computer and programming it only to lose. Its dumb. I dont get it.


you have a fascinating moniker.

as an abused child, i learned to disappear into the wood work. appeasement didn’t work b/c if my presence was known, then i was a target for my abuser and her minions. but i do agree with Oxy, appeasers try to appeal to the better nature of a person who has power over the applicant. trying to get concessions when youare one down is a very weak strategy. no wonder it rarely works. if you have to appease someone, they are already in the dominant abusive role, and your safety is in imminent danger of their mood and whim.


Coping – Ditto on that – I think that is why I was so moved today when I saw that bumper sticker – we have to fight to survive, unfortunatley. But we can have two bumper stickers – the second one says —-> TOWANDA ~!


you are right. it is DUMB but it is THEIR definition of winning. and b/c we see the loss in it, it’s illogical. that’s why life with an spath is CRAZYMAKING.


BBE- i would say no because psychopaths are beat everyday- they are cowards at heart because they manipulate behind the scenes so they’re not even playing fair. If someone cheats a test and scores 100, or wins a game, by looking at the answers first- does that make them smart? No- because a monkey could do that. DECEIVING others is not hard. STEALING is not hard. Being cruel to others, or being evil- is not technically “hard”. It’s easy. People tend to want to believe the best about other people. Psychopaths exploit what you or I would consider “good” traits in other people- they do so because they lack character and morale. Because they’re cowards at heart, truly spineless. They can’t play fair like everyone else- they have to do it behind your back, and play on your “good” nature. They have to do their dirty deeds under the cloak of night and darkness ( lies & obfuscations ). Once you know what their act is about, they are absolutely powerless. That’s not power. It’s deception. It’s only the impression of power, you see? There’s no one there.

Moral of the story : Let’s not give psychopaths any more credit than they deserve. ( And they deserve none. )


I actually believe the only way to hook a sociopath, if that is what you want to do, is to play their game. While they still have some desire for you, play unavailable…



Spaths are governed by motivations that don’t make sense to us at all. But basically the answer is “because they can and makes them feel powerful to play with someone’s emotions and get them fired up and all emotional”


here is one of my boundry tricks:
i used to believe that if someone asked me a direct question, then i COMPULSIVELY answered it. and since i was an honest person, i’d answer honestly which would reveal secrets and vulnerabilities.

so, if anyone asks you a direct question, answer them with a question. i had to practice but it’s been a great tool so that i can keep my personal thoughts to myself. most stuff is NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS. at one time, that was BIG news to me. don’t know why i thought i had to tell but am sure that came from my mother drilling me for truth.


IF YOU create the Towanda bumper sticker, I will buy 100 from you!!! I’d send one to every abuse group in my area with the explanation and your sales contact and you could be a millionare. Then you could hold a LF reunion and I’d bring you love and affection, and more orders! 🙂


BBE – ? Do you want to hook a sociopath? What ya smokin?


Oh Katy somebody else will get millions for my brilliance – but thanks all the same for the affection…


“BBE ”“ ? Do you want to hook a sociopath? What ya smokin?”



I kinda do, actually. A guy sociopath, Im hopeless when it comes to girl sociopaths (or any girls actually, lol). I kinda feel guilty about it, but I really want to, idk, get back at them for all the things they do to people. But they’d probably tear me apart.


afondmemory – may I ask you a question?


Yeah, sure.


give or take a few years, what is your age?






Your welcome


Can I ask you a question?


Yeah, sure 🙂


Are you missing your testicles? 🙂


I said “if that is what you want to do…”


omg I just choked on my hamburger helper ~!


Figuratively, yeah.

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