Compliant Pattern

Interpersonal Behavior

Tries to be who others want him/her to be. Gives up self for what others want or what client thinks they want. 

Has a hard time saying No or setting limits or expressing any negative feelings. Avoids conflict.

Often is friendly and nice to everyone. Goes overboard not to hurt others or make them feel bad.

Often tries to please others, to make them happy. Their well-being comes before his/her own.

Has difficulty expressing his/her own feelings, desires, opinions, and sometimes doesn’t even know them.

Has difficulty being assertive or angry or taking initiative. Feels powerless.


Conscious Statement

I’m accommodating.


Unconscious Thought

Others are in charge of my life. It isn’t safe to exert power.


Group, Community, Organizational, and Work Behavior

Avoids leadership or teaching positions.

Goes along with the group. Prefers to be a devoted follower to a strong or charismatic leader.

Often mediates between others. Wants everyone to get along. Tries to smooth over problems.

Can’t work independently; needs direction from leader

Doesn’t compete, so often loses out in competitive situations


Societal Behavior

Oppressed person who accepts oppression, feels inferior, feels powerless, maybe consorts with oppressor

Goes along with conventional social views

Assimilates to dominant culture


Social Change Behavior

Follower of charismatic social change leader

Networking and organizing are done in order to please others 



Expects others to be in charge of his/her life. Sometimes feels she is supposed to be like others. 

Sometimes complies to avoid anticipated attack, rejection, or abandonment or to obtain love or nurturing.

Sometimes wants someone to run her life.

Feels it isn’t safe to initiate or exert power.


Core Issues/Origins

Harm issues, especially domination

Punishment for aggression

Shaped dependence, shaped compliance

Opposite reaction to attacking or dominant parent


Distortions of Perception

Sees self as cooperative

Can see people who are controlling as healthy

Tends to see others as controlling or harmful


Dimensions Involved

Power, intimacy/boundaries


Healthy Capacities Blocked

Assertive, autonomous, self-protective, self-caring, self-valuing, perceptive



More common in women

Also common in members of oppressed groups who haven’t been liberated

Asian women


Activating Conditions

People who are powerful, assertive, charming, charismatic, demanding, controlling, especially if the compliant person needs their love or approval

Group situations, authority figures



The needy pattern is about dependency. Though it may involve compliance, a needy person could just as well be demanding.

The insecure pattern is about fear of rejection or failure. Though it can produce compliance, it could also produce withdrawal, awkwardness, etc.

When a client flatters others, this could be a form of the charming pattern or the compliant pattern depending on whether the flattery comes from a one-up or one-down position.

Codependent clients can be compliant, but they can also be controlling. The issue is caretaking not complying.

Cooperation is a healthy capacity that involves working with others in a way that is sometimes receptive and accommodating, but it doesn’t involve giving up oneself. The choice to cooperate comes from a position of strength and sensing what is best for self, other, or the whole.


Related Patterns

Opposite: controlling

Healthy goal: assertive, self-protective

Some compliant people become controlling temporarily as they grow.


Dynamics with Other Patterns and Capacities

A compliant person may be attracted to people who are controlling and then later resent being controlled

A compliant person doesn’t have conflict with anyone

Compliant person often tries to keep love relationship together by giving in

See subservient dynamics

A compliant person will end up being controlled even by an assertive person


How to Relate to Compliant People

Circumventing: Be cooperative. Don’t be judgmental, angry, controlling 

Disconfirming: Same as circumventing and also challenge their compliance and encourage them to figure out what they think, feel, and want

Protection: Encourage them to get in touch with what they want

Using Their Strength: Put them in situations where you need them to follow orders or please others

Healing response to a compliant person being assertive: Be cooperative. Make sure they have a positive experience in asserting themselves


How to Experiment with Healthy Behavior and Attitude

Work on knowing what you think, feel, want

Practice saying what you think, feel, want

Practice being yourself

Take the risk that others may not always like what you say or do

Take the risk that others may get angry, rejecting, dismissing, etc.

Work on getting in touch with anger that may be repressed

Practice expressing anger, confronting others, being strong

(Discuss anger vs. strength)

Practice asserting yourself

Practice setting limits

Try out the attitude that you count as much as others

Practice standing your ground when others disagree or push their perspective

Practice taking initiative to get what you want

You may go overboard at first



Choose people who appreciate your being yourself, who don’t need to dominate or have their way, who can handle confrontation and anger

Protect yourself from being controlled or harmed

Don’t take on people who are very powerful until you are strong enough

Choose people who will support you in becoming assertive





The person doesn’t assert or express himself much. He doesn’t try to be what others want in any active way, he just doesn’t try to be himself. May even be withdrawn.



Often feels what others are feeling without making any distinction between self and others. Expects that she is supposed to be the same as others—feel the same, want the same things, think the same way, etc.


Fear of Attack

Complies in an effort to prevent or decrease anger or violence.

Derives from attack where the child was able to mollify the attacker through compliance.

In this case, the person often knows their real feelings or desires but is afraid to express or act on them.



Client complies with others while building up resentment and then explodes.

Derives from domination or exploitation, but where aggression wasn’t punished.



Seeks out people who will take care of her by running her life. They tend to dominate or exploit her (or otherwise harm her), and she may even be seeking this. Admires their strength or charisma. Flatters them.

The form of exploitation the client seeks (e.g. sexual, dependence, submission, caretaking) depends on the form of exploitation of the child

In childhood, love (in some form) was paired with harm (exploitation or domination) because the only parent who loved the child also harmed her.

Partly comes from natural attraction of child to power and desire to be taken care of (deprivation)

Combination with idealizing pattern  because the person tends to adore the other



Client acts friendly to everyone and tries to create friendly, benign atmosphere regardless of her real feelings.

Perhaps derives from anger or violence in family, or from having niceness strongly shaped in the family.



Tries to avoid any expression of conflict or anger


Combinations of Compliant Pattern with Other Patterns

Needy: Complies in an effort to get cared for or to avoid being abandoned.

Insecure: Complies in an effort to avoid rejection or shame

Codependent: Tries to take care of others by giving them exactly what they want.

Suspicious: Complies on the surface while watching out for ways that she will be harmed

Self-judging: Gives in to others’ opinions and desires because she feels hers are worthless

Idealizing: See subservient above.

Angry: See explosive above.

Defiant: Compliance with covert defiance produces the passive-aggressive pattern.

Deceptive: The person complies on the surface but manipulates or acts covertly to get what he wants.

Victim: The person complies or is passive but then complains and feels martyred or victimized.

Isolated: The person avoids conflict or strong engagement of any kind with others.

Charming: The person charms by pleasing or flattering others.




Related Technical Concepts

Dependent personality disorder when combined with the needy pattern.

Adult child of alcoholic



Client tries to do exactly what you want, or what she thinks you want. 

Tries to be the best possible client. Goes out of her way to agree with interpretations, do experiments successfully, be insightful, feelingful, or whatever each therapist values most. This is to get your love, or avoid harm, rejection, or abandonment.

May pretend that everything you do works.

Client may hope that if she complies with all you ask, you will magically fix her and make her life work.

A suggestible client may manifest what she thinks the therapist wants, e.g. false memory or MPD.


Countertransference toward Compliant Client

Therapist doesn’t see that the client is complying and believes the pretense that everything in the therapy is working.

Therapist enjoys having power over the client or is afraid of conflict and therefore doesn’t encourage the client to become assertive.


Countertransference of Compliant Therapist

Has difficulty challenging clients or taking them into pain or doing anything that clients don’t initially like even if it is what they need.

Tries to please clients or get them to like therapist rather than determining what therapist thinks is best for them.


Group Roles/Positions, Strengths of some Compliant clients

Make others feel comfortable. Facilitate initial connecting in group. Create safety for others.




Understanding Needed by Client

That the client’s compliance is automatic or defensive and not simply what she wants.

The motivation behind the compliance.


Access (core issue)

The underlying domination or exploitation or shaped dependence that makes the client assume others are in charge of her.

The underlying harm, rejection, or abandonment that the client fears and tries to avoid through compliance.

The punishment the client received for being aggressive and the shame or other feelings associated with this.


Access (healthy capacity)

The client’s real desires, opinions, and feelings

The client’s healthy aggression



Self-assertion, including anger, saying No, disagreeing, saying what she wants, expressing her opinions, feelings, etc.


Healing Reponses

Support and appreciation for client’s assertion. Acceptance of client’s aggression.


Other Interventions

Challenging the compliance or an avoidance of assertion or anger. 

Directing the client to disagree with therapist (therapeutic double bind).



Being overpowered by another group member

  • Support client in repeatedly standing up for herself without taking sides