Understanding the Illusion of Excessive Agreeableness and How Superficial Agreement Obstructs Genuine Connection

Excessive agreeableness, while seemingly harmless, can create significant barriers to genuine communication and emotional connection. This article delves into how overly agreeable behavior can mask deeper issues, particularly in relationships, and offers insights into addressing and overcoming these challenges through psychodynamic therapy. To borrow a term from my field of psychoanalysis, this is often referred to as the “false self.” This false self is very common among those with narcissistic characteristics.

Recognizing the Issue

Imagine a scenario where your loved one, whether a partner or a close friend, consistently exhibits an excessively cooperative attitude. While this may seem ideal, you might find yourself unexpectedly irritated or frustrated by their constant agreeability. For instance, you offer suggestions or guidance on simple tasks, and despite their apparent agreement, they remain seemingly lost or oblivious. They don’t typically complete the task, or it takes them an unusually long time, and when it is completed, it is not done as the two of you agreed. This scenario highlights how nothing changes despite the superficial agreement, leading to frustration.

The Root of Excessive Agreeableness

In my experience working with couples and individuals, I have observed that excessive agreeableness often stems from a fear of genuine engagement and acknowledging differing opinions and feelings. This discomfort is particularly pronounced in individuals with narcissistic tendencies, especially covert narcissists. These individuals often struggle with acknowledging differences and separateness, which can be traced back to their early caregiving experiences.

Excessive Agreeableness

Addressing the Core Issues

In therapy, the goal is to help these individuals understand that their need to please stems from an internalized pattern of seeking approval from emotionally rejecting caregivers. By continually pleasing others, they avoid confronting more complex and threatening emotions such as anger, neglect, and loss.

The Role of Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy aims to uncover the deeper motivations behind superficial agreeableness. By analyzing this behavior, we can reveal attempts to create a more acceptable self-image both in their own mind and in the minds of others. This false presentation often acts as a retreat into a narcissistic omnipotence, making genuine contact with reality and significant others challenging. Narcissistic omnipotence involves a belief in one’s own superior abilities and self-sufficiency. This mindset protects an individual from being involved with others by fostering a sense of invulnerability and independence, reducing the need for emotional connections or dependency on others. It acts as a defense mechanism to avoid potential rejection, criticism, or vulnerability in relationships.

Techniques for Genuine Connection

One effective technique in addressing these issues is “confrontation.” This involves pulling together contradictory information and encouraging the individual to explore the motivations behind their compliant behaviors. For instance, pointing out how important it was for them to please their spouse but somehow they ended up not completing the task and upsetting them. The ultimate goal is to help them begin to see how they suppress their true selves in an attempt to win love.

Another technique is known as Reflective Questioning. This involves using open-ended, reflective questions to gently challenge the patient’s beliefs about their compliance and agreeableness and its impact on relationships.

Excessive Agreeableness

The Impact of Early Caregiving

People with narcissistic traits often have caregivers who hinder their ability to develop independence. These caregivers might react defensively to the child’s attempts to assert autonomy, leading to emotional withdrawal or excessive anger. As a result, the child learns to avoid confrontation and disagreement, opting instead for a superficially compliant demeanor to gain approval and avoid feeling controlled, rejected, criticized, and abandoned.

The Illusion of Control

While it might seem that constant agreeableness equates to being controlled, it actually creates a false sense of connection. By agreeing without genuine involvement in decisions, the person avoids feeling controlled or dominated. This behavior stems from early experiences where caregivers withdrew love or punished the child for asserting independence, instilling a fear of retaliation and abandonment.

Emotional Distance and Anxiety

Excessive agreeableness allows individuals to remain emotionally distant, masking their anxiety related to separation, abandonment, and feeling controlled. For instance, if they are never really involved and invested, there is not as much to lose, and therefore, loss will not have such a profound impact on them. This stance of superficial compliance creates an illusion of connection and togetherness, protecting them from the perceived dangers of loss and rejection. In their mind, it may look something like this: “If I can please them and they are happy with me, I will never have to worry about being rejected or abandoned.”

Excessive Agreeableness

Moving Towards Authenticity

Through this process, individuals can begin to understand how their superficial agreeableness prevents genuine connection and emotional flexibility. By confronting the illusion of connection and the fear of being alone or abandoned, they can move towards more authentic relationships.


Excessive agreeableness masks deeper issues of fear and anxiety, hindering genuine communication and connection. By recognizing and addressing these behaviors through psychodynamic therapy, individuals can overcome the illusion of connection and foster more meaningful relationships.


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