Posted by: Abby Caplin, MD | December 10, 2009

Beware of The Pusher

My mother always used to tell me: “The cemeteries are filled with indispensable people.” She’d tell me this when I took myself too seriously, when I thought I needed do everything (perfectly, of course) by myself. I thought she meant that the cemeteries were filled with people who had worked themselves to death, because they really believed they were indispensable. Ha-ha. The joke was on them, because there they were, well—“dispensed.”

Later I discovered that she had been quoting Charles de Gaulle’s “The cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.” I don’t know when or in what context he made this statement, but I’m guessing it had to do with war, and he was honoring the value and sacrifice in good men giving their lives.

In any case, I like my mother’s interpretation. I understand it. I know many of us live as though we are indispensable, and the truth is, this does not often serve us, or our health. Taken to an extreme, this behavior has the potential to cause a downward spiral.

Psychotherapists Hal and Sidra Stone talk about the idea of an Inner Pusher in their book Embracing Our Selves. The Inner Pusher is an energy system that exists in all of us in varying amounts, and it gets us to do things. We enlist the Inner Pusher to do what we really don’t want to do, to do what we “have” to do, or “should” do.

Sometimes the Inner Pusher helps us function—go grocery shopping, stand in line in the DMV, pay bills. Sometimes, though, the Inner Pusher can run those of us with chronic illness into the ground.

You might want to look and act as normal as possible, perhaps even better than normal, and pull the wool over other people’s eyes. You might even believe you’ll convince your body into behaving normally if you do this. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen my clients succeed using this method. Too often they come to me in the midst of a downward spiral, because their Inner Pushers have gotten out of hand.

To recover, you need to understand that you actually HAVE an Inner Pusher, and that you are in charge of how you use its energy. If you let your Inner Pusher take over, letting it think it’s in charge of your life, then you’ve turned your body over to a destructive force and “indispensable” energy.

To help get yourself out of this situation, I recommend reading about and exploring Voice Dialogue, the practice created by Hal and Sidra Stone. It will help you understand how your Inner Pusher can be slowing your recovery!



  1. This is really helpful, Dr. Abby. Do you think our Inner Pusher can get mean sometimes — as in, punishing us when we don’t “do” as it directs us to do?

    Best wishes,

    • Good question, Pam!
      Yes, our Inner Pushers have a wonderful ally—The Inner Critic!
      It is the Inner Critic who steps in and gives us a severe lashing when we fail to go along with the Inner Pusher’s agenda, aka “The Pusher.”
      Of course, the triumvirate includes the expert “Perfectionist.” They all do a fine job on us!

      Are you thinking of any examples in particular?


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