People-Pleaser in Recovery

I don’t care what you think.

Well, I do really, but I care a lot less about what people think than I used to and it’s been life changing. People-pleasing is like being on a hamster wheel and not being able to hop off when you’re knackered. No amount of ‘thank you’s, or compliments will ever satisfy an insatiable people-pleasing hunger, but provide only momentary relief.

It’s tricky because what will please one person may irritate another. What might be graciously received by one person, might be misunderstood by another.

We are hardwired, culturally, to seek to please others. I mean, it’s not all bad because it gives us a moral compass and encourages us to be aware of the impact of our actions and words.  But allowing yourself to consider what is pleasing to others, is different to being utterly ruled by it. How other people perceive us is so damn subjective that it’s like trying to accurately interpret someone else’s dream. In the process of attempting to please everyone, you swerve from, deny and twist your own wants, needs and opinions. You might please someone but in the process you’ve chipped away at your authenticity by saying and doing things that you know aren’t ‘you’. Respect for ourselves ebbs away a little at a time and we become less and less sensitive to the little nuances, dreams and needs that make us who we are.

I remember going shopping with friends as a young teen, expressing like at everything that they did – the clothes, music, makeup. I probably even spent pocket money on things I didn’t like in order to ‘fit in’ with what I thought was acceptable to them. I thought that the way to please others was to validate their own choices, but in the process I totally denied my own. This has continued into adulthood where I’d go to bed with that dropped-stomach fear that I’d annoyed or hurt someone, replaying scenarios over in my mind, wondering how I could have been different, been somehow less.

What’s the worse case scenario of doing something that is authentic to you but might not please someone? They might not like me. They might not ‘get’ me, I might irritate/hurt/annoy’. Yes, these feelings are uncomfortable, but the thing is, we’re going to do that anyway even if we bend ourselves into pretzel knots to fit our idea of what people want of us. Not everyone will like or understand me despite my best and continuous efforts.

It’s far better to input my energy into being kind and authentic without needing to deny my character and opinions. They might be different, but they still have value.

Difference is enriching. Debating, arguing and disagreeing doesn’t necessarily break a relationship, it adds dynamic and perspective. I might do something that doesn’t please my husband, but it doesn’t necessarily break us. I might unintentionally hurt a friend, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unforgivable, and that our friendship can’t be deepened by talking it through. I might have differing music tastes, fashion choices, opinions to someone else, but it doesn’t mean that the void of difference is too big for there to be any level of connection.

We see people through our own lenses of experience, history, assumption, and there is nothing we can do to change other people’s lenses. Characters clash, people make immovable snap judgements, they may be irritable and angry, but it’s less about you and more about them. You have a responsibility only to your behaviour and response towards others. Trying to win everyone over is a bloody knackering, relentless pursuit that will take you to your grave unsatisfied.

You are you. Be authentic to you. Care enough to be kind, but not enough to deny the beauty of your individuality and your uniqueness of character. Be giving within your resources, but without giving yourself totally away.

How the heck do we begin this? Especially for those of us who’s people pleasing boundaries are so far from where they should be that we can’t even see them anymore? This is how…Work on accepting yourself and loving yourself, because then the hunger for other people to affirm, love and accept you becomes softer, and you’re less likely to look to others to tell you what you’re worth. Loving yourself well helps you step off the rollercoaster of other people’s supposed value of who you are, and gives you the confidence that many love you, many like you, but not everyone does and not everyone will. And that’s okay!

Just because someone doesn’t like you doesn’t mean you’re unlikable.

Just because someone doesn’t understand you, doesn’t mean you’re entirely misunderstood.

Just because someone is annoyed by you, doesn’t mean you are annoying.

Just because someone doesn’t accept you, doesn’t mean you’re unacceptable,

Test it out. Take risks in expressing yourself in ways that you’ve held back on before. Start small. Play music that you like, speak out an opinion that differs from another, wear something you’ve been desperate but afraid to wear. Every time you do this, you’re disproving your theory that you are not acceptable in and of yourself. Every time you do something authentic, and people don’t run for the hills, you’re taking the power and life away from this people pleasing drive.

And the more the power ebbs away the easier it becomes. And the more you realise that not being liked by everyone, and not pleasing everyone isn’t as devastating as you might imagine, the more confidence you’ll develop. And the more confidence you have in yourself and who you are, the more authentic you’ll be.

And you know what’s funny?? Authenticity is such a gloriously, accidentally, magnetic characteristic! So often, by addressing our desperation to please people, we end up being more authentically ourselves. And your authentic self is often far more attractive to others than the you who bends and twists yourself away to suit them.

Don’t let a look, an utterance, a misunderstanding tell you what you’re worth to the world. You’re worth far more than that. I assure you.

How do you KNOW you’re loveable, acceptable, likeable?? Because you dare to love, accept and like yourself. Everyone else’s feelings are just an affirmation of that truth, not a dictator of it.

Ax

Salty Tears on NYE

I wrote this as I spent New Years Eve of 2016 alone on the sofa. It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. My restless babe lies upstairs in his cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

My wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. His birth bought with him a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for. We wished for another baby. I brought this on myself. We made this happen.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat. I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief. But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

Eat For You

The way we eat is often a direct insight into our relationship with ourselves. Woah…that’s heavy Anna! Yup, yup it is.

Tonight I had a healthy dinner planned. A sweet potato and chickpea scenario. However, I had an argument in my mind (or on stories) because I just wanted to grab the emergency pizza out of the freezer and inhale the damn lot (Husband: HANDS OFF). Anyhow, it got me thinking about how self-care comes hand in hand with eating well. Spending the time planning, making and eating good, wholesome food is a statement of care for yourself. It’s saying ‘hey, I’m worth the effort. I value my body’. I’ve totally lost that recently. During the week, my ‘three meals a day’ become caffeine, snacks and toddler leftovers. Basically anything that keeps that hunger pang at bay, shuts it up as if it’s an inconvenience and not a basic bodily need. I’m not trying to loose weight, I simply can’t be bothered. Enough need comes my way from small people, so therefore I refuse to listen to the needs of my own. I make and serve dinner in the evening, but thats when my husband is coming home. I feel challenged. Why do I deem him ‘worth’ the effort to plan, chop and stir, but when it’s just me, it’s grabbed mouthfuls and sugary sustenance.

I know that it’s not this black and white. It’s complex! Food is as complex as we are! I’m saying that it’s worth thinking about a little more. I’ve not been loving myself in the way that I’ve been making food choices recently. Have you?

Eating is a form of loving, its an indulgence, it’s a way to celebrate happiness, and a way to devour down difficult emotion. It can be enjoyed, shared, created. It can be denied, abused. It can be a constant source of anxiety.

For one person, eating a pizza can be a treat. For another, a self destructive binge. For another, a painful battle. Oh do I know all of these angles.

Let’s take some time each day to mindfully prepare and eat something. To tell ourselves that we are worth the time, creativity, effort and enjoyment of sitting down to nourish and fill our bodies.

PS – we’re eating the healthy dinner. Chips due Friday (always)

Lean On

Needing help is a weakness. Asking for it is shameful. That’s our cultural lesson. Self sufficiency is king. If we can’t fix ourselves, we’ve failed. If we ‘need’ from another, we’ve lost something of ourselves.This is my constant battle. My raging self-sufficiency is both a blessing and a curse. It can make one driven and resourceful, but the pressure on yourself is layered so thick that it can be hard for others to see you struggle, knowing that any offer of support will be rebuffed with a sharp defensive ‘I’m okay thanks’. It’s as if an offer of help is a statement of failure, or evokes a fear that someone has seen a chink in the armour.

And then I look at my kids. So quick to ask for help, and accepting it without hesitation. The simple, childlike acknowledgement that we aren’t made to thrive or survive alone. My three year old doesn’t falter behind layers of shame and fear of failure. What broke? Why did it become so complicated? Why did we become so individualistic? It’s not just sad, it’s not just missing the point of relationship itself…it’s destructive.

We are NOT MADE to do life alone. Vulnerability does NOT equal failure. Fighting against these truths leads to burnout and a loneliness in feelings because nobody else has been involved in your processes.

I challenge clients (and myself) to start to say yes to the offer of help and support that comes their way, whether it be help with a buggy in a tight doorway, some luggage up some stairs, or childcare. No matter how big or how small, how much you feel you do or don’t need it, exercise grateful acceptance. In many countries, people are part of close-knit, enmeshed communities where energies and resources are shared, and the line between friends and families are blurred. Help and support are seen as forms of love to be given and accepted, and not statements of failure and shame.

You’re worth someone’s energy, someone’s time. You’re worth help and support. That is what community, friendship, relationship and love is about.

Say Yes to Kindness

On Wednesday we did our usual rush to football. My aim is aways to grab a coffee to sip whilst fielding Charlie as Oscar plays football. Time slips away at home and I always cast an eye into Costa to survey the queue. If it’s too busy, we dash on. If there’s no queue, it’s latte time.On Wednesday time was pushed. As my turn came, I glanced at the time…we were running too late.. and said not to worry and turned the buggy to leave.

The guy behind me, without drawing a breath said ‘I’ll pay for your coffee’. He thought it was money that was my issue, rather than time.

I thanked him profusely as I scrabbled my way out.

I felt emotional! That selfless, kind gesture stayed with me all day.

I’m historically horrendous at accepting kindness. Fabulous at giving it but, oh gosh, shufflingly, squirmingly awkward at receiving it. If it had been the lack of money, would I have accepted or would I have rushed out rosy cheeked and embarrassed?

What stops us accepting kindness? A sense that we are only worth giving, and not receiving? A fear that to accept kindness is some sort of defeat that we aren’t able to fulfil our own needs? A feeling that we will somehow be forever indebted to that person?

What if we made a decision to accept kindness when it came to us, and give it when we felt moved to do so? Maybe it would become a second nature? Maybe it would challenge and change our sense of self-worth and value (and my roaring sense of self-sufficiency). Maybe it would remind us that we aren’t alone, nor are we made to do this crazy old thing called ‘life’ from our own resources. Maybe it would be worth a try, to say ‘thank you’ instead of awkwardly murmur ‘no thanks’ next time kindness comes your way.