Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reflections From A Recovering People Pleaser

The last few years have been filled with a lot of ups and downs, stresses and strains, and not so pleasant diagnoses requiring the devotion of time and energy to a lot of things outside of our control.  Life is driving me, events are pushing me around and the needs of others dictating what I do each day instead of me really consciously directing anything about how I am living my own life.

What has resulted is that I feel like I am living like a ping pong ball, constantly dodging and bouncing back and forth, up and down, but not really getting to any solid conclusion...just with another round of bouncing about looming in the distance as I get a chance to catch my breath from the last round.

Alas, just bobbing about like this isn't enough.

I need goals to work toward, mountains that I consciously choose to climb, something of my own amid the din of everything else that needs doing to sustain my own inner drive. 

But how to do that without sacrificing the well-being of my family, without taking away from them too much while giving myself some desperately needed space of my own?  It's a struggle for me.

A huge struggle, despite knowing that when I am happiest doing my own thing while simultaneously doing things for my family, they are also at their happiest.  And by withholding my happiness by doing for them instead of myself, day in and day out, and allowing the resentment to build up that happens as I put others needs consistently ahead of my own, I just end up making myself and everyone else miserable because it eventually begins to leak out around the edges.  But the guilt of putting myself first is almost overwhelming, because that is so foreign to me as a concept given how things were when I was a child and how my mind is programmed to please and put everyone else's needs first.

As I struggle to become a recovering people pleaser, I find it insanely easy to just fall back on old habits and put myself last on the list, over and over again.  Putting myself first -- or even close to the top -- requires conscious effort on my part.

But I ought to be able to do just that, right?  As an adult, at some point, you get to actively choose what you do and think for yourself, right?  The fact that it is a struggle to choose the happier path is, for me at least, a big clue that this has enormous value if for no other reason than I want my daughter to grow up knowing that caring for herself, working toward her own goals and dreams and choosing her own happiness without worrying so much about whether or not it makes everyone else happy in the moment is not only okay but also encouraged.

I want The Peanut to be able to listen to her own inner voice and make decisions based on what she thinks for herself and not just what she thinks others want from her.  It is a huge difference in thought process, and one with which I struggle constantly.

Doing a little reading online the other day, I stumbled across an essay by a teacher at the Kripalu Institute that I found particularly profound and challenging:
Those who are resilient and can sustain healthy transformations are those who lean on their strengths in moments of stress. We choose our actions and ways of being based upon the capacities that can move us forward. This does not mean that we are not vulnerable. In fact, under stress, we are often raw and exposed. What it means is that we do not waste time punishing ourselves for who we are not, or ruminating about the gifts we don’t have. We take the moment of rawness as an opportunity to use the strengths we do have, while being open to what the moment has to teach us about growth. Author Anne Lamott once wrote that her mind was like a bad neighborhood she tried not to go into alone, and that is something many of us can relate to. We are talented at judging ourselves, which brings us nowhere except to a darker place, a bad neighborhood. Yet, if we put our attention toward our strengths, we find ourselves in a new land, one that actually helps us move forward.
That feeling of being raw and exposed?  That is certainly where I have been living for far too long, given that Anne Lamott's thought resonates so strongly with me.  Rarely do I step out of my own self-imposed boxes enough to allow others to see the vulnerability or the insecurity:  publicly, I hide that exposure very well with a sheen of competence and a hefty shield of over-preparation.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't there, lurking in the background waiting to rear up and swamp me with the next tidal wave of fear and self-criticism.

We all have this to some extent, I think, but for some reason mine has become a gripping, piercing fear of failure as I have gotten older, old wounds from childhood festering and bubbling away into a larger and larger mass while I am, at the same time, a much happier person because my little family is so wonderfully supportive and caring.  But, all the while, that growing canker of fear and self-loathing is paralyzing me these days.

One of my New Year's resolutions was to move forward this year with less fear.  Which is why I'm throwing all of this out there to the wind -- if I write it out publicly, and stop hiding behind a pretend shield of "nothing to see here," then at least internally I can no longer pretend this doesn't exist.

Maria Sirois of Kripalu had some good advice on a place to start, which I absolutely loved:
What had changed externally? Nothing. We were still in difficult straits. What had changed internally? Everything. I had come home to myself in a positive way. I had reminded myself of who I was and what I had to bring to the world—no matter what the world was bringing to me. I had remembered that I had more than one strength to bring to bear, and I had taken charge of the one thing I actually do have control over: myself in the present moment. There is no other locus of change; we have ourselves in the present moment to enact the change we seek.
How we see the struggle, how we define ourselves and our place in the larger world, whether we see progress or failure in any given decision should come from inside us, not from outside. And when we look through the lens of loving ourselves and the world around us, instead of fearing it? That may well make all the difference.

It is certainly something worth thinking about today, anyway.  And for all the days to come.

(Photo by Christy Hardin Smith.  All rights reserved.)

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