I am a recovering people pleaser.
I've never written those words. I know I've thought them, but I haven't been bold enough to own them like I do right now.
My people pleasing began innocently enough. I was polite, kind, and thought about the feelings of others – all perfectly lovely human qualities. But anything in extremes can become a problem. And so over time these manners and thoughtfulness morphed into something awful and limiting and frightening for me. A few bad experiences of disappointing people or not behaving how THEY thought I should created a template for future behavior. “Their disapproval feels terrible. I don't want to feel THAT again. I better figure out a way to AVOID that.”
And so one interaction after another formed the habit of fearing people's reactions, anticipating reactions or opinions, and doing whatever I could to not experience these things. Long before I was aware of what I was doing, I was making decisions based on my fear of what might happen rather than actual events. What started as avoiding bad interactions and bad feelings morphed into teaching people how to treat me. I became jumpy and overly worried. This led to me not standing up for myself and allowing people to make decisions for me that were not theirs to make. All of this unwittingly spiraled into my being fearful of well...seemingly everything.
The “I've taught people how to treat me” thing has been a bitter, truthful pill to swallow. I convinced myself that these people's opinions of me were The. Only. Things. That. Mattered. Even when my gut told me differently. And so I behaved according to what I thought would keep their good opinion of me. Ugh. I feel foolish typing these words, but it is the truth. My Truth. And in my fortieth year, I am breaking this habit. I am making choices that are good for me. I am standing up for myself. I am creating boundaries where there have not been any. I am doing things that scare me so that I can reinforce for myself that habitual fearful behavior is different from actual danger or harm. In my mind, I'd taught myself that they were one in the same.
This was an epiphany waiting for me in a recent session with my counselor. She helped me dissect a recent event. “What about this scared you?” I didn't have a good answer. Being scared was the first reaction I had.
A friend heard me rambling about all of this over a few days and finally distilled the epiphany into this new mantra: I no longer have to fear the fear that I have fear. I put this in my journal and hung a copy of it on my monitor at work. It was a big idea that I needed some time to absorb.
Just yesterday, I'd forgotten to do something that was important and worried about what would happen next. I made a call and learned that the forgotten thing could be scheduled for next week. Problem solved, right? Yes, but I still felt residual anxiety, and I couldn't work my way through it. I asked mantra friend why I couldn't shake the feeling. “Habit. This has been your response in the past.” As soon as that explanation was given, I felt a flash of recognition.
So, I'm breaking this damn habit. One anxious instance at a time. This fear took on a phantom life of its own in my head. I can't blame anyone but myself for letting it get so big and onerous.
But then I also remind myself of my word of the year: Gentle. Stop worrying about how you got here, sister, and course correct in the moment.
I read this quote that seems an excellent way to move through my anxious moments. And it is gentle.
“Don't fight fearful thoughts. Just match each one with an alternative thought that brings you more peace.” - Martha Beck