My friends and I were hiking in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s a hidden gem at the very southern tip of Lake Michigan, full of natural wonder and splendor, in a very industrial place. It holds a lot of magic and power and I was fortunate enough to have worked there. My friends and I, who were also my co-workers, were out a pleasure hike. A situation arose, one that I cannot remember exactly, but it might have had to do with choosing which trail to go hike on. We were throwing out options and I said something to the extent of “I’ll do whatever else people want to do.” Seems pretty innocent but, was also pretty telling of my personality…especially to one of my friends. She remarked something about me being a “people pleaser”. It was not delivered in harsh manner at all, but it really struck me in a very interesting way.
I held onto that statement, and chewed it over for a long time. And by long time, I am still chewing it over to this day. At the time of the incident I was in my early 20’s and starting to come into some sense of who I was. My narcissistic father has passed away a year and sadly to say, it was one freeing moment. The narcissist was now permanently removed from my life, no longer able to influence and corrupt my being and sense of self. With that being said, years of abuse in the form of gaslighting, blame, and projection left me completely unaware of myself and trying to pick up the pieces from the first two, and most formidable, decades of my life.
This statement from my friend caught my particularly off guard. Was I really a people pleaser? And if so, what did that mean? Was it really a bad quality to have? I, after all, was really chill and go with the flow. I tried not to make my presence bother anybody. That kind of thinking and statement itself was just the edge of the rabbit hole. Going deeper down the rabbit hole I would have thoughts like “no one listens to what I want to do anyway”, “I have to go along with what everyone else does because they know better”, and the trend of thoughts continues all with underlying themes of my unworthiness.
I kept that thought with me, and struggled with it as a struggled to find my sense of self and worth. I began seeing a few therapists and began the journey of exploring that statement and my thoughts on it. What I came across was that I had tendencies of codependent, or someone that puts the needs of others before their own. It sounds honorable, but it is not because if you are not showing compassion and kindness to yourself first it is harder to show true compassion and kindness to others. Instead, my “compassion and kindness” would be giving up what I think and feel or what I want to do in order to please others in fear of the repercussions that would occur if I didn’t do that.
I wanted to please others because I thought that was the only way I would get people to like me and want to be around me. After all, this is what kept my relationship safe with my father. If I gave him everything he wanted all the time, all day every day, then maybe I would not be yelled at or emotionally and sometimes physically abused that day. So I adapted to that, because he was my father, and he had the power…and he knew that.
Those were old patterns. Old patterns I learned in order to keep myself safe. But they don’t work. They don’t work if you want healthy, stable, and equal relationships. I no longer wanted to resonate in that way and wanted to purge those qualities so I wouldn’t be attracting the same kind of people that need to put down others to feel better about themselves. I wanted to attract people that would love me for who I am, despite not agreeing with everything that they say, and would be strong enough in themselves to have balanced relationships.
I began learning more about who I was and what I wanted as well ways to be open and forthcoming with my needs and opinions without feeling guilty all the time. I started with asking myself questions about what I really liked and how I really felt about situations or people. I started listening to my gut. I started to find the courage to speak out about my opinions and needs no matter what the results would be. Whenever I spoke, I reminded myself that what I was saying was coming from my heart, it was not my intention to hurt anyone, and if someone else would say something that I wanted to say I would have received it fully so why should I fear that the other person won’t?
We owe it to the world to be our true and full selves. We owe it to others, the right others, who will value us and with whom we can share the richness inside and outside of ourselves together. There are different ways beyond pleasing to show goodness and share intimacy. Bringing awareness and small steps will bring us in the right direction. The more we can give to ourselves, the more we can eventually authentically properly give to others.
Written by: Anna (Creator of Echo’s Corner)