The headline gives it away, doesn’t it? If not, let me spell it out – I am a recovering people pleaser. If I don’t keep my anxiety in check, I am a woman riddled with fear and worry of what others think of me and whether or not they are upset with me. This is one part of my anxiety that I am working heavily on right now. While it’s nice to put others first and to care for other people, it’s important not to do so at your own detriment.
My anxiety, let’s call her Evelyn, is a real piece of work and she likes to keep peace and make everything seem perfect and peachy-keen 24/7. And when it’s not so sunny and bright, she likes to dye her hair black and go goth for a day or two. Yeah, she’s fun. Oh before I go any further, let me say that I like the name Evelyn. I know plenty of great women named Evelyn.
It just easier to say “Dammit Evelyn!” or
“Not, now Evelyn!”
“You can’t sit with us.” Okay, so the last one was a Mean Girl’s reference but you get the idea. The name just has a nice ring to it in my head when I picture my anxiety. For some people, their anxiety looks quite different. Mine looks like a Stepford wife/mom who has all of her fluffy ducks in a row. She’s the perfectionist, the impresser, the ego, the one who needs your validation or she will crumble onto the floor. And if she doesn’t get what she wants – she can be a drama queen.
Now, Evelyn, I think at one point meant well — there is a reason why we have the flight, fight and freeze responses in our brain to situations. The mind is a fascinating, infuriating and a Super Mario Mystery Box. But I think at some point, she decided that she needed a seat in the front row.
One thing I’ve read over and over again in all the self-help and science books I’ve read in the last three years is that you can have it all but if your mind isn’t in a good place, nothing matters. Good news though, I’ve also learned that our minds can be reprogrammed. It may seem overwhelming but, trust me, it can be done.
Now, as a recovering people pleaser I have worked hard to find a balance between finding my true voice on everything from favorite movies to politics. I didn’t even realize how much I was people pleasing until I noticed myself in a white lie. I didn’t need to tell the lie, the truth wouldn’t have bothered the person but still I told the lie. Harmless, right? To the person, yes, but to me – it’s not a good habit. Suddenly, moments in my life where I bent over backwards for people and couldn’t figure out why now made sense. I have a deep desire, like all of us, to be accepted and giving people what they want to hear made acceptance easy. I will say I didn’t lie about everything, just unnecessary things (is there really a good time to lie?) like why I was late to work — 99% of the time, it’s because of traffic and/or one of my kids went nuclear over a twisty sock. Still — a lie is a lie and there is no need for it.
Evelyn also taught me to bite my lip and not speak up if I didn’t like my food at a restaurant or if someone was in my way of seeing something. She’s taught me to just agree with people for the sake of peace. Ugh, Evelyn is exhausting.
Ladies, don’t do this. I know there is the opposite side of this, someone who speaks up about things that are not always necessary — to that I say pick your battles but for someone like me, it’s imperative to find your voice and this is how I’m finding mine with little victories.
I went to Sonic the other day and ordered two double cheeseburgers, popcorn chicken, cheddar bites, three shakes and one raspberry sweet tea, and whatever the kids wanted. Kidding! When the food came, the first patty was substantially smaller than the second burger patty. I debated and hesitated for a good three minutes if I should just eat the burger or say something. I took a deep breathe and said something. I was polite and concise, and the manager was chill about it all. I know it seems silly, but in my head there was a crowd of people cheering while throwing confetti at me. Silly, I know, but still it mattered to me so I celebrated.
Another victory was when I called and complained about our upstairs neighbors being excessively loud while on vacation. I get it – everyone is on vacay there and everyone wants to have a good time but playing loud music and partying until 4 a.m., and let’s not forget the fried chicken they were cooking up, is a bit much. They could have at least offered us some? Again, I was calm and concise (ish) and they discounted our room.
Now, I’m not saying I will always be calm when it comes to expressing my frustration. I debated about the noisy neighbors for hours and if you follow me on FB, you saw how snarky and petty I was at first about it all. The point is that I’m not perfect, I’m learning to find my voice and how it’s important that I remember that I deserve to take up space in this world. Often times, especially as mothers, we are put on the back burner, the bottom of the to-do list. We push our dreams and emotions aside for what we think is for the greater good. It’s really not good for anyone — especially the person that matters the most … you.
So I hope this encourages you, if you are like me and have noticed that you do some pretty silly things just to keep other people happy, that you can turn things around and that you can make progress. It make seem overwhelming at first. My advice is not to play whack-a-mole. First thing, work on self-awareness. Second, once you start to notice your people pleasing habits, make a list and decide which one to tackle first and do it one at a time. You can do it. If I can have an awkward conversation with my husband or family member about something that’s been bothering me for years then you can stand up for yourself.
I’m finally starting to agree with my therapist — you can be assertive and still be a nice person. I’m not quite sure what Evelyn thinks, she’s only allowed to sit in the back by the snacks table at the committee meeting, but I’d like to think she’s secretly celebrating my small victories, too.
Here’s the takeaway: start small, focus on one thing and then build on it, celebrate every victory and know that I am with you, too. Let’s be sweet and salty, let’s be kind but know when to stand up for ourselves, let’s know when to speak up and when to sit back and observe. Let’s do this together. I’m with you.