Thirteen years ago this month I took the first step in my journey as a therapist. I got into therapy myself. At the time, I had no idea that the healing I experienced would compel me to give back to the world what had been given back to me. My identity. It’s impossible to share your gifts when you don’t know what they are….when you don’t know who you are. This is the conundrum of a people pleaser. Always so busy trying to make everyone else happy, you don’t know what makes you happy.
The clinical term for the disease-to-please is called, codependence. I remember the first time I heard this term. It was 13 years ago. I was sitting across from my therapist, brokenhearted over my broken marriage, tears streaming down my face. I had just lamented over all the ways I had given myself up for the sake of the relationship, only to be betrayed and left with a handful of shattered dreams. And worse, I felt lost without the relationship, even as unhealthy as it was. I had invested nearly 14 years of my life with this man, had two children with him, and now, I didn’t know who I was apart from him. My therapist stood up, took a book off of his shelf, and gingerly handed it to me, “I’d like you to read this.” Eyes ablur, I blinked back tears and initially thought I had misread the title: Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself by Melody Beattie. I blinked again to be sure I had read it correctly, and then stared at him, incredulous. “I don’t understand; why would you want me to read this? Haven’t you been listening to me? I don’t control people – that’s my biggest problem. I let everyone control me!” My eyes were welling up again.
My therapist leaned in close. “Laura, I know you’ve been deeply wounded and trust is hard for you. You’ve got to start somewhere and begin to trust again, and you can’t have authentic relationships until you have an authentic relationship with yourself. And that begins with learning to trust yourself. What have you got to lose by reading it?”
More than a decade later, after multiple readings, I can tell you I lost nothing except a very heavy burden.
I am still a work in progress. Just like an addict in recovery from any compulsive behavior, the desire to avoid what I really need to address by numbing myself with the giddy sensation that others are pleased with me, is always a temptation when uncomfortable feelings arise I am trying to escape. Codependents are addicted to the approval of others, and just like any other kind of addict, will go to self-sacrificial, self-detrimental lengths to get their “fix”. Lots of people love being around codependent types, because they know with enough manipulation, they can get us to do just about anything they want us to do. They love this about us! But when we get a grip, and start setting some boundaries, they don’t like us so much anymore. Have you ever noticed this?
Recovering people pleasers have what I call squishy boundaries. We have some firming up to do with the word “no”, in our vocabularies. If someone is angry with you because you said “no” to them, congratulations! You are learning to set boundaries. To sidestep what you think is right because you fear making someone else angry, or hurting their feelings is really robbing them of the opportunity to work on their own issues; maybe they need to learn to deal with being angry, disappointed, or hurt. Ouch.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like hearing this harsh truth about what was really happening as I tried to make everyone happy. It seemed harmless, but in reality, it’s a slow erosion of the self. A client sat across from me not long ago and asked, “But how am I hurting others by trying to make them happy?”
It’s simple. When we are inauthentic in an effort to win the approval of others, we misrepresent ourselves; that’s control by manipulation. I don’t want to manipulate anyone, but that’s exactly what I’m doing when I’m untrue to myself – I’m not being honest with them. Nor am I allowing them the opportunity to be honest with themselves, and work on their own “stuff”. In that situation, everyone is robbed of the ability to be authentic.
Hope whispers, there is beauty in authenticity.
Just last week, I confided in a friend about an internal conflict I was experiencing regarding a decision I needed to make surrounding some work responsibilities. Mentally wringing my hands, I speculated that no matter what I did, one of my colleagues might feel hurt. (i.e. They wouldn’t be “pleased” with me!) Smiling warmly, my dear friend reached out, patted my arm and said, “what if this is an opportunity for you to work on what you need to work on; like not worrying about everyone else, and just doing what you think is right.”
She was right. I chose to do what I thought was right and not everyone was pleased with me. And you know what? It’s okay. I’m okay.
Does any of this strike a familiar chord? Do you want to fix everything? Rescue everyone? Solve every problem? Save the day? Do you feel restless, discontent, and insatiably unsatisfied much of the time but can’t figure out why? Can’t stand it when someone is upset with you, so you will do just about anything to win their approval, including sacrificing your own principles and values? Feel like you don’t even know who you are anymore?
Maybe you have the disease- to-please too. If so, please be assured that there is hope for you to truly be happy, even if everyone is not happy with you! Trust me, I know! J
The real you is in there, somewhere! You can be the one and only you that you were created to be. God has a plan for you, and newsflash, it isn’t to make everyone else happy! Take the first step today in finding out what that plan is; buy a book on codependence or boundary setting, get into therapy, or ask a friend to hold you accountable for saying “no” when saying “yes” goes against your values. Every step you take toward authenticity is a choice that moves you forward. You will begin to unravel the beautiful mystery that is you.
I’ll see you on the road to recovery.
If you are a recovering people pleaser, and would like to share some words of encouragement to others who read this, please post your comment below!