Or, Old Habits Die Hard
My little Southern heart has been filled with joy about the number of folks who read what I had to say in my last post. I was also pleasantly surprised that a few people even reached out to me individually regarding the post and its content.
I did intentionally leave a slight cliff-hanger at the end of my ‘You Have but One Life’ post. However, 48 hours after it was published, I realized that my planning skills may have faltered just a bit. I was so energized regarding my post about boundaries that I overlooked planning out what I intended to share next about my journey. “So what happened after I found out about setting boundaries and how could that help others?” was a question that needed to be answered. Clearly, I can’t place the most intimate details of my life in neon lights, but I can share an overview of where this series of posts is going. If this post on being a reformed people pleaser doesn’t whip you into a frenzy, I will blog one of my new favorite recipes three posts from now to signal that my detailed babbling about myself has come to a close.
If my life from 2019 through January 2020 were a movie synopsis it may go something like this….
Stressed out Southern Bell has quarter-life crisis, throws a hissy fit, establishes boundaries, attends a bunch of therapy sessions, dives headfirst into massive amounts of psychological and personality research, learns to identify significant personality traits and communicate them to others, shares knowledge with anyone who will listen and some people who won’t, prays about it, then decides to blog about it.
After learning how to establish a boundary and how to implement a boundary, I became a woman unleashed. Picture Wonder Woman slightly more clothed and about 8 inches shorter. I was setting boundaries all over the place: spouse, family, friends, and even some professionally. I was dishing them out in a manner like Oprah giving away freebies on her show – “You get a car”, “You get a house”, and “You get a school” like money provides no barrier at all. My fire was no longer being fueled by anger, but a powerful inner strength that I forgot had existed within me. I quickly realized that establishing them was not the difficult part, however, adhering to them proved a bit more challenging.
A People Pleaser from Way Back
I love people, I mean I LOVE people and if I love someone, I have always felt a responsibility to help them whenever I felt they needed help. The classic people pleaser. I am only speaking about this from my point of view and in no way claim to know how all individuals who identify as people-pleasers feel. It may not have been necessary to include that last bit, but if I start ticking people off then no one is going to want to read my awesome blog. 😊 The problem people-pleasers such as myself run into is that when someone asks us for help or a favor, we frequently see it as “they need me.” Not only do I love people, but I also love to feel needed. A rush of internal joy erupts when someone lets me know how thankful they are for me or my assistance. One might ask is it the internal joy that satisfies the people pleaser or the act of giving to another, but we can discuss my nerdy obsession with psychology and altruism later.
I have been a people pleaser my whole life and I confess that I use to think that this trait made me “a super nice person”. That fact is still debatable, however, after the healthy boundaries, I started to see my people-pleasing in a slightly different light. Something I learned that made a difference in how I saw myself is called The Law of Motivation. Allow me to provide a hypothetical example instead of leveraging a personal event.
Maria (totally made-up person) calls on Friday night to say she can’t work her shift at the concession stand the following day and asks if I can cover for her. Take a minute and ask yourself how you might respond? Some people may ask if she is not feeling well, if she has a conflict that cannot be reworked, and someone who is already overextended and has experience setting healthy boundaries may even say no. “Not I,” said the fly. I immediately start rummaging around in my brain trying to figure out how I can accommodate her request. Simultaneously my anxiety is rising because my brain also remembers that my usual lack of sleep has me exhausted and now, I must skip things that I needed to get done that next day in order to help Maria. I am neglecting myself and other responsibilities in order to ‘say yes’. I say yes because I do want to help her, but I now resent her for asking. I also resent myself for not saying no. Was it friendship that motivated me, the avoidance of confrontation, the avoidance of a negative reaction, was it love or am I just a spineless twit like that chick from Bridget Jones Diary.
Resenting others for my actions is not a healthy way to go through life. I do not want to resent the people I care about, so the logical thing to do is, to be honest. Aren’t we supposed, to be honest with others out of respect? Of course! Well except if your wife ever asks you if a certain article of clothing makes her look fat; guys you know what to do here. As the good book mentions (the Boundaries Book, not the B-I-B-L-E), my motive for giving was not always love, but a fear of losing love. Not just love but losing something that I valued from another. So, one small word with three letters has now caused a chain of reactions and consequences for me. Saying ‘yes’ left me feeling totally unbalanced.
I am sure everyone is asking why in the world did I give this post the secondary title of “Old Habits Die Hard” and have yet to address habits and the hurdles associated with habit changing behavior. There is something to be said for anticipation, however. I began by setting boundaries that I felt were safe with the people closest to me. I would say things like, ‘if you choose to communicate with me like that don’t expect me to respond’ and ‘it’s unfortunate that you feel XYZ was my fault, but I will not take the blame for things that are not my responsibility.” If I did upset anyone, they have yet to mention it to me, and to my knowledge, no one has jumped ship.
It felt easy to implement boundaries if I was irritated or over-extended, but not so much when someone was being kind. I am not sure words can express the effort it took if there was an emotional connection to the other person. I was asking myself no less than ten times a day, “how can I be a nice person, but possibly be hurting my friends or family members”? I created a simple get out of jail response to use when I wanted to say ‘no’ but couldn’t muster up the energy; “I’m sorry but I can’t accommodate that request”.
As you may notice my canned response is still starting with an apology and more often than not I didn’t need to apologize. It may sound simple, but it felt prickly inside like I imagine those Botox needles feel going into your head, only these needles were in my heart. To avoid the sting of internal Botox I created several safety words and phrases to help me during difficult moments. If you ask me for something and I respond with a question such as “is it necessary at that certain time” or “is this something that can be discussed later” know that I ask because I care about you. If I didn’t care about you, I would just say NO and bolt. Trust me when I say that I have had some difficult discussions over these last few months but I’m still breathing.
At this point establishing boundaries and navigating my people-pleasing ways had been tackled, but I was unsure about what else was to be unearthed. What came next took quite a bit more discernment, and coincidentally more research.
Mrs. B, Reformed People-Pleaser