When I was a little girl, my parents called me their ‘sunshine girl’ and told me how happy I made them. It made me happy to make them happy too.
I worked hard to be a good girl and basked in their approval of my good behaviour. It made me sad if I inadvertently did something to upset them or disappoint them.
When I went to school, I enjoyed pleasing the teachers too (I think I must have been an insufferable teachers pet!) and the pattern became a little more established.
With friends, I really wanted the people I liked to like me too, and would adapt myself for their approval, admiration and appreciation.
And so, over the years, the habit of pleasing other people, and in doing so thinking of myself as being a ‘good person’ became entrenched. I didn’t like conflict, and was very uncomfortable with it.
The problem was, as an adult, all this pleasing and caring too much about what other people thought of me eroded my sense of self, my self esteem and started to bring feelings of shame, guilt and resentment.
Too often I was giving myself away and seeing to other peoples needs and wants at my expense. I’d be spending too much time doing things I didn’t really want to do, leaving very little time or energy for the things that nourished me, leaving me depleted, grumpy and feeling martyred…and then feeling guilty for feeling that way! A real vicious cycle.
I only finally began to break the pattern after I’d burned out. I’d learned the hard way that it’s not selfish to see to your own needs first – it’s more selfish not to, because when I crashed out I was no use to anyone!
However, this is such a long standing habit and pattern, I couldn’t just ‘stop it’. I’ve just been getting better and better at being aware of it and making different choices.
I’ve taken it to a new level these last few weeks.
As an experiment I’ve really pushed myself out of my comfort zone and said ‘no’, or suited myself rather than see to others in scenarios which classically would have me thinking I was really selfish, even rude. It’s been really uncomfortable, but lo and behold! The world hasn’t suddenly ground to a halt; friends haven’t cut me off; no-one’s been unhappy with me for more than a couple of minutes; and I’ve got to do things that have refreshed and re-energised me and reclaimed lots of precious time!
It’s felt much more ‘adult’ to ‘adult’, and each time has been just that bit easier. Another paradox – by caring less, it’s meant that I can care more when it really counts. And each time, my self respect and self compassion grows a little more – which in turn means I respect and have compassion for others more too.
The key of course is making a conscious choice – it’s still a huge value of mine to have consideration for others and to give, but I’m learning how to do it as a ‘win-win’ instead.