Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pleaser

"The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but that this humiliation is seen by everyone."
--Milan Kundera

In my life, I've tried to please fact as I think of it now, pretty much all my life, I've tried to please people.

On the surface, it worked out well. People walked away from me feeling happier about themselves. I'm sure if you asked people if they liked me or not, they'd probably tell you "yes." I made people feel important, comforted, and valued. I'm funny (in general) so they would usually walk away having laughed and feeling lighter.

If we ever had a disagreement, I'd find myself apologizing for things that I didn't do, didn't mean to do, or even had nothing to do with. Whatever it took to make that person feel better.

Did you fall through on a promise you made to me? That's okay. I'll still be here for you.

Did you treat me disrespectfully either in private or in public? That's okay. I probably deserved it. Sure, I'd take the treatment, maybe complain about it to my friends, and then never say anything to you. Why would I? If I did, you might question why I thought I was good enough to be treated otherwise. And then, undoubtedly you'd realize that I wasn't good enough.

Need a volunteer for your cause? I'm just the sucker you've been looking for. Especially if the position had a title. Because titles meant that I was worth something. I wrote about it in my post about finding REAL value, but basically, because I disliked myself, I only found value when other people liked me.

In fact, I even dated a guy in high school who repeatedly physically abused me. I've come to realize that I have felt so poorly about myself because of an overwhelming sense of shame.

I read in an article recently that stated that there is a difference between shame and guilt.

According to the article, guilt is a bad feeling that you have about some action. Like maybe you said something you shouldn't have. Perhaps you have a bad feeling because of something you didn't do but should've.

But shame? It's a whole other animal. The principle of shame revolves around a bad feeling that you have about yourself. A person who lives and breathes shame has it because they KNOW that they're not worth anything. Other people can be forgiven, but not them. Because they are inherantly BAD. Unfortunately, you can't convince them otherwise.

It's been within the last few months that I've realized that I have lived with shame for most of my life. Every little thing that I've done wrong was typical of me - because I was a bad person. And talking about the shame? Why that'd only highlight how bad I actually am, which they probably already knew anyway. On the off chance that they didn't know that (and they found out), they'd realize that they'd be crazy to be my friend, my boyfriend or even my co-worker. It's best to hide the shame however you can - and I found that I hid it best by trying to please others, taking on roles of responsibility, and by being funny. The perfect pairing to my shameful feelings? Anything that I could stuff in my mouth.

Somehow washing down shame with cokes, cookies, or chips made it easier to swallow.

Recently had a discussion with a friend of mine. He said that I had my faith in the wrong stuff. I should have my faith in Jesus. Because Jesus loves me, I should know that I have value and should stop looking at other people for it - even myself. But religion (at times) can feed shame...and for me, it hasn't always had the most beneficial results. Don't get me wrong, I still BELIEVE that there is a Jesus...but the concept of him dying just for me is lost on me most of the time. I struggle with the thought that someone could love me enough, especially when I haven't loved myself for decades. Clearly, Jesus and I are still working things through.

I've made great strides with my self-worth and balance. I've worked on saying "no." I've worked on moderation. I've worked on no longer pleasing everyone else at the expense of myself.

But I still haven't shed my shame completely, even though I'm working diligently with my therapist to do so. If anything, my anxiety is creeping up higher these days...because in a week, I'll be coming face to face with the cause of most of it.

And I guess that's why I'm writing this.

See, I was molested by a close family member of mine when I was much younger. That person will be in the house over Thanksgiving and, for the most part, my family would prefer that I would just drop it. Members have told me to "just get over it."

The old me, The Pleaser, would've dropped it - in fact, she HAS dropped it and not spoken of it for decades.

But as I wrote earlier, I'm no longer The Pleaser. And trying to "just get over it" doesn't work - and obviously hasn't worked. My therapist has helped me understand that even though I *know* that kids shouldn't be treated in such a way, that I feel that I endured that (and the ex boyfriend's abuse) because I was inherantly bad.

Shame...pure and simple.

So what is left is this wide gap between the old Pleaser and the new me - who tries to please and honor herself. Ignoring that this event happened does NOT honor myself. The chasm is big and I don't know what to do to bridge the difference.

To make matters worse, the boyfriend is coming home with me to meet my family for the first time. Awkward? Why yes...yes it probably will be. But will I get through it? Undoubtedly. Clearly, I've been through worse.

So, as I sit here, with my pulse racing furiously, I'm trying to remember that there IS strength in standing up for myself. I'm not planning on going in there and screaming and throwing my new non-pleaser self around...but neither am I going to let my true authentic self shrink from her own growth.

One thing's for certain: I will not wash down shame or numb myself with food.

And THAT pleases me.


Margie M. said...

Wow, you are amazing. And YOU are worth so much, to Jesus and everyone else that knows you. I'm glad you are working with a therapist. Hang in there and remember that you are a Beloved Child of God and worth everything God created you to be.

Kris said...

Anne, I am proud of you and wish I could be more honest to people I needed to like you have been in this post. It actually brought me to tears--it was painful to read and I can only imagine how it felt to write.
I read what you have written about disagreements, promises, disrespect, high school ect and think, "did you grow up inside my body?" I too have found myself being a people pleaser for the last 3? years...and, finally, back in August, I have started on my journey to set some boundaries around family relationships and dynamics. It has been hard. And, thorough the holidays (as my parents will be waiting for me to be pleasing and the people pleaser) it will be harder.
Maybe I do feel shame, maybe I do feel that I am a bad person, maybe it is so far embedded that I do not see it? I don't know---but, what I do know is that I am on this journey and I am looking forward, to one day, just being HAPPY! Being at peace and HAPPY. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be happy all the time, to pretend that nothing is wrong. It takes a lot of energy to be pleasing all the time. I stuff all that with food.
Anne, I am here supporting you...I know you have a good support system, but, please know you can call me at any time! I know YOU have to believe this to be true, but I think you are a wonderful person, who is NOT bad...I could list all the reasons why, but YOU have to believe this is true and that YOU deserve to be happy and that YOU are worth being pleased rather than always being the pleaser....I feel compelled to say 'I love you Anne' and 'Thanks for this post'. It has meant a lot---and I will be thinking of it for days to come......

Misspudding said...

Anne, you're amazing. I'm going to write you some email.

POD said...

Really great post.
I'm not sure I could go into a situation like this and not want to be angry at people for the what I felt was a lack of support on their part. We have a similar situation in my broader family where an uncle hit the sister (an aunt) and since that day, the majority of the family has sided with the uncle and none of us have gotten together as a family. But the larger part of the family wants the aunt to let it go, to ignore it, etc. I'm not sure what I'd do.
You are courageous. I'm sure the molester will be on their best behavior. Probably pretend they never did a thing..

happyfunpants said...

As I was reading the end of Kris' comment, I realized that I still haven't shed all of the shame...but I have shed a bunch of it.

I sought counseling because I wanted to wrap my head around the idea that maybe I wasn't as bad as I thought. In fact, that thought process kind of made my mind want to explode because I had believed that I was faulty for so long.

I know that I'm not done, but at least I now know the road that I want to follow.