Diary of a People-Pleaser: Recovery 101.
“I’m on the patch right now, where it releases small dosages of approval until I no longer crave it, and then I’m gonna rip it off.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres
Self-inquiry is occupying a big chunk of my time these days.
Reflection is not exactly what I would call a comfortable endeavor, but it is certainly a necessary one after passing through a particularly tumultuous upheaval in my life last year.
Knowing that I want nothing more than to move forward feeling free and emotionally open, I am dancing with the inner demons of my own making as a means to be ready and able to dive into the great unknown of whatever lies ahead with anticipation, trust and joy.
Neutrality is difficult when it comes to critically thinking about one’s own behaviors, attitudes and patterns. Still, it is interesting to see how easy it is to identify an inconvenient truth about oneself, no matter how twitchy it feels to name it.
Looking for approval externally is difficult habit to break. While I do understand that seeking validation is exhausting and futile (oh, how I know this!), it is so deeply ingrained in my thinking patterns that it feels impossible to hit the Off switch.
There have been circumstances in the past where I’ve had to make a big decision knowing that what I truly wanted to do would not be a popular choice.
The internal stress bubbling up in the face of opposition prompted me to make a call on my own, announcing the decision after the fact in a manner that allowed no room for discussion or opinion to sway me.
Basically, it was a preemptive strike preventing me from potentially being talked out of an intuitively correct choice due to misguided concern for the comfort of others. This approach is not painless. Inevitably, the never-ending loop of questioning and self-berating ensues.
It seems that whenever I embark on the path of least resistance, pushing down whatever my inner guidance is telling me is right, in exchange for acceptance from another source, suffering and regrets surely follow. In the pursuit of people-pleasing at all costs, the damage runs deep.
The highest cost, of course, is the burial of what matters most and feels truly right to me.
The truth is that I spend a great deal of time wondering about how others are feeling or what I can do to help. This would not be a bad thing if I didn’t lose myself in that process. Unfortunately, most of the time I not only get lost, but also stuck in muck that isn’t mine.
Observing these tendencies in myself, I have no doubt that it is a side effect of my emotional sensitivity in the world. As a classically introverted empath, it is all too easy to closet myself away in order to avoid the risk of disappointing those around me.
This chronic dependency on approval means I don’t trust myself. I trade my time, insight, energy and preferences for a stamp of approval from somewhere else. Doing so puts an excessive amount of importance on influences that may or may not have a vested interest in my well-being. A losing gamble at best.
I am very fortunate to have someone in my life who sees this recurring trait of mine and lovingly reminds me that what I think, feel and need truly matters, and that I should honor that.
The trick is figuring out how to apply that concept to every area of my life without allowing my inner voice to interject with, “That’s selfish!”
None of this is to say that I should no longer consider how my choices affect others. Rather, I must always take into account my own feelings and needs in the knowledge that my happiness is first and foremost up to me.
If I am living only to please and am not investing in my own well-being, genuine self-acceptance and internal happiness will always be out of reach.
I want to stop seeking approval.
I must stop chasing validation.
How do I flip the switch?
Catching myself in the act is the crucial first step. When the self-doubting begins, I have to find a way to re-direct. Instead of asking others to validate a decision or approve of me in some way, I must ask myself one simple question: “Will I regret it if I don’t do this?”
Learning that mistakes are nothing more than growing pains in disguise is an important part of the process.
It is precisely in those moments that I find myself avoiding situations or resisting trying something new, out of fear that I might screw up or make an ass of myself, that I need to stop and ask: “Will I regret it if I don’t try?”
As long as I am breathing, there will be times when self-doubt and fear rise up. It doesn’t matter. It is how I choose to handle those moments that will change the way I live.
Thinking back on my life, I want to be able to say: “Yes, I made mistakes. And I learned from them. I followed my heart. No regrets.”