I’m Tired Of Trying To Make You Happy.
Let’s be clear about something: I’ve never been a follower. I feel that it’s important to make that distinction.
I will, however, admit to being a total and complete people-pleaser, a chronic one. I do stuff I don’t want to do in order to curry favor. There, I said it. As a mere toddler, I noticed that making my parents happy made my life a hell of a lot easier, and that making myself happy instead made it a hell of a lot harder.
The way my child brain saw it: giving them what they wanted on the front end, and dealing with my own inconvenience on the back end, was just the sensible way to work life. So, happily ever after, right? No. Certainly something ever after, but definitely not happily.
If I’m being honest, the back end felt a lot like what I imagine the house of a hoarder to be like: dark, claustrophobic, and totally overflowing with dirty old boxes of things like resentment and powerlessness.
I’ve discovered that resentment makes the back of my neck hot, it makes my heart feel cold and prickly, and powerlessness makes me feel queasy and vindictive. Now that I’m an adult, I’m aware of the connection between emotions and physical health.
Those are the kinds of emotions that flood a body with repetitive stress hormones, and eventually make one sick. But that’s a newer revelation to me, and so for most of my life I willingly chose to put myself last. The cold, prickly resentment actually felt better than the sheer panic and risk I felt at making someone else angry at me.
I remember a time right after I had my first child, I was sleep-deprived and a basket case, and all I wanted was to be introverted and private. I needed to be alone in my home with my new baby.
I had friends and coworkers calling constantly, wanting to come over and see me and meet the baby, and I would complain to my husband, Why on earth do they insist on coming over here? It’s so rude! But I wouldn’t dream of hurting their feelings with my honesty about how exhausted and disoriented I was.
Instead, I would drag myself up, clean the house, entertain them, and serve them drinks and snacks while they sat there chit-chatting away.
My particular specialty wasn’t just saying Yes, it always included some version of rolling out the red carpet, and serving chips and salsa in an attempt to fool them into thinking I was actually enjoying myself.
I hated it. I would sit there on two hours of sleep, and smile and refill drinks, awash with annoyance. I didn’t want to disappoint them, and making a clear boundary in favor of myself was too terrifying a task for me at that time.
When I look underneath all that terror and resentment, it’s clear that I was afraid that if I said No, then they would stop loving me, end of story. I didn’t feel valuable enough on my own. I only had value if I was pleasing to people, and that meant saying Yes when what I really wanted to do with all my heart was tell them to take a hike.
I’ve been playing this game my whole life. There are no isolated incidents here in my quest to please the world. But one gets to a point in life where one begins to doubt the wisdom of doing something that fosters bitterness the way that putting oneself second always does.
I noticed that my kids were developing a habit of saying I don’t want to do that, but I feel bad in regards to setting their own boundaries. Mom, I really don’t want to go play with so and so, but I feel bad. The advice that came so easily out of my mouth was: You don’t need to feel bad. You need to take care of yourself. And I meant that.
I hated that they would automatically abandon their own needs and desires in order to keep the peace, or not hurt feelings.
And slowly, it started to dawn on me that I do it as well. They learned that from watching me! There’s a special kind of cringe that happens when you realize you indulge in the same terrible habit you’re trying to break your kids away from.
So I’m working on becoming conscious of people-pleasing, and wow, do I fall into the trap a lot! True to my advice to my daughters, I try to remember that my priority is to take care of myself first. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone to say No and risk irritating someone by doing so. But it’s necessary.
As Brene Brown says, “It’s better to face 60 seconds of someone else’s disappointment than it is to spend the rest of your life being resentful.” That’s damn good advice.
Nursing resentments is just so contrary to feeling good. Resentment will make you sick, as stress chemicals are known to do, and none of us wants to feel resented by someone we love, so it hurts on the other end too.
As uncomfortable as my commitment to boundary work can be while I’m in the trenches of it, it’s far harder to be perpetually overextended and annoyed. Plus now that I’m aware of them, I can’t stand by and blindly watch my kids follow my bad examples, I’d rather they follow the good ones.
So I do this work for them, and I do it for me, and I do it for all of our generations moving forward. Rest assured that the next time you ask me to do something for you and I say Yes, it’s because I actually want to do it, not because I’m trying to buy you off. That just feels better all the way around, doesn’t it?
Natha Perkins is a mama, an artist, a writer, and an intuitive life coach. For many years, she owned a successful jewelry and lifestyle brand called Luscious Metals (featured in Cosmopolitan, Parenting Magazine and more). Making beautiful adornments out of metal and stones was definitely a dream job, but she decided she wished to be of service in a more meaningful way. Nowadays, she helps clients from around the world figure out what the hell is really going on in their lives, which is still an art, just a different kind. On a daily basis, she also finds herself fighting the age-old internal battle of whether to fake being perfect or just go ahead and risk exposing her own truths to the world. The struggle is real, y’all. You can find her at her website or on Facebook to learn more or to work with her personally.