People-Pleasing and Boundaries
Hey, AS family!
How're you all doing?
I'd like to first preface this journal entry by making clear that I am in NO WAY blaming any of you for the traumatic experiences you've endured at the hands of others. THEY are the ones responsible - not you. THEY chose to harm you - therefore, THEY are one hundred percent at fault. This journal entry is one of my rare emotion-dumps that may or may not make sense, given the hour. It will make sense later, though, I promise. We have a snow day tomorrow (today), so I am up late - so apologies in advance for anything resembling a ramble.
I've had a light-bulb moment and wanted to share it here. This is a thought I've probably had many times in the past, but I have found myself thinking about it recently. It is one of those nagging, brain-poking thoughts that probably won't go away unless I write some things out - and so, here I am.
Tossing a ***trigger warning*** here for some small details re: abuse/trauma.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a people-pleaser.
It started with Mom in childhood. I wanted her to be happy with me, I wanted her to be proud of me. For the most part, she was - but there were times I knew she was disappointed in me for something I couldn't (or wouldn't) do. Maybe she was also disappointed in herself for having a deaf baby. Or perhaps she knew she messed up in some ways, but either way, she was someone I went out of my way to appease. Most of you know already that my people-pleasing skills likely started to develop as early as six years old - I wanted my mother to not be angry with me, and so I told the CPS workers that I'd made up the story about my uncle molesting me. She was more than happy to back up that story and tell me and the CPS workers politely that I was a liar (I believe the words she used were, 'my daughter has a very active imagination') and that my uncle - her brother - would never do such a thing.
I spent years with this memory. I still grapple with it. WHY do I still remember this, those CPS ladies? Six. Years. Old. I just turned 44 not too long ago, so this is almost four decades ago. Yet, I can still remember that day CLEARLY. I remember the look on my mother's face, the CPS worker 'patting' herself between the legs, asking me if I knew what 'that part' was. And I remember the lie....the whispered, 'I made it up.'
Even though I was civil with him and saw him at family gatherings, I accepted the notion that I'd made up stories when I was six. I was the liar, I was the one who was disgusting. I shoved down feelings of disgust, doubt, and confusion - to please her, to please my grandmother (with whom he lived with until she passed away in the early 2000s) and to please the rest of the family.
It's amazing just how much of what is ingrained in us as children sticks with us in adulthood. Or even young adulthood, isn't it?
At fifteen, I was molested by an older man/teacher in a car. It did not progress beyond groping. I consented, but I was fifteen, he was twenty-five. It was a very messy situation, and although I knew it was 'bad,' I still participated, thinking that this man liked me and I wanted him to continue to like me. (This is something I haven't talked much about, because I couldn't categorize this as trauma. Now, I'm not so sure.)
Fast forward to three years post-rape, in 1999-2000. I was 19-20, now. Still a people-pleaser.
I allowed men and women to use and abuse me. Like with my uncle, I knew that something was off...but I ignored it. I ignored the fact that a couple two times my age, invited me into their bed. The wife made it a personal mission of hers, to 'fix' me. We'd started out as friends and I'd trusted her with the details of my 1996 rape, and did tell her that I thought something happened when I was a child, too. She believed that - for she would tell me exactly how I'd react during intimate moments involving just her and I. She'd ask where I went - for she'd said she caught me 'checking out.' I remember her words, too. 'You're like a robot.'
I permitted these men and women to exceed boundaries I left unstated. I allowed them to call all the shots, for I felt that if I didn't, I would be discarded, not loved, not wanted anymore. And because of this, it took me a very, VERY long time to accept that I've probably experienced more trauma than even I'm aware of. More than I've processed, more than I've worked on in therapy or on my own. Just....more. And that's become hard to digest. I've kinda taken a step (or two) back from discussing my trauma; when you're not even sure what all is there, it just makes sense to disconnect from some of the question marks.
I showed up whenever asked to be somewhere, even if my dysfunctional brain told me that it was unsafe and risky. I think part of me didn't care whether I lived or died - I can say now with certainty that I'm glad to be alive - but back then, I was fueled by reckless behavior. It meant that if I was being reckless, I didn't have to be careful, I didn't have to prevent something from happening that had already happened. I guess my behavior did open the door to more trauma, though, because though I had multiple partners between the years of 1997 and 1999, I cannot remember them all and do feel that many of them crossed lines and did not pay attention to 'other' signs. I do not remember giving my consent every time - in fact, many times, I would be either too inebriated or too dissociated to provide a response.
Another big one - my ex-husband. He was someone I definitely wanted to please. In hindsight, I know that he was an abusive man - all the signs were there and still are there - his current wife is miserable. He made it a point to tell me how many women he'd bedded when he was in the army, how many women he'd been with, overall....how he can pretty much seduce ANY woman. Yup...this is the stuff he used to say to his wife, who had just born him a son at 21. Because he wanted a child with me - he begged me for this baby. I was, at the time, in school and asking that we use protection and he would ask every time if we could go without. I knew what that meant. I became afraid that if I kept telling him no or that I wasn't ready, he'd move on. And so, I husband-pleased and agreed. I was pregnant weeks later. (I don't regret my son, either, let me also be clear on that.)
It didn't stop there. Whenever he wanted sex, I'd please him - even if I wasn't in the mood. Even if I'd cry myself to sleep after. He would make outrageous demands. Wanting his clothes washed for early in the morning but not telling me until after midnight the night before. Wanting me to not have friends, wanting me to tell him what I was doing every minute of the day, tell him what I talked about with my 'online friends.' Even if I had to make stuff up in order to protect information shared with me in confidence, I appeased him. Even when I didn't agree with what he would say, I would nod whenever he asked me if he was right. Of course he was right...I'd not dare say otherwise, because then he'd be angry with me - and he'd not want me, anymore.
So...this people-pleasing thing....I've deduced that it's common among survivors, friends. VERY common. I think those of us who are hell-bent on pleasing others often push our own feelings aside and we willingly walk into unsafe situations to avoid conflict. We know these situations are dangerous and risky but we yearn for approval, for acceptance, for LOVE. And so, bad decisions be damned, we proceed to behave recklessly and sometimes we are re-traumatized in the process. Does that even sound accurate? Because like I said, this is not a victim-blaming piece of writing. It's not me pointing my finger at you and saying that your trauma happened because you were eager to please - nope, not at all. It's just something I've been thinking about a lot, lately, especially when it comes to myself. Did MY people-pleasing open (or widen) the door to more trauma? I guess I'm asking for a friend. Or all my friends. I want to say I'm not alone in this thinking. I guess I'm also wanting to pinpoint - when exactly did I become this person? Why? How do I find an acceptable middle-road so that I'm still capable of making others happy, but I'm also keeping myself safe in the process?
I'm a social worker. By default, I'm a thinker. I guess you could say I'm an over-thinker at times but my job does require for me to pick apart every thought, to spend an indeterminate amount of time on processing through them, and to weigh consequences.
Aside from work-related issues, I have had to set personal boundaries. I don't think there's been anything harder I've had to do - except maybe saying good-bye to a fur-baby. Nothing's harder than that. But boundaries are a very, VERY close second, especially when you are a people-pleaser. We, after all, have to set them with people we love, people we trust, people we never could think would steer us wrong. We have to set them with people we are to become romantically involved with.
I disappointed my mother three years ago, when she asked me to say hello to my uncle at a family gathering I'd have the displeasure of running into him at. I told her I didn't want to talk to him. She insisted that 'hello' was all that was needed. We all know that it doesn't stop at 'hello.'
I avoided him the whole time. My wife shielded me as much as possible. Whenever he walked into my general direction, I would zip over to the other end of the room. I avoided eye contact. I could feel him looking at me, though, and in my opinion, being roped into a conversation with him would have put me over the edge. It wasn't the time or place, and even though I knew it was important to my mother, I couldn't do it.
She called me, fuming, at the end of the night. Said that I promised to say hello and I hadn't followed through with it. I told her that first off, I hadn't promised, and secondly, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Her response was, 'I wanted you to say hello because that might have been the last time you saw him alive.'
Sure enough, he died a few months later of heart failure. I didn't shed a single tear. I laughed. Yes, I'm a terrible person, but in my defense, this validates everything I suspected of him in childhood. It's either that or I'm a heartless bitch. Either way, I went to the funeral out of respect for my mother and also because I needed to see him laying dead in the casket. I needed closure. He took with him to the grave the truth - I am left with speculation and suspicion, although strong. My mother did ask again (a number of times) why I didn't like him.
I think that was my first boundary. I told her that I didn't like him because he'd cheated her out of her inheritance. He did. I said nothing about childhood. I guess, the way I see it - she had her chance to know the truth and to find the truth. But...forty years later? Nope, it's pointless to dredge any of that up, now. It will cause upset, it will bring up questions that I really am not willing to answer, and an added consequence would be further strain on an already tense relationship. She's pushed, but I've stayed firm. I'm NOT moving from this position.
There have been other boundaries set forth - and some of them, I still struggle with, because - yeah - people-pleaser. I want people to feel that they can rely on me. That I'll do whatever I can do to help. But, I know that boundaries are necessary. For my mental health, for my emotional well-being and for my personal safety, it is absolutely necessary to think about the long-term consequences of whatever it is that someone is asking of me. In fact, it's necessary for us all.
I urge my fellow people-pleasers to do the same. Look - people are going to try to take advantage of you and of your kindness, your loyalty, your support. It's happened before in all of our lifetimes, and it will probably happen again - we all have people in our lives that make us question our boundaries and our limits. My advice is to please make sure you are not compromising your own moral compass, make sure you're not being coerced into doing something you don't want to do. Believe me, you are still going to be loved and supported if you say no, or you decline. If the person you're trying to please decides to walk away, then maybe, just maybe, they're not worth your time or the gift of YOU. So, there ya have it - there's nothing wrong with declining or deciding not to please them. PLEASE take the time to think things through and to think about how each of your decisions is going to impact you (or others) in the long run. We can still aim to people-please, but we all have to protect ourselves in the process.
I can't stress that enough - as a social worker or as a friend to you all.
I'll keep working on this, for me. I know I've made strides - I guess it's the past that keeps tapping me on the shoulder and saying, 'hey, remember when...' Yes, I remember. Most of it, if not all. I can't take back my behavior as a teen/young adult, but I certainly can control my decisions now. I vow to trust my gut, listen to my heart, and to make informed choices, though I know that, as we all are, I am human and may slip from time to time.
As always, thoughts welcome in the comments. ❤️
NOW, I might be able to get some sleep....much love to you all and many thanks for reading. For those of you experiencing snow/frigid temps, please be safe and stay warm. I'll be back later on.
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