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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.  :shrug:  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. :) 



- Cap


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Having read all of this I can say that what you said really resonates with me, too - the people-pleasing behavior is very strong and it's incredibly easy for me to think of examples about myself. In terms of the thought processes behind the behavior, you nailed those too. Setting boundaries is something I am trying to learn to do as well, but it's proven very difficult so far. But, yes, to answer your question - I think this is absolutely something a lot of us struggle with. It's how I got myself into two abusive relationships as well, and then stayed in them well past when I knew I should have removed myself from them.

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Hi, @Alighierie, and thank you for your feedback.  I’m sorry to hear you are in the same boat and that your people-pleasing has been the reason you stayed in two abusive relationships for too long.  That’s definitely not fair but unfortunately is something we as survivors tend to do more often than not.  Even more disturbing is the fact that those we are trying to constantly please are often aware of it as well and take advantage of it.

I think that in focusing too much on others’ appeasement, I’d forgotten how to make myself happy and to make sure I was good.  It also didn’t really matter for a long time - dealing with traumas past and present, kept me ambiguous.  I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities to be truly happy and to be my true self.  I only started to focus more on my own needs in recent years.  I know it’s hard - it really is.

One step at a time, Cody.  We’ll get there! Thanks again for reaching out.  Hoping you are having a good day.  Do something awesome for yourself at some point in the next few days.  You deserve it and to self-please!  (It does start from within, right?)


- Cap

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The social workers shouldn't have asked you to repeat your story in front of your mother, even if she wasn't your abuser. It is well known that most children will backpedal if confronted with their abuser, or someone close to him. The shame is intense too: you know it is 'dirty', you don't want the one good person/good people in your life to think bad of you, you want to keep their esteem, so you hide your dirty secret from them. Boris Cyrulnik, a French child psychiatrist who worked with victims of trauma (not necessarily sexual - lots of children growing up in foster care. He was orphaned himself around the age of 6, when his parents were arrested by the police and deported to a KZ, because they were Jews. He survived because a neighbour hid him, passing him off as her own son until she could find somewhere for him to go) explained this very well in a video I watched a couple of years ago. It's one of the reasons I didn't 'confess' to the teachers or other kids' parents who questioned me. They got into trouble with my family just for questioning me, and nothing would have come out of it anyway, I would have stayed with my family and received 'treatment' until I stopped making 'allegations' against them and 'confessed' I had lied all along. And of course the abuse would have carried on, speaking out would only have made it worse.  

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Thanks @GreySock!

I can see and understand why kids are likely to backpedal whenever in the company of their parents - this was back in the early 80s and thankfully social workers have become more aware and the field has evolved tremendously.  Sadly, the 80’s social workers were very inexperienced and very possibly missed a lot of things - not just with me but with many others.  

I do think my mother wouldn’t allow them to speak to me without being there.  She used my disability (deafness) any which way she could and often made it seem as if she needed to be there with me to ‘interpret’ or to help me to understand in case I couldn’t communicate with them.  She made a career out of inserting herself into situations, getting involved in things that do not have anything to do with her.  It’s ALL I have known her to do, and to this day, (and even though she is hinging on elderly), she is constantly prying or trying to use the ‘my daughter is deaf’ excuse so that she can be ‘involved.’  On one hand, I never have to worry about making phone calls or appointments - but it does get annoying when it is personal or is stuff I don’t want her meddling into.  :shrug: 

Anyway, thanks for reaching out!  Hope you are having a good week!

- Cap

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@Capulet I can see how being deaf would make it super easy for her to speak for you, and difficult for you to get listened by other people. You must be really thankful for the internet. I used to work in the financial industry and had to get angry when some providers would insist on speaking to one of my clients directly, even though the client was deaf. We had no problem communicating face to face as I would write on a pad and she had learnt to speak, she just couldn't lip read me (I'm French and I was trying to articulate and speak slowly which might have made it more difficult for her to 'read' me). I wish companies would use new technologies to make life easier for people who are hard of hearing or don't have a good vision.

I hope you have a good week too!

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@GreySock - absolutely! She still tries to speak for me.  I was also six years old at the time, and in speech therapy, needed to rely on lip reading….(still do!) and my mother was one of the only people I communicated with regularly.  I can see why they let things be and didn’t question her presence there.

I am so forever grateful for the internet and technology!!!  So much has been made easier for me - most of all, communication! :) 

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@Capulet I don't know how much of an activist you are, but one thing you could push for is more use of new technologies for communication. I remember trying to help my client try to switch private health insurance provider, she'd had an issue with her existing provider as they insisted on talking to her, they insisted that if she could speak, it meant that she wasn't deaf. She had done the paperwork so that her husband could speak for her (he had learnt sign language and was a lovely guy) but they acted like it must be an abusive relationship. These days, you only have call centers, so you cannot drop in a company's physical office and communicate using a notepad... I did find a couple of providers who had better medical training (which is what you would expect from people who work for a medical insurance provider) but of course, they charged a lot more... So she ended up staying with her existing provider.

I've tried to enrol for sign language beginner classes in the past, but it was too expensive (both in the UK and in France). I used to commute on a line which was used by secondary school deaf pupils, it was most interesting to watch them sign at top speed!

Best wishes.

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4 hours ago, GreySock said:

I remember trying to help my client try to switch private health insurance provider, she'd had an issue with her existing provider as they insisted on talking to her, they insisted that if she could speak, it meant that she wasn't deaf.

That’s absolutely preposterous and not true!!!  Deaf people may not be able to hear but most are capable of speech - tho for some it is difficult and most prefer to use ASL or another form of silent communication on account of it being more comfortable/normal for them.  No one should be penalized for that.  I’m sorry for your client. :( 

When I was a baby, my parents were told that I would not speak.  In order to speak correctly, you needed to be able to hear correctly, at least this was the theory back in the late 1970’s.  My mother was determined to prove them wrong and I had YEARS of speech therapy and language training. Now, I do speak as my primary means of communication but my voice is a bit different. I also know some ASL but am not fluent.

In the USA, most medical offices by law are required to provide an interpreter if they are asked for one.  If someone prefers to have another speak for them, it might be required to obtain written or verbal permission but it’s otherwise allowed and not questioned. Aside from my wife, my mother is allowed to speak to medical professionals on my behalf - mostly because she knows my history as well as I do.  I do have to authorize it first, when dealing with insurance, etc.  It is a huge pain in the ass, that’s for sure….but it is what it is. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time for advocacy as I’d like to.  I was hoping that at some point in my career I would connect with a deaf client that I could relate to and help to reach their fullest potential but at this time, I don’t think I want to focus completely on the deaf population.  Don’t get me wrong - I can relate on every level - I’m just not sure I’m at that point, yet.  A lot of my trauma is related to my disability and I have some work to do on that, first.


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@Capulet  Professionals (financial industry, health services, legal services etc.) definitely need more training. I've just come across an article in the Guardian about an elderly lady (91 year old) who had a joint bank account with her husband. When he died, she notified the bank and asked for her daughter to be added as joint account holder instead. The bank c****ed up, registered the elderly lady as deceased (as well as her husband) and closed the account. Her pension payments were returned to DWP and her direct debits (phone, council tax, electricity etc.) were stopped. She didn't notice until 1 month later as she had left her home to spend some time with her family (normal for someone who is going through a bereavement, especially at that age). On her return home, she found out her phone line had been switched off and she had a pile of letters from companies demanding money (council tax etc.) Her local branch had closed so she had to take 2 buses to travel to the nearest branch (she didn't do internet banking, like most elderly people) but she didn't know the pin number for her debit card... so they told her to come back with the pin number. It took 3 months for the situation to be sorted out: the Guardian (the newspaper) had to intervene. Marking the wrong people as deceased occurred once in a while when I was working in the financial industry, especially with people who had common names (John Smith). When that happened, we would reinstate their account (without waiting 3 months!), the phrase we used (internally) for that was 'to dig a client up'. I once had a lady on the line who had just received a letter saying 'We are sorry to learn about the death of Mrs Mary Smith' (herself). She had just been through a 20-minute conversation with someone who had just started working at our call centre, and who had asked her to prove that she was not dead, 'because we have your death certificate, I am looking at it right now'! Different address and part of the UK, different date of birth and middle names, different account number... Some people can be really dense, and insensitive.

Good luck with your work. I found Pete Walker's book really helpful.

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Thanks for sharing this Cap. It's so helpful to explore where our lack of boundaries have exposed us to more abuse. As you say the sad truth is that trauma often causes us to act in ways that lead to more trauma. There's a careful line we have to tread between not blaming ourselves whilst also acknowledging where we made bad choices and taking responsibility for making better ones in future. I'm certainly finding the more I heal, the more able I am to look back on past choices and understand where and why I went wrong. The more I understand my story, the more those choices and behaviours make sense, but also the more confident I am that I won't repeat them again. 

Sending support and walking beside you on the path to self worth and better boundary setting!

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@Pink Sky - so sorry for the delay in responding to this!  I think I opened it while I was at work and kept forgetting to come back.  Boy, am I tired....

(And I just had a four-day weekend!)

Anyway - I like how you summed up the entry.  It really does come down to boundaries and putting them in place for protection.  On that, I will forever be a work in progress.  I'm definitely not in a hurry to set them because I feel the need to first gauge where there is a need for firm boundaries and where I have enough trust in myself and others.  

Thank you for your words, friend, and for walking this path with me! ❤️ 

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Oh gosh, no worries. Never any hurry or obligation to reply!

That's a good point about not being in a hurry. The temptation is to build solid steel boundaries to avoid any risk ever again, but that's no way to live life. Particularly around sex and dating I know it's going to take a long time to feel my way into what I really want and need. 

Anyway I hope you haven't had too busy a week and are managing to squeeze in some rest 💛


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