Are you your own priority?
This thought never occurred to me until fairly recently. I always thought I make myself my absolute priority, I mean why wouldn’t I, since it’s my life, right? I always had an impression of myself as someone who knows what they want and goes for it. That was until I realized I was a people pleaser. Yep, a full blown people pleaser. And it didn’t always show up in grandiose acts of going out of my way to please others but very often in subtle ways… Like not saying no at an extra request at work when I was already operating at full capacity (I wanted to be liked, right?). Or accepting an invitation from a friend just because I didn’t want to turn them down (rejection issues, people..). Or getting hung up on a man who absolutely does not make me his priority (self-esteem issue, maybe..?). In isolation each one of these may not amount to a great deal of trouble but all taken together meant that really I was living out other people’s lives and expectations as opposed to my own. Not good. So I sat down and put down several reminders for myself to help me understand whether what I’m about to do is truly what I want or am I getting caught up in someone else’s stuff.
I slow down and stay with it… As an anxious over achiever people pleaser in recovery it was very easy for me to jump at EVERY opportunity that came my way. A new project at work? Sure, I can do it! Do I want to go to this thing tonight? Of course I do, I’d love to! Now, I’m not saying that jumping at new projects and going to lots of events is a bad thing, but what I found is that often it’s easy to say yes when you want to say no. And especially so, if as a kid you’ve been conditioned to be pleasant and convenient for others. And again, I’m not necessarily referring to grandiose acts of abuse but very often it’s the little things that make a kid feel they have to earn the love somehow or sacrifice their wishes for others. Slowing down before blurting out yes and agreeing to all the conditions laid out in front of me became key.
Is this what I really want? Again, I thought it’d be a very simple question to answer but here’s the rub – if there’s shame in saying no then it’s very possible that you’ll think that you want to say yes and repress what you really want. I can’t even describe the amount of times I ended up at parties, events, concerts and found myself thinking “why am I here? All I want now is to curl up on a sofa with a cuppa”. Fears behind the need to repress the emotion may be very different for different people – for me it was the fear of not being liked, the fear of being rejected and the fear of another person’s anger. Lovely stuff. But you know what they say – as soon as you can bring awareness to these feelings, they no longer control you.
And finally, the fun bit – physiology. So when I realized what my triggering emotions were I thought great – now I’m no longer a slave. Apparently it’s not that simple as I came to understand after a few unsuccessful tests…. There is a physiological response to all the emotions – such as shame for example (my personal favourite, that one). For me personally - I found myself absolutely frozen to the spot when faced with an uncomfortable situation of turning the person down. Absolutely frozen and speechless, which was then followed by a quick “yes, sure I’d love to!!”. It took consistent training to actually stay with these very uncomfortable physiological sensations, breathing through them, letting them go and being very confident in saying no.
It’s certainly nice to take on many projects and to be flexible with people we want to get close with but there is a fine balance between being flexible and living out other people’s expectations. Understanding when it is that I truly want to do something for another person, not because I feel bad for saying no and not because I’m afraid of their anger or of being rejected, - but because I really feel like doing it for them, became imperative for less stress, anxiety and negativity in my life.