We often see an addiction as an illness related to substance dependency, but it is much more than that. A behavior can also be addictive, like a sexual addiction or being a workaholic. In simple terms, an addiction is a coping mechanism your ego helped establish so you could feel better or to help you handle stress or suffering.
I am a recovering people pleasing addict
People pleasing is an addiction.
Just like alcoholics irrationally make alcohol the most important thing in their lives, a people pleaser lives his/her life depending on what others opine.
This is how I lived most of my life. For decades I gave more importance to the opinion of others above my own instinctual beliefs and desires. I could not make choices unless I verified it with outer input.
It is not unhealthy to ask knowledgeable people for advice, what makes this practice wrong is when you let their opinion rule over your own sense of what is the right thing to do. The more I relied on this coping mechanism, the greater the severity of my addiction, for I could remain paralyzed until I had the unanimous consent of the people I asked.
Ironically, I didn’t allow this behavior to control the way I handled my responsibilities at work. I could separate my ego from them and make decisions based on my professional experience and expertise. But people pleasing certainly ruled my personal life. It was as though I was a functioning adult at work but a child when it cam to my personal affairs.
After years of running my life in this fashion, I found myself in a quagmire of dissatisfaction. Eventually I fell into a deep depression, for I had lost touch with the life that corresponded with my genuine desires and passions.
I found the way back by doing the things I wanted to do. It didn’t matter if it was something small, like eating ice cream. What was important was to do it without seeking no one’s approval or denying my desire just because it was not “sensible” according to something I read or heard.
Our coping behaviors began with our family of origin
As you come to terms with your own unhealthy coping mechanisms, it is important to understand where they began. Knowing you created this behavior as a child so you could deal with the confusing behavior from the surrounding adults is the foundation for self-forgiveness. You didn’t know better.
Trying to survive my parents’ dysfunctional marriage started my people pleasing addiction. Between an emotionally distant, demanding father, and an abusive, narcissistic mother, I learned to cope with their junk by trying to become the family hero. If I accomplished great things, they would be happy with me, or so I thought.
But this strategy was never successful, for no matter what I did, it was never good enough for my father. Neither for my mother, as she was too wrapped up in herself to pay attention.
I realize their experiences shaped my parents growing up, just like me. Theirs were difficult, so I do not bring up my childhood to blame my parents for my problems. They were doing the best they knew how, but their behavior affected me in this way. Just as your parents’ behavior affected the way you developed your personality.
Break your unhealthy patterns
It is important to understand that, when you ask people for their opinion, their answers reflect themselves, their values and beliefs. Their opinions have little to do with you. While there is no harm asking others for an opinion, learn to decipher from the people around you those who truly care for your wellbeing. Do not be surprised to discover that this is a tiny (but important) group.
The person who has your best interests at heart is living inside your skin. Learn to listen to your inner voice first. Stop apologizing for what you think or feel. This is the real you, and you need no one’s permission to be you. When someone opines on your actions and you don’t agree, just tell them,
“I understand that’s what you think or feel, but that’s not how I think or feel.”
Don’t soften your stance to get some kind of partial agreement from those who see the world differently. We are all different, and that means not everyone you run into will agree with you.
If this kind of change makes you nervous, start small. Pick something you would normally ask people’s opinion for, i.e. like what to wear, and just pick your outfit without asking. Add something new every day without asking people for their opinion. This will become a habit and you will find life more satisfying.
Imagine living the life you always wanted. This begins with loving yourself. The greatest act of self-love you can make is to please yourself first.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash