Personal Growth – Pride Mixed With Confusion and Regret

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Me and my partner spent the last year (from August 2017 to May 2018) in a city further up north. It was a smaller place with greater distances to big cities, almost always at least a three-hour bus ride away, which meant that we were pretty stuck in that place.

I was quite busy that year with my journalism studies that were very practical instead of theoretical, and spent nearly eight hours every day at school doing tv, radio or writing.

However, in addition to all that time I spent in school, I had a great deal of time on my hands. Probably even more than I have now. I’ve talked about having too much time on one’s hands before but in that city, Time was given to me and my partner in handfuls.

All that time we had – what did we do with it?

We did the basic stuff: went on walks, watched tv-series (Mindhunters being one of the best ones we saw) and movies, read books and cooked food. However, we still had time to spend. So, we got some painting supplies and created our own paintings that we hung on the walls. We came up with a proper workout routine and started going to the gym. We both did some changes to our diets (which always requires time and energy for the change to become routine). My partner got into creating his art and soon after that, I started writing on a daily basis.

These things we did had a huge effect on my life:

During that year I lost almost a quarter of my weight. I also decided to change and challenge my career plans and started to realize that my people-pleasing behavior wasn’t benefitting me in any way.

In a way, it was a crazy year. But it was also one of the best years from the perspective of personal growth and development (the picture I used for this blog post shows me on a day I was super proud of myself).

As long as we lived in that smaller city up north, I had time to get used to the physical and mental changes that were happening in me. For instance, I was able to take in and process the confusing comments from sales persons in two different clothing stores who guessed and complimented my size and my body as if I had always been that way.

No one asked me any questions (because almost no one seemed to notice the changes, funny enough). Instead, I was the one asking myself all kinds of things: How had I been able to do all these changes? Was I on the right path? Was this what I wanted? Who was I now, compared to who I was before?

(I haven’t quite yet answered all those questions but I’m getting there, slowly and surely.)

However, when we returned back to the city we had left from a year before, the changes became real – now through the reflections of everyone else.

Especially the weight I had lost seemed to get many people’s attention. My mother came to me and patted my stomach, wondering how I had become so thin. My grandmother asked me how I had lost so much weight, and a guest at a party commented in a loud voice how much I had changed since she last saw me.

All these comments were compliments – in one way. But at the same time, not all of them were genuine happy-for-you kind of comments. Many of the compliments were mixed with confusion or had a hint of jealousy or frustration in them. It was as if people became unsure of who I was and how they should be in my company.

In the same way, as I tried to explain to friends why I was thinking of changing my career plans, many of them had a hard time understanding my decision. They had always thought of me in one way (someone who wanted to become a journalist), and now I was saying I wanted to do something else? Instead of being supportive they kept on asking how come I was changing my mind now.

I’ve written about changing my people-pleasing behavior in previous blog posts. It hasn’t been conflict-free, either.

The past months have been eye-opening when it comes to personal changes.

I was pretty happy and confident with the changes I had made and reached, and still am. However, as I saw how other people reacted to the changes I had made or was making, reacted to their reactions. The pride I felt about the major life changes got mixed with confusion, sometimes even regret.

I couldn’t help but wonder: were all my changes worth this emotional rollercoaster? It became clear to me that my personal growth and development seemed to come at the expense of my social relations.

I also thought this: why does it feel like no one talks about these aspects of change? As if every article I’ve read is about making a change and getting there – but so few of them, if any, talk about the things that follow when a change has been made.

Why do we want change, but when it comes, we aren’t that willing to accept and adjust to it?

It’s been a rollercoaster, these past four months. And let me tell you: it will continue for a while.

The History of Me, The People-Pleaser

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For most of my life, I have had a very strong need to be accepted and liked by people around me. I wanted my parents to like me, my teachers to like me, and my friends to like me. I wanted to be liked by everyone. Not in the most-popular-girl-in-the-school kind of way, but simply acknowledged and liked by all the people around me.

I also had the need not to add to the burden of anyone. When I was nine, my little sister was born and she was, of course as an infant, a lot to handle. A few years later, my father was unemployed for one and a half or two years, which made everything financially tough for my family during that time. And, a few years later, my older sister started her rebellious years. Through all this, I just wanted to be the kind and easy daughter for my parents. The daughter who could behave herself and was good at school. The one you didn’t have to worry about.

All this worked against me, resulting in a very energy-demanding and harmful behavior. And it took me years to figure it out.

Three Different Roles For Three Different Situations

As I got older, my people-pleasing behavior started to demand more energy from me.

Subjects at school became more difficult, requiring more time. I was active in Scouts and had many responsibilities there. And at home my family had many conflicts.  All this at the same time as I tried to grow up and find out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

It was a tough time. Somehow, I thought the best way to deal with everything happening around me was to be an easy, kind and upstanding daughter, friend, scout, student and sister. Being like that would get me through every conflict, challenge and problem and help me save energy for the things I wanted to focus on. This is at least how I thought it would work.

I guess you can see the conflict here.

At the age of fourteen, I started having problems with my mental health. I reacted strongly to socially awkward or unsuccessful happenings; if I suddenly wasn’t liked or if I didn’t do good in a test. I wasn’t okay, I was being self-destructive and would have needed help and support – but I didn’t want to add to the burden of my parents. So I kept my thoughts and problems to myself and instead, created social roles for different situations to get through the day-to-day life.

With friends, I was bursting with happiness and laughter, telling jokes and always smiling. And as they learnt to me as an always-happy-person, it was almost impossible to break away from it, even if I didn’t feel happy or entertaining.

With my family, I wasn’t as filled with laughter and jokes as I was with friends, but I kept my (non-existent) energy up and talked as if everything was okay. And as they learnt to know me as a problem-free child, it became harder to open up about any problems I was experiencing.

But when I was with myself, alone, I could let the feelings, the tiredness, the self-hate, the destructive behavior take over my body and mind. Finally, I let myself be me in all my misery. Especially self-destructive behavior was the one of the hardest things to break away from.

As I look back at my behavior and how I was as a person, I’d like to state that people-pleasing is like a disease. However, it’s more like a symptom of another disease. A symptom of I don’t know who I am or what I need and want.

How To Identify A People-Pleaser

So clearly, breaking free from people-pleasing is one of they key things for me to do. It’ll allow me to make my own decisions and be myself, which often leads to self-development and some sort of fulfillment.

I did some research on people-pleasing for this blog post. I am familiar with some aspects of people-pleasing behavior but there seems to be a great deal left to discover. Only by identifying the characteristics of people-pleasing, one is able to break free from the harmful behavior.

I found a list of 10 signs that tell if you’re a people-pleaser. These are the signs I recognized to have had or still have:

  • You feel responsible for how other people feel.
  • You apologize often.
  • You feel burdened by the things you have to do.
  • You can’t say no.
  • You feel uncomfortable if someone’s angry at you.
  • You need praise to feel good.
  • You go to great lengths to avoid a conflict.
  • You don’t admit when your feelings are hurt.

So, the next step?

Break Free From Your Behavior!

Of course, the real issue here is to become a mentally strong person. But breaking free from people-pleasing is a part of it.

Luckily, during the last couple of years I have been able to change some of my people-pleasing behavior: I no longer have roles for different social situations. Instead, I dare to be me and show my emotions better than before, especially with friends. I’ve learned to say no more often, to not apologize for things that aren’t under my control, and most importantly, I’ve learned not to feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

However, after years and years of people-pleasing, my behavior cannot be altered in just a day and I won’t become a mentally strong person overnight. But it is possible. It just requires a great deal of work.

Even though I’ve managed to break free from several characteristics of people-pleasing, challenges remain. For instance, I still have a hard time dealing with conflicts. This is partly because I am also a highly sensitive person which makes arguments and conflicts even tougher to handle and process. But partly because I’ve almost always managed to avoid conflicts.

Becoming a stronger person is a journey, and every conflict on that journey leads to development. I just need to stay strong and take the winds as they come.

Categorize Me Anew

A few words about individual progress.

In this case, I think progress somehow becomes ironic: to let go of people-pleasing behavior inevitably leads to conflicts. And that’s terrible, because it isn’t simply enough that I decide to stop being a people-pleaser – all the people around me need to understand and accept it as well. I need these people, who have always categorized me as a kind, loyal, easy, well-behaved and upstanding daughter, friend and sister, to take me out of that category and place me somewhere else.

And that leads to conflicts.

From the people around me, this leads to questions like ’Why can’t you be like you were before?’ and ’Why are you so difficult?’. It leads to orders like ’You need to answer when someone asks you a question’ or ’You have to help when someone asks for your help.’

And when I decide to be mentally strong and simply answer ’no’ to the questions and orders… well, I might as well close the windows and bolt the doors and prepare for a hurricane. This is where it gets hard.

I would love to be able to carry this change through without conflicts. In my mind, I wonder: how can I stop being a people-pleaser and apply the change without seeming like a total douchebag to everyone around me? How can I get what I want in a conflict-free way?

And at the same time, I have this thought: are these conflicts (both inside and outside my head) a part of the whole transition from a people-pleaser to an independent, strong-minded person?

These constant conflicts both inside and outside myself about my behavior and what is the best way to handle these conflicts without letting go of what I want – this is what I am dealing with at the moment.

I’ll keep you updated.