So, one of the most short-sighted, but often quoted saying to me is this: “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.”. Now, when Franklin D. Roosevelt said this in his inaugural speech in 1933 (didn’t know you were going to get a history lesson today, huh?), the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and he wanted to rally the people to not let their fear paralyze them or beat them down further than they already were. OK. I understand the circumstance and the need of FDR to challenge the people to be as pro-active as they could, but today I think this saying is used too freely.
We all have fears, don’t we? Fear of falling, heights, snakes (ME ME ME), public speaking, being alone at night, being the victim of a crime, clowns (ME ME ME) and the list can go on and on. And to say there’s nothing to fear but fear itself assumes that all fears are irrational. Hey, if I’m confronted by a bunch of snakes slithering towards me, my fear is justified, peeps. My cold sweats and elevated heart beat says it all. If we don’t validate that people have ‘real’ fears and recognize that so many times they come from a very justifiable place, then we aren’t addressing how we can help the person deal with them more productively (damn…that is a very impressive sentence…textbook quality?).
And fears aren’t always about actual, physical danger, are they? I’m a believer that many of us have fears regarding ourselves, our relationships, our mental illnesses. I also believe that these fears just don’t come about quickly, but develop over a period of time through, I could say situations here but it sounds too ‘light’ so I’m going to use the word shit. The shit we go through that shapes us into fearful beings.
Take me (ok…that’s not literal, but if you’re rich and single, give me a call): I learned over the years that to be in a fairly stable place, I needed to make sure I was aquiescent to the people who could hurt me or the people I love. When ma was married to her 2nd husband who was domestically violent, I learned very early in their marriage to give in or go along with whatever R was saying, no matter how irrational or wrong it was. If I didn’t, he’d become enraged and the target of this anger would be ma. In order to keep her safe, I bowed down to him. Knowing ma could get hurt because of me was a tremendous fear in my life every time I was around him.
So, guess what? That fear became a part of me. It was so deeply ingrained that I still believe that ‘people pleasing’ is a necessary thing in relationships and that it’s important in order for that relationship to be ‘happy’ (whatever the hell that means). I need to make sure I say what I’m supposed to say, or act the way I’m supposed to act, based on someone elses wants or needs.
When that psychologist was sexually abusing me, I knew it was wrong and I felt dirty and shameful because of it. But, he had saved my life…gotten me to open up about things I needed to face. He helped me reign my eating disorder in, talked me down after my first suicide attempt, and the more I depended on him, the more I strove to please him as much as I could. I didn’t know if I could live without him or his office and the sanctuary it had once given me. When he began touching me, I didn’t say no. In so many ways, I didn’t know how. I didn’t want to upset him. Reject him. Give him reason to ‘hate’ me. Abandon me. Throw me away. So, I said nothing.
Hubby 2 has a GREAT mom…she truly is the best and can do most anything and everything. She was “Supermom” and worked 24/7 in such a selfless way. When we had been married for 6 years, we built a house on Hubby’s parents land and I lived next door to my in-laws for the next 7 years. Because we were so close, I felt I was put into a competition with mom. She washed her windows every season, planted a huge garden, took care of acres of property, hung her wash out to dry, cooked nice meals that I couldn’t emulate, and never sat down to read or rest. After hearing for years how terrific she was (and I know she is), I began to feel I had to live up to the bar she set. When I lived next door, I struggled to keep up. If I laid down in the afternoon, I felt guilty (sometimes I still do) and not getting a chore done was unacceptable.
So I did all of this with a smile on my face, wanting to please Hubby and let him know I was up to par with this woman he idolized. And the entire time I plastered a smile on my face. I was ‘person pleasing’ him and I feared the consequence of not doing this would be his disapproval and criticism (something I’m ill equipped to handle thanks to my ‘sensitive’ personality 🙄).
This pattern, based on the fear of retaliation, hurt and rejection, truly has followed me my entire adult life. The most recent rendition of it was with J. After he cheated on me the first time, I forgave him quickly and with very little effort of apology or him showing remorse. If I voiced my anger, my sadness, or my distrust, he’s the one that became offended and annoyed. You see, my nagging was what was dragging us down. My feelings of distrust and needing to know where he was or who he was texting made him feel resentful, which once again, was the cause of our relationship not being ‘perfect’. It didn’t matter what he did. It mattered what my reactions were. And since I’ve attended this shitty rodeo before, I tried, as hard as I could, to ‘person please’ him. “No honey…it’s ok. I’m sorry I was worried.” “Babe…it’s my fault you’re upset. I shouldn’t have brought her up.”
Sometimes I wonder if so much of this people pleasing, which is founded in the fear of me being rejected, is a big part of the breakdown I had. I had given in to so much over the years and lived my life based on other expectations while sucking up my own wants and needs, that it became too much. Think about it. I was a pleaser in all of my marriages (shutty the mouthy…I’m not Elizabeth Taylor yet 😳); I gave everything I knew the Hubby of the decade wanted, yet they still moved on to apparently greener pastures. (They’re all greener until you start crapping in those too). I gave in to so much of what J wanted throughout our relationship because I loved him so stinkin’ much and didn’t want to lose him, and look what I got for my effort. Nada.
I’m kinda starting this pattern again with my old friend I’ve been yacking too. Trying to be what he wants me to be in order to please him. Trying to say the right things. Agree to the right things, but this time, I’m stopping myself. I’m recognizing it. I’m seeing that if I continue this pattern, it ain’t gonna work out. I think I finally understand that I’ve never wanted someone to be a ‘yes’ man for me. I want their genuine, muddied, real self. By the same token, I can understand how me being a ‘yes’ woman can lessen respect someone might have for me. I guess I’m just scared to put my real self out there. When you have a mental illness, your genuine self isn’t always your best self. Your intentions may not be what your moods are dictating that day. Your responses and behavior may be a done deal before you reign in that fucking brain of yours and try your best to fight it. Sometimes your real self can be very overwhelming to the other person. Sometimes, it can even be a deal-breaker.
So, I learned early on that you can’t rock the boat. You can’t disagree. You always have to nod, smile and say yes on the outside, while saying no to yourself on the inside, no matter how much it hurts or how much it might cost you. But, as I have found, people pleasing isn’t the key. Maybe trying to be whatever the other person wants you to be isn’t the strongest foundation for any relationship. And maybe what I’ve been doing all of these years is backwards – that the key is simply pleasing me and them much more equally and hoping the other person can accept that as being enough.