Confessions of a people pleaser part 2: Putting myself first

Without further ado, here is part two of this 3-part series entitled confessions of a people pleaser. If you haven’t read part 1, I highly recommend it as, well, I think it’s a good read and sets the stage for this second article.

As a brief reminder of that first blog, and for those of you who are too lazy to go read it *cough cough*, I wrote about how I’ve spent most of my adult life believing that my worth is a reflection of what other people think, say and do. I have always done my best to accommodate others, to not ruffle feathers and to please my way through life as a way to avoid uncomfortable confrontation. However this way of living left me thoroughly unhappy and so damn resentful that I became an asshole. On the outside, I portrayed myself as nice and not-bothered, but inside I was boiling. Inside, my thoughts were mean and inpatient, sometimes even hateful. The discord between my inner world and my outer expression ate away at me, and I longed to live more authentically.

And so, as a way to move away from people pleasing and being an asshole, I’ve made a commitment to put myself first.

But what does it mean to “put yourself first”?

I’m still figuring it out, and honestly I think that life itself is a journey where we learn to balance our needs with the needs of our greater community. I truly believe that at the end of the day, the needs of others and our needs are actually all the same. By taking care of ourselves first, we can grow into secure, loving and compassionate beings and in turn, we naturally begin to help others, just by being who we are. It’s like healing by diffusion, for those more scientifically-inclined out there.

I know this sounds pretty wishy-washy, but hear me out.

As a compulsive people-pleaser, I was convinced that putting everyone before me was the right thing to do. I truly believed that being selfless was honorable. Training as a nurse just reinforced those beliefs – we were taught that nursing is a vocation, and the patient comes first.

I did all the right things in romantic relationships and at work – yet I constantly found myself burnt out in both the roles of the nurse and the girlfriend. Finding myself in the same position – overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted – over and over again, I came to believe that something was wrong with me. Last summer was especially tough after I made the decisions to leave my dream job and my dream relationship.

“WTF is wrong with me?” I pondered again and again. Why do I always find myself here? Maybe I am really incapable of being a good partner and I don’t have what it takes to be a nurse practitioner. My confidence in myself was crushed. You can really see that come through in my blog posts “The breakup” and “Considering my resignation from the nursing profession”. Those two blog posts were two of the most difficult to write and share, because it was about facing feelings and emotions I had tried to repress for so long. Honoring how I felt was the first step towards healing, towards liberation.

For a long time, I’ve felt as though I haven’t loved myself. I even drafted a blog post last summer entitled “Loving Myself” where I wanted to rant about the “love yourself” and “positive psychology” movements. It still urks me to this day. However now I realize that it’s not because I don’t believe in it. It bugs me because perpetuating the thought that you JUST have to love yourself, and that you have complete control over your emotions is total bullshit. And it just makes those of us struggling with self-love feel even shittier about it. It reinforces the thought that something is wrong with us, that we aren’t lovable, because loving yourself and being happy should just be simple and easy.

But its not easy.

And that’s okay! Thats what we need to reinforce – the fact that moving towards loving ourselves is hard work, and this * is* okay*.

My therapist and I have been working a lot on self-compassion in the last few months. Its a theme I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts – when I talk about holding myself in compassion, speaking to myself as if I was a little girl, and giving myself a break. She recommended a book entitled “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach which I am currently working through. I had decided to aim for self-acceptance rather than self-love, because this felt more achievable.

But I still struggle with this. It’s not easy to accept parts of yourself that you’ve hated for so long. No matter the amount of therapy, meditation, self-help books and positive affirmations I force down my throat, I still struggle with self-acceptance.

However a few weeks ago, I was listening to a talk by Ram Dass and he said something that really resonated with me. He spoke about how much we judge ourselves and others. We humans just love to judge each other and categorize people. She’s too outspoken and he is too emotional. She is not smart enough and he isn’t tall enough. We all do it. As a solution, he said we should think of ourselves as trees. Look at everyone else as if they are trees. He explained – when you walk into a forest, do you walk around judging all the trees? No. You just look at them and appreciate them in all their beauty. You don’t focus on how this one is taller and this one is leaning to the side. You just appreciate them as they are.

Appreciation. Self-appreciation.

That’s something I can work with, I thought to myself! Loving myself seems too fake. Accepting myself is still rather difficult. But appreciating myself? I felt that’s something I could do.

So with that in mind, it has become easier to give myself a break and to start to put myself first.

Moving to Kenora was a huge move. It felt selfish. I was leaving my dad who’s health was uncertain, a best friend who has a colicky newborn, a new blooming friendship with my housemate and a new job where I was crushing it. I had major cold feet in the days before I left Ottawa – thinking how selfish it was of me to leave my Ottawa life behind. That voice in my head trying to convince me that I would regret it and it would be all my fault.

I pushed through, reminding myself that I wanted to live my life on my terms, and that I wanted to make decisions that lined up with my core. I wanted to live authentically. And the way to this was by putting myself first.

Putting myself first is new, and it is not always comfortable.

It looks like setting boundaries when friends or family invite me to events. It looks like going to bed early when I need it. It looks like speaking up at work and sharing my ideas. It looks like asking for help when I am unsure. It looks like dressing comfortably. It looks like not chasing romantic partnerships that take more than they give. It looks like trusting myself when I make decisions at work. It looks like having the guts to try new activities and not caring if I suck at them.

It looks different every day and the beauty of it is it has nothing to do with anyone else but me. It doesn’t matter what it looks like because all that matters is how it makes me feel. I’m not doing it to impress anyone, or to please anyone. I am doing it to please myself.

Something it feels amazing, sometimes it feels really foreign. But slowly, I am learning that taking care of and putting myself first is the most important thing in life. I am learning to embrace it.

And as I move towards self-appreciation, self-acceptance and maybe some day, self-love – it is slowly allowing me to see how others could appreciate, accept and maybe love me too.

After we broke up last year, my ex said something to me that was devastating.

He said: “You know Michele, it’s like you never believed how much I loved you. No matter what I did or said, some part of you just never let me love you”.

It hurt so much because I knew it was true.

And so, as I make room in my heart to appreciate myself. As I start to truly believe in my beauty, my strength and my unique gifts, slowly but surely, I am starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible for others to love me too.

3 thoughts on “Confessions of a people pleaser part 2: Putting myself first

  1. That’s a lovely, honest post. I like how you write about what putting yourself ‘looks like’. That can be the hard part for many of us. Best of luck on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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