People Pleasing… Part 2
26 September 2020
Today, I wanted to revisit people pleasing and our children for a bit of a ramble, as well as covering some tips on how we can stop them from taking up the ‘pleasing’ mantle and continuing the cycle.
Before I begin, I wanted to reiterate that people pleasing comes from a place of trauma. Likely not the kind of airplane crash scale we tend to think of when the word trauma is used (and I have steered clear of more pertinent examples to reduce triggering) but the continuous drip drip drip of disappointment and denial that can end up having the same life changing impacts as a physical disaster.
Being denied your truth as a child diminishes your sense of worth, self, and right. So people pleasers are wounded warriors, and we shouldn’t read any further on until we’ve stopped seeing it as wholly bad and begun to recognise it as a natural and normal human reaction to not being seen, heard or validated.
Are we agreed? Good. On we go.
Living and caring for a child with a mental illness is HARD. I know from experience how deep the connection, the fear and the worry runs. And it’s not just fear and worry we live with. I believe it can often become codependency too.
What is codependency?
Codependency is defined by Melody Beattie, an author and therapist whose work I’ve relied on at times as “allowing another person’s behaviour to affect him or her and obsessing about controlling that person’s behaviour.”
Maybe this sounds familiar to you? It certainly resonates with me c.2015/16. I was obsessed with Issy’s actions. She’d attempted suicide so of course I was going to be concerned and consumed. And how couldn’t her behaviour affect me? I was her Mum. I loved her. I couldn’t let her die.
But in the early days, rather than considering my own emotional reaction, I became consumed with her actions, behaviours and responses. They became more important than my own health while she was suicidal.
“Well, of course,” you may say, “they would wouldn’t they?”
In a place of crisis, it is absolutely natural for our child’s health and wellbeing to be at the front of our minds. But if we don’t also take care of ourselves, allow ourselves to find and feel the joy that can come even in the darkest moments, connect with others, and allow our children to do the same, we can lose ourselves in the fight against mental illness and weigh our children down with our alignment, fascination or, dare I say, obsession with them and with them being OK. When we only gain pleasure or comfort if our child is OK, that’s one heck of a weight to place on them.
Which is why I bang the self care drum the whole time. Not so you have the softest skin or the inside track on your favourite Netflix show. It’s so you exist outside of your child – because however much being a parent means to you, you’re still YOU. And your child deserves to be able to be themselves without feeling they have to live up to your expectations or act in a way that is deserving of your love.
When you are rested or have the perspective that connection outside of your home gives, you stop seeing your child as a route to self validation. That sounds harsh, but each time we’re only ok when our child is ok, that places a burden to ‘be ok’ on that child. It makes them feel ‘not enough’ or obligated to maintain feelings or behaviours that may not be right for them, but are right for you.
And I know, from experience, this comes from a place of love. I really do. But love can be a burden, for everyone.
When love is a burden.
When we’ve not had the kind of validation we need or want as a child, it can be easy to think we’ll rewrite the parenting rules and do the opposite. The way we show love is such a personal thing, but it can become overwhelming and an obligation if it’s all one way.
When we show love but don’t hear its reply, we can blindly continue and take away our child’s sense of presence, identity, and autonomy. Over-loving can inadvertently do the opposite to what we intended and we can turn our children into people pleasers who have such high expectations to live up to, all because we over loved and wanted them to be ok.
Attachment isn’t always about more
People pleasing starts with a lack of parental atttachment – and by reading that, you may be thinking of abandonment or distant or changeable behaviours. But parental attachment can be broken when we overthink and catastrophise, when we fuss and assume and live in our heads and worry, when we hold expectations that aren’t agreed or can’t be met, and when we don’t listen or show our child that we hear and respect their opinions and views. While we are consumed with our love for them, and our role as the caregiver, we can overlook the signals and signs that our child is telling us about themselves and how they feel. And when we do that, we diminish their view of their value. If you’re always right, how can they learn that they can be too, without doing what you do or expect?
If we are the blueprint for our child and how they learn to live, love, and value themselves, how can we move away from codependency as our children become ill and get better?
How can we show them how not to be a people pleaser?
- Change our behaviour – acknowledge our feelings – caring for a child with a mental health issue takes a toll. It brings up a whole raft of emotion and acknowledging this is so important if we’re not going to use over-loving to quash the feelings we carry. So talk to a friend, let it all out here, or get some therapy. Really feel your feelings – explore the darker side of your emotions – give shame, hate, disappointment, jealousy, anger their proper names and allow yourself to work through them.
- Allow yourself to be ‘off duty’ and be you, not Mum or Dad. Not every moment in your child’s day needs to be scheduled and not every action or emotion needs to be graded. Stop taking the temperature as often, and you’ll see a change. When we keep looking at something, we can’t see the differences. When we look away, they become clearer. This will mean you don’t have to second guess your child, ask them to qualify, or pester them for reassurance that they’re ok. And this means they’ll be more relaxed knowing you trust them and their opinions.
- Believe in change – sometimes we hold on because we fear what will happen when we let go. But letting go can be good. It allows us to believe in a different future and create a new ending. Can you let go of the reins a little today? Can you allow your child to do something on their own, to make a mistake, or to voice a different opinion? Can you give a space for everyone’s voice to be heard and validated? Ask if you’re listening to respond or to reply?
- Be led by your child, not your needs. Allow your child to take responsibility – this is their illness, not your defining circumstance so allow them to tell you how they feel, without dismissing or diminishing it. Denying reality doesn’t change that it’s a reality. And if they’re in place where they can do more, allow them to. Cotton wool is only good for a certain time – crisis. This is about them, not you. (I hate to sound harsh, I’m not being mean, honest!)
- And TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – not only does it give you the fuel to carry on caring, it helps your child by showing them you believe you’re worthy, so they learn they are; it takes the pressure off them to be the thing/person who makes you happy; and it feels good – and we can all do with a bit of feel good, can’t we?
- Finally be grateful – gratitude keeps us present in the moment and that allows us to monitor how we’re feeling, gives us the power to be honest when we’re feeling something rather than dismissing it and sharing through our actions, and brings us peace, which in turn leads to hope and belief.
Share your gratitude today, along with any reflections on this post in the comments. I look forward to reading them.