How I Went From Constantly People-Pleasing To Learning To Put Myself First

Woman closing her eyes and relaxing on a walk outside
Brooke Cagle / Unsplash

Of the 21 years I have existed on this earth, I have spent far too many hours staring at a mirror, wondering why I am such a burden to those around me. For as long as I can remember, I have never felt adequate in my personality. I lived to please others and if I felt a sense of accomplishment in that, I was fulfilled and happy. However, when the people around me were tired, frustrated, angry, lonesome, [you name it], I not only listened to them to help minimize their pain, I took it upon myself like a piece of heavy luggage to carry their hardships with them, if not for them. I thought I was being nice. I figured that this behavior was something that every kind person engaged in, and if you did not, well, then you simply could not be classified as ‘nice.’ I had this sense of pride in the number of difficulties I could take on for others and in how much I could help them. In fact, what I was doing was not helping anyone at all, but created what later became a detrimental hole in my life that I voluntarily continued to dig myself in.

When my younger sister experienced her first heartbreak, I took on her cries in the hopes of easing her emotional pain. When my best friend and I were 12-years-old and she confided in me about her abusive, alcoholic mother, I felt the bruises begin to form on my arms and around my neck. Other problems, like my friends’ rebellious behavior or my boyfriend’s cranky attitude, were an excuse for me to act in the same way that they did. Anything and everything that anyone around me was feeling, I made sure to feel it too.

What was once an innocent act of kindness changed dramatically into a downward spiral that seemed almost impossible to break free from.

After taking on all the burdens and responsibilities of others for years, I was left to be nothing more than exactly that: a pile of misfortunes, and who wants to be friends with that? My personal, friendship, and familial problems packed on top of that pile too. Eventually, the pile became a hill and the hill became a mountain, and as the mountain grew larger, I shrunk underneath the emotional weight. I soon began to perceive that everyone around me – friends, family, complete strangers – were moving forward with their lives while I was stuck behind, struggling to understand my own wants, needs, and identity.

In my determination to be empathetic to and accepted by others, I realized that I had completely lost myself.

The depression and anxiety that arose from this behavior convinced me even more that I was nothing but a burden. What occurred next was a manifestation of both emotional and physical harm that left me feeling inferior, worthless, and hopeless compared to those around me.

I quite readily became a pushover, performing any acts that anyone demanded of me, no matter how degrading or embarrassing. In the sixth grade, I would throw away my entire lunch table’s trash in the hopes of friendship acceptance. At the age of 18, I forced myself to be intimate with a boy, even though I did not want to, because I did not want to come off as rude. This incredible desire to be nice metamorphosed into my inability to say ‘no’ and my belief that I deserved nothing better than mediocre treatment.

It was only recently when I forced myself to sit down and contemplate my beliefs, thoughts, and actions, that I was able to clear the mess in my mind and conclude that I needed to make a necessary change to survive. Self-respect and self-love are terms that I have known about but have never enacted in my life experiences until now. The journey of a people-pleaser learning to put oneself first in a humble, yet demanding way is difficult, but not impossible.

What I have learned after months of cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions and talking with my varying supportive networks is that I can continue my path of altruism if, and only if, I balance it with assertiveness.

I have learned to treat myself with the same, if not more, kindness than what I have given to others for years before. Respecting myself is an expedition I embarked on just a short while ago. I will surely relapse again and again, but that is okay. If you believe that you are losing yourself in acts of kindness, take this moment to analyze your actions and reactions to others. Learning how to respect and love yourself could be the change you need to make. Make it today, and this could be the first day of the rest of your life. TC mark

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