The need to please

I am a classic Adult Child. I need to please everybody, and my self-worth is measured by my ability to make everybody happy/calm/sober/sane. Between my alcoholic dad and my depressed nonfunctional mom, I was the adult of the family. I spent a lot of time being quiet, being good, being busy, being helpful growing up, but it didn’t make a dent in my parents’ behavior. All it did was make me wonder why they didn’t love me enough to see how hard I was working to make them happy– which then, of course, made me both more depressed and more determined to be better, smarter, nicer, more. (And really, really, angry. But it took me years to figure that part out.) I tried to take care of my younger brother, and mothered/smothered him right into resentment, which is only now beginning to heal. I tried to take care of my mother, but those attempts bounced off the teflon shield of her narcissism. And I tried to please my dad– though this, in part, was “rewarded,” and kept me coming back for more.

None of this helps me have healthy relationships. I am the best, most caring, most sympathetic friend ever, until you don’t reciprocate in a perceived hour of need, when I, exhausted, heart-hurt, depressed and angry, will lash out at you in a sobbing, choking, waterfall of grief and accusation. I am the ideal employee, until the father-figure mentor falls short of my expectations in some way, at which point I will cease to give a shit and start self-sabotaging. I work myself into the grave, then get exhausted, manic/depressed, and start messing stuff up, all the while lacking perspective because I was trying to be perfect and denying that I was falling short. I’m the best boss– always available to help you sort a situation out, giving credit where credit is due, and being truly constructive with my criticism– until I fall apart and am utterly unavailable to you. And I am a pretty good wife, mothering, cleaning up, nudging along, until I get pissed off at whatever it is that I’m annoyed by, because isn’t it enough that I work, and do the shopping, and do the cooking, and do the family organizing, do I have to do everything? All of these traps are hard to avoid, and keeping out of them is as much work as remembering to take my pills every day. That’s why practicing the fine art of Letting Go has been so crucial to keeping my sanity.

Before I met the Better Half, long before my bipolar II diagnosis, it would be safe to say that I was a Serious Person, well on my way to being a Bitter Bitch. I was a prime candidate for a Sense of Humor Transplant. But the Better Half made me laugh, makes me laugh, helped me rediscover my laugh and my sense of humor. And the joy that he brings me every day allows me to lighten up, to realize that my house doesn’t have to be perfect, to let the dishes sit another day, and to air my grievances in a way that will not win me Battleaxe of the Year. It’s still a struggle– decades of being a Control Freak are not easy to let go, and a little bit of perfectionism is OK. But maintaining the balance? Oof. Letting go of getting it right, and just practicing, even if I never make perfect– that’s what’s needed.

Also posted at Real Mental.

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17 thoughts on “The need to please

  1. jess

    omg…that whole second paragraph is me to a t. i, too, have found that the sense of humor is paramount to making it through most days. the trouble is exercising it when i need to the most, but don’t want to at all.

    Reply
  2. Professor J

    Have you been reading my journals?Actually, I am glad to read that your relationship with your little brother is improving. I hope that happens with my sister and me.

    Reply
  3. Mrs. G.

    Wow, this strikes home. I, too, was the adult in my family. Between my parents, there were seven divorces and I was the good little girl who tried to make everyone happy and didn’t leave me by the wayside. I’m sure you’re aware how exhausting this can be. It has only been in the last few years, that I have started putting myself first on the “to do” list. I should mention that I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    Reply
  4. sognatrice

    What’s really great about this is that there’s so many people who can relate to something you’ve written here. That’s pretty good my friend.Brava 🙂

    Reply
  5. cathy

    You described my childhood. I’m really glad your better half makes you laugh. Thank goodness for the people who love us just as we are.

    Reply
  6. Sarene

    Yep, I’m the same kind of friend ;-)At least now I let my friends offer an explanation…which 9 times out of 10 is completely legitimate and no longer necessitates lashing out.

    Reply
  7. Emily

    Very well-written. I can really identify with a lot of what you said here. Life really is a struggle and a journey, isn’t it?

    Reply
  8. standing still

    Having now read a pretty fair synopsis of MY entire life, I’m headed off to take my medication, lest I slip back there …

    Reply
  9. Who She She

    So well written. I totally get it, especially the part about not realizing you’re so angry until later in life. Like others said: you wrote what’s in my heart.

    Reply
  10. poet with a day job

    I love the way you said you are basically a Superhero, until you are not anymore, then you become a holy terror. That’s exactly how it is with me and my control freakness ACOA OCD perfectionist issues. it’s tough for me to explain to L it isn’t her I get angry at when I get angry: it’s just me I get angry at – that I am like this. Unfortunately, she’s at the yellin’ end of my my angry.

    Reply
  11. nyjlm

    I don’t see myself as a people pleaser; however, the rest of this? yes, yes yes. Loved Serious Person, Bitter Bitch, Battleaxe of the Year. Yup, that’s me. I would say one of the victories of 2007 is realizing that it isn’t me, it’s the disease.

    Reply
  12. Grandy

    What a beautiful post Lawyercook. I know how therapeutic it can be to be open like that, throw it all out there and bring it home with a smile. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Reply
  13. d. chedwick bryant

    o the tales i could tell you about me that would remind you of you…yes many of us are people pleasers as children, waiting patiently yet anxiously for a compliment, a proof of self worth and being loved. i made the error of ‘loaning’, well giving –a tiny sum to a fellow juror on the first day of jury duty. every day after she found me and begged me to buy her lunch, a coffee at Starbucks, loan her subway fare… and she was relentless. I felt like a fool for giving her money the first day, thus establishing myself as an easy mark. i packed my lunch to avoid the money issue and pleaded poverty myself–she asked for part of my lunch. what could i do? i gave her half. i don’t mind helping people, and this won’t stop me from doing so, but some people take advantageand my childhood of people pleasing makes it almost impossible for me to be honest with people and say enough is enough–ask someone else!

    Reply

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