Last weekend, I went on an overnight excursion with my best friend. We both needed to escape. Being perfectly honest, I had a lot of things going on in my life. Most of them beyond my control. And I was starting to feel like I might lose my mind. Two-thirds of the way to our destination, I knew why I was on that trip, with that person. I needed someone to tell me, “This is not your sh*t.”
I am a people pleaser. And that is not to say that I am this super awesome person who is completely selfless. That is to say that I determine my self-worth based on how much I am needed by others. Therefore, I go out of my way to make sure that I am indispensable. You are better off having me around. I will come to you every time. You just sit there and chillax.
When I first started dating my husband, he was living in Toronto and I was living in Hamilton. I had my little boys every other week, and my oldest son was becoming more independent. Tony, on the other hand, was a full-time single parent to his daughters. So, I literally went to him. I didn’t expect him to pay a babysitter to come and see me. I drove, on the bloody 401, to his house. A lot. I spent quality time with his girls. I cooked them meals. Ha! No, I didn’t. I don’t cook. But I did clean their house. In fact, I resented Polly, his housekeeper, for coming in once a week to do my job. (And I made sure Tony knew that Polly wasn’t up to snuff.)
Nine months later, Tony moved to Dundas. And seven months after that, we got married and I moved in. Sweet! I went from maintaining two households to just the one. Things would be the same, but easier. I would continue to make myself indispensable. Tony would continue to be the perfect, uber-appreciative man that I met on Match.com.
But at some point, I grew tired of trying to be indispensable. Tired of trying to please everyone all the time. I also grew resentful that people stopped appreciating it and started expecting it.
So, today I went to see a therapist. Yes, a therapist. No big deal. I’ve been to therapy before. Usually, with someone else or for someone else. But aside from the therapy I received during my pregnancy with my youngest son, I have never really sought therapy just for myself. And I’ve had a pretty messy life. If anyone could use some therapy, it’s this girl.
Anyways, do you want to know what the therapist told me? “You can’t control what other people do. You can only control what you do.” I know! Ground-breaking, earth-shattering stuff that you’ve never heard before or even considered! (Next, I’m going to tell you that you should “be the change you want to see in the world.”)
But for me, this was ground-breaking, earth-shattering stuff. Because that’s what I had spent my whole life doing. Trying to control the way other people behave by altering the way that I behave. How freakin‘ crazy and delusional is that? In other words, being a people pleaser is a mechanism I use to gain and maintain people’s affection, but it’s not actually who I am. Being a people pleaser goes against my core beliefs and is not a sustainable role for me. I am not a martyr. I am not someone who puts everyone else’s best interests before their own. My best interests are important to me. And I want everyone to make a fair and equitable contribution on all matters and in every situation. So what the hell have I been doing?
But a lot of us do it. We change who we are in the beginning of a relationship. We become what we think the other person wants us to be. Eventually, the façade becomes cumbersome and we either have to let it slip away or we break while trying to maintain it.
A large part of being a people pleaser is taking on things that we don’t own, and don’t necessarily want to own. In fact, it’s integral to being indispensable. Recently, I had been doing quite a bit of that. And I was not doing it gracefully or selflessly. I was doing it resentfully. I had my own sh*t and I had other people’s sh*t. And the weight of all that sh*t was making me angry. Then a voice came down from the heavens – actually it came from the driver’s side of the car – and said, “This is not your sh*t, Heather.” And I said, “Are you sure about that? I feel like it shouldn’t be my sh*t, but I also feel like this is just as much my sh*t as it is their sh*t.” She was sure.
So, here’s what I learned this week:
- In this case – no matter how hard it was for me to accept – it was just not my sh*t. Just being able to acknowledge that – and say it out loud – was freeing.
- No matter what the relationship – close friend, family member, spouse – there is some sh*t that is just theirs. It’s actually permissible to draw a line on what you’re willing to take on, even with loved ones. It’s OK to say, “I’m not capable of taking this on. I’m at capacity.” It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a selfish person. It doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive. And I know what the Hollies sang back in 1969…but sometimes, even if he is your brother, he’s just too goddam heavy.
- I am the person I should be pleasing the most. (Get your minds out of the gutter people. This is serious sh*t.)
So, I invite you to benefit (for free) from the wisdom of my friend and an (expensive) therapy session, and take this on as your mantra: “It’s not my sh*t.”
(Unless, of course, it is your sh*t. Then you pretty much have to deal with it.)