I’m sitting in the airport as I write this. I’m heading to see my parents for a few days. I haven’t seen them in about 8 months, and I’m looking forward to staying up late, eating a giant bowl of cereal while my mom and I gab into the night, or making a run to Lowe’s with my dad, just the two of us, and sharing with him about all the great things happening in my life right now; he’s a terrific listener. A few years ago, there’s no way I would be taking this random trip alone, and here’s why:
I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life. I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world. Because of my need to focus on the happiness of others, I get to experience these really tender moments of catching someone off guard when they aren’t expecting to be catered to. I love seeing others feel loved and cared for, especially when it’s someone who doesn’t get to feel that very often. I wouldn’t trade my “gift of service” for anything. But it has its drawbacks, too. I tend to be so concerned with other people’s comfort and happiness that I will sacrifice my own needs and wants for the cause. Sometimes this is right and noble and good. Other times, it’s just silly and it doesn’t benefit the receiver or myself at all. One area of my life that has been heavily affected by my need to please is my marriage.
Time in therapy has helped my hubby and I realize that our combination of “baggage” is like the perfect storm. For years, we fed off each other’s unhealthy tendencies the same way I pig out at an all-you-can-eat dessert bar: it was sticky and messy and we loved and hated every minute. My husband brought a strong parenting complex to the same table I was dishing out my “please love me”‘s at. So it played out like this: I would ask for validation for EVERYTHING, which fed into his compulsion to direct me in everything, which reaffirmed my need for his approval, which solidified his bend toward expressing approval or disapproval for every decision I made, and round and round we went. At our worst, I was so nervous about receiving disapproval from my husband that I would hide tic tacs to snack on in secret, because I enjoyed eating them more like candy and he had a strong opinion (that he freely and firmly would express to me, should he see me munching on them) that tic tacs were meant to be eaten one at a time, as any breath freshener should be. It seems like such a ridiculous issue now, but 3 years ago this was a very real problem for us. Needless to say, if eating a little box of tic tacs without concern was an issue, the idea of taking a solo trip to see my parents for a few days was a non-issue, because it wouldn’t have even been put on the table to begin with.
At that point in my journey, and in our marriage, I would never have even brought something like this up, because the moment the idea struck my mind, a hundred other thoughts would have talked me out of it.
If I’m gone for 4 days, he’ll have to take care of the dog by himself.
I shouldn’t be spending money on a trip that’s just for me.
He’a going to have to drive me to the airport and pick me up, and that might be a hassle with his work schedule.
All of these reasons and more would have convinced me that even bringing up the idea would be selfish, and a waste of time. Because although he wouldn’t tell me “no”, any hint of displeasure was just as definite to me as an actual no would be, and would make me quickly retract my request altogether. I had such a low regard for my own needs and wants that I would constantly over analyze every decision I wanted to make to determine who it might affect, how it might affect them, and whether those effects might put anyone out on ANY level. If the answer to that last piece was yes, I would retract and rethink my decision, no matter how badly I wanted something or how much it put me out to change my direction.
Then one day my therapist asked me something that changed everything for me. She asked me, “Jennifer, what would happen if you just made that decision for yourself anyway, even if it did upset someone? What’s the worst case scenario, realistically?”
I didn’t have a great answer for her question that day, but the idea has stuck with me and here’s what I’ve discovered: when I consider myself in my decisions, turns out worst case scenario isn’t that bad. In fact, sometimes–a lot of times–worst case scenario doesn’t even come close to happening! What DOES happen when I trust myself and care for myself in my life choices, is that I gain the respect of those around me. My husband starts looking to me to make more decisions, because he sees that I’m not only capable, but willing to do that. My friends become more aware of me in plans that we make, so they happily ask for my input when choosing activities or dining options. My family is understanding when I say I can’t visit or do certain favors, because I have set boundaries and clear expectations so that nobody expects more from me than I can reasonably provide. At first, making this shift in my priorities was uncomfortable on an excruciating level. Like, I’m talking painful. Tears would be shed over asserting to friends that I really DIDN’T want to go to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. But then it got a little less stressful, and I started feeling a little bolder, and then one day I made a decision for myself and actually felt really good about it! And I realized that I was worth it. I AM worth it! I am worth considering, and I am worth making sacrifices for, and the people who love me get JOY from seeing me happy and loving me well.
So tell me, what is your worst case scenario? What do the whispers in your subconscious tell you about your worth compared to others? Where is your confidence lacking, and what do you think would happen if you flipped the script? Do you have all those terrible and scary answers in your head right now? Good. Now I challenge you to tell those thoughts to bite you, and step out of your box on faith! Do something for yourself today that is really scary and just trust that it isn’t going to end in tragedy. Embrace the idea that you might actually find that YOU are worth it! And if it feels like that thing you want to do is so scary that you’re choking on your fear, grab a glass of water, take a big gulp, and push past that moment, and I promise the other side will be so much more than you could ever imagine. Let’s change the world by loving ourselves a little better today!