I never had a close friend group growing up the way other kids did. When you’re a child, your friendships rest firmly on your parents’ ability to maintain relationships and your ability to put into action what they teach you about creating and maintaining relationships.
But what happens when they don’t teach you what to do?
My parents didn’t focus very much energy on scheduling play dates or teaching me about healthy relationship maintenance. In fact, they didn’t spend much energy on me at all other than communicating their expectations for my life and behavior and punishing me when I didn’t meet those expectations.
I came to find that they didn’t really listen to me when I tried to express my thoughts and emotions. I had never learned how to express what I needed from them in a way that they would understand, and I wasn’t sure if they would be open to my needs even if they did understand.
I just wanted one person in the world that saw me for who I really was and loved me because of it rather than in spite of my downfalls. I wanted to feel secure, heard, and needed. Instead, I felt like I didn’t have a place in the world.
I found my place as the peacekeeper, doing everything I could to avoid conflict with my family or to mend the conflicts that occurred between my parents and siblings.
I embraced being invisible, because at least I wasn’t being criticized.
I did everything I could to make the people around me happy in the hopes that they would stay, even if that meant bending over backwards to give them what they wanted.
In high school, my need to please others only grew. Instead of just my family or friends, I looked around and thought about what other people must be thinking about me. I thought about the religious and societal expectations put upon me, and I stewed in my frustration over them.
I felt like the only time I was ever seen by other people was when I did what they wanted me to do, so I started saying, “yes,” to everyone.
I put my needs aside, even sacrificing my mental health, in the “selfless” pursuit of gaining everyone’s approval.
It seeped into every aspect of my life. I began having panic attacks when I didn’t meet these expectations. The idea of disappointing someone I cared about was daunting. I started dating, and fell into relationships with people that were manipulative, controlling, and cruel.
My life looked good “on paper,” but I was hiding that I was gay, that I was mentally ill, and that I needed help.
Every time a friendship or relationship ended, I spiraled into a pit of self-loathing, vowing to never repeat the same mistake again.
In college, I hit rock bottom. I went into Freshman year with the resolution that I would be my most authentic self and find my chosen family. I had just gotten out of a two year relationship, moved out of my parents’ house, and was ready to face the world.
The funny thing is, I thought I really did it. I thought I ended nearly 20 years of people pleasing patterns just by saying I would. In truth, I just redesigned the mask I wore for a new audience.
I met someone who I really connected with during my Sophomore year. We had so much in common, and became inseparable. Over six months, we spent nearly every day together.
I knew that this person would be in my life forever, and that I would do anything to keep their approval and love.
I isolated myself from my other friends and neglected my studies to focus on them. Doing that, to me, was a sign that I was letting go of other people’s expectations and focusing on the first real connection I had ever felt. Really, I just placed all of my worth in what they expected of me instead.
After everything I did, they still left. One night, they stopped responding to my messages, stopped answering my calls, and made it clear that I was no longer welcome in their dorm room. They never spoke to me again, completely without warning or cause.
All of the “progress” I thought I had made crumbled.
I was left alone again with no identity outside of that person. I had been used, manipulated, and thrown away again. I had let my grades slip, my mental health decline, my relationships wither, and my self worth disintegrate.
The next two years were spent recovering from that loss. Somewhere in my journey, I lost who I was. I started from the very bottom, rediscovering myself and figuring out what I really wanted from life. I had to crawl my way up alone, but you don’t have to.
Here’s the hard truth: My parents didn’t teach me how to communicate my needs in a healthy way or acknowledge my thoughts and emotions, so I never communicated my needs in a healthy way and I ignored my thoughts and emotions.
In my case, I dealt with rejection from my family and emotionally unavailable parenting. I developed a deep fear of rejection, and sought out other’s approval however I could.
I sought out the same power dynamic in my relationships and got stuck in a cycle of rejection and self sabotage.
When I learned that these were the reasons I was a people pleaser, I even put myself down for not having the skills to connect in a healthy way or pull myself out of these toxic patterns, completely disregarding the fact that I could never have them if they were never taught to me. I needed to forgive myself for letting this continue for so long, forgive my parents for neglecting my needs, and move forward with re-parenting myself and healing my inner child so I could live my life on my own terms and never feel invisible again.
Friends, if you get anything out of this article, I hope that it’s this: continuing to be a people pleaser won’t change anything. You can’t know what you never learned, and it’s time to heal your inner child.
Forgive yourself for your past mistakes. Forgive your parents for not giving you what you needed. You deserve to heal and grow into who you’re meant to be.
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Dani & Keely (Op-Ed By Kat Hayes, Marketing Assistant for Coming Out Happy)
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