Janine Rees 13th July 2017
A few years ago an acquaintance gave me a great gift. I’d been rushing from one occasion to the next as we’d been invited to a few outings. Without wanting to offend anyone, I said yes to all and ran around like the proverbial headless chook and sort of did a progressive, part-time appearance at all three – which was a little bit crazy. When I sat down to the last gathering, which was the one I would have preferred to attend in all honesty, one of the guests asked why I looked so frazzled and when I told her she said, ever so kindly, “you’re such a people pleaser.”
I got the shock of my life. I’d never thought of myself in that way. I’d thought I was just being polite. I’d thought it was my duty not to offend people and that saying no meant they’d be upset with you. I was used to hearing the opinions of others and taking it to heart and the thought of someone not liking me was crushing. The words “people pleaser” stayed with me for a very long time. Again, I took that on and berated myself for being a people pleaser. The negative voice in my head was very strong and the force was weak at that stage. I needed some time with OB1 and Yoda.
The people pleasing gene is strong in women, it’s what we have been socialised to be; but it’s not good for us. I started to become more mindful of my actions. You can’t change anything unless you are aware of it, right? I’m not saying that pleasing people is a bad thing, but when you suffocate yourself to not upset others then it can be deadly. Being in a job you hate, a friendship or relationship that isn’t uplifting, following ingrained societal rules that don’t gel with you are bad for your health, both physically and mentally. I’d had my fair share of ill health and I was at a stage where it was sink or swim.
Personal development is bloody tough. Taking a good hard, honest look at yourself is unsettling. I was very unwell and overweight and not feeding my body the nutrients it needed ( probably a self sabotaging issue linked to the negative ninja in my mind – who was I to deserve to be healthy?!). I’d listened so intently to that ninja over the years, it was, and is still, really tough trying to combat it. I have achieved successful things in my life so far, though instead of focusing on the good I could pick out the one bad point and wallow in it. Fifty people could say…great job, loved it, thank you, I was so inspired, you really helped me… and all it would take was one person to say they didn’t like the food, and that was the end of it. Complete failure. Catatrophise much?!
Through trying to understand where my negativity came from I was taken back to my childhood and my schooling. I think it’s around year 3 that I started to see my ‘place’ in the world. I wasn’t one of the smart kids, though I seemed to do pretty well academically. I wasn’t one of the musical kids, though I loved to sing and dance. I wasn’t one of the sporty kids, though I always won the backstroke races. I wasn’t ‘the best’ at anything, not that it’s a pre-requisite for positive self-esteem, but surely it helps. I was fairly quiet so was able to blend into the background in the classroom. I didn’t win many awards, though every week was hopeful. When one finally did come my way it was for ‘Being best runner up”?! Hmmm. What does that even mean? I know now, as a teacher, my it means – I’m not terribly good at keeping records and I can’t remember if you’ve received an award or not…what’s your name again…are you even in my class?!
A bit of balance was what I needed and a better understanding of theory of mind. Why are those people saying that? What is their filter? Have I done something wrong here? I started to see why people behaved the way they did and stopped taking on everyone else’s opinions and issues. I realised that we are all equal and with that realisation, everything changed for me. I stopped comparing myself to others. I also stopped allowing others to put me in my ‘place’. I realised that often people need to feel superior in order to feel good about themselves. I’m sure they don’t do it consciously, but it’s rampant.
Next time someone puts you down, makes negative comments or tells you “it’s simply not possible” don’t listen. It says much more about them than it does about you, truly. Thank them for their input and move on, or take it as a challenge. There’s no greater feeling than proving the naysayers wrong, but do it for you, not for them and remember, if it was easy everyone would do it!
To begin with I started to meditate and just be. I started to learn to love myself, lumps, bumps and all just because I’m here and I’m worthwhile. It wasn’t a quick process and having faced trauma in my past it was quite emotionally unravelling and draining. I started remembering the things I love to do and do them just for the enjoyment. As a teacher I was really good at spotting myself in my students. I began to realise how damaging the mainstream education system is to large numbers of children and I started on a journey to find schools that were nurturing and supportive of each individual. I had found my passion and purpose and I can’t tell you how amazing that feels.
When you think about the problems of the world they all boil down to damage – either damage in a particular area of the brain or the body, emotional damage or environmental damage. Sometimes the damage is accidental, though through caution many accidents can be avoided. The damage we do have control over is the damage we ourselves cause. It all comes back to choices. Understanding why others make the choices they do can be very helpful. Checking whether it is us or if it is them is a very useful life skill. DO NO HARM and BE KIND ALWAYS are my daily mantra now.
In a world where everyone was completely honest it would be easy to understand the motivation behind others’ actions. Unfortunately we’re not there yet. As the saying goes… what others think of you is none of your business. Trying to control or influence how others think about you is a recipe for disaster. Many paradigms or belief systems are so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine an alternative but once you open your mind you can’t go back. So what will it be… the red or the blue pill?