As a people-pleaser, my truth holds me accountable.

Workman wielding a hammer near a brick wall.
Image by kalhh from Pixabay.

A couple of years ago, we hired an electrician—I’ll call him Ed—to install a ceiling fan on the front porch and a new wall switch in the foyer.

Because there was a light switch in the living room on the other side of the foyer wall, the new switch would have to be installed lower than usual. My husband explained the situation to Ed, who understood.

Ed’s assistant—I’ll call him Jack—came the following day to do the work. I was in the kitchen when I heard a muffled curse and immediately knew what had happened. When I went to investigate, sure enough, there was a gaping hole in the plaster, exposing the back side of the living room light switch.

The correct and incorrect location of the wall switch. As a people-pleaser, this presented a challenge.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the misplaced hole.

Damn. I hated seeing that hole, but, even more, I hated the conflict it presented. As a people-pleaser, I’d rather scrub a toilet than face a conflict.

There were a number of ways I could have responded:

1) I could have yelled and make a fuss:

This is exactly what I feared would happen! We told your boss the switch couldn’t go there. You’d better fix it and it had better be perfect!

The very thought of making a scene like this gives me the heebie-jeebies. For better or for worse, I’d rather have a hole the size of New Jersey in my wall than yell at the person who put it there. Jack already felt horrible, I assumed, and I didn’t want to make him feel worse. The damage was done, literally, and yelling at him would not patch the plaster.

A people-pleaser is usually more concerned with another person’s feelings than their own.

2) I could have calmly expressed my anger in tone and words:

Jack, this is really maddening. We explained to Ed why the switch couldn’t go there. Didn’t he tell you?

This type of response wouldn’t patch the plaster either, but it would honor my feelings. A mistake was made, and I had every right to be mad and to express it. Most of my regrets in life–not that I dwell on regrets, but I try to learn from them–happen because I hadn’t honored my negative feelings, and didn’t speak up about them. I wish I had learned early on in life to express anger appropriately, but what I learned was to not express it at all. As you suspected, I didn’t choose this option.

A people-pleaser often doesn’t know how to express anger constructively.

3) I could have squashed my feelings and minimized the problem.

“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. These old houses are always tricky. The hole can be fixed.”

Sigh. I’m sorry to say this was my choice. No problem! is my default. Face-to-face, in-the-moment, person-to-person conflict makes me so uncomfortable, I often pretend there isn’t a problem. I pretend I don’t care or that I’m not mad or upset or disappointed or annoyed or ready to explode.

I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth.

I’m telling my truth to hold myself accountable.

A hole in the wall rates only a meh in the scheme of life. But by “outing” myself about these minor incidents, I hope to better understand and come to terms with the incidents that really matter, like the story in my memoir. And I hope to outgrow my toxic agreeability.

I tell my truth as a way to hold myself accountable.

I tell my truth in hopes that it will inspire others to explore and free themselves of their own people-pleasing habits.

I’m telling my truth to inspire other people-pleasers to free themselves.

The hole-in-the-wall scene is Act 1 of my wall-switch story. Dealing with Jack was the easy part. Confronting Ed, his boss, was the hard part–the part that left me with regrets. I’ll tell that scene next week.

(If you’re not subscribed and you don’t want to miss Act 2, just find the “subscribe” button and provide your email.)

If you’re a people-pleaser and you’d like to call yourself out, feel free to email me your story at contact@karendebonis.com (just click on “Contact” in the menu bar) and I’ll keep it between us.

If you’re feeling bolder, please add your comment below. (If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post and scroll to the bottom.)

Who knows? If my story inspired you, your story may inspire others. Together, we’ll grow stronger backbones and thicker skins. Together, we’ll be free.

An old introvert learns new tricks.

Two people discuss what it's like to be "peopled out."
Credit: Aaron Caycedo-Kimura. Used with permission.

Before my mom died, she and my dad regularly ate lunch in the dining room of their senior facility. Mom didn’t have the energy to make it down for breakfast and dinner, so they had those meals delivered to their apartment.

Mom, an extrovert, missed the socializing, but the schedule suited Dad, an introvert. I take after Dad, so when I visited, the limited “peopling” suited me, too.

For introverts, “peopling” is draining rather than energizing.

When our trio went down for lunch, I pulled out every reluctant extrovert cell in my body (and there are a few) for a song-and-dance-show. I turned on the charm. Since Mom wasn’t always her usual bubbly self and she so desperately wanted to make friends, I tried to be her girlfriend ambassador.

Those ninety-minute lunches drained me, but it was OK since I had a whole day to recover.

In case you don’t know, one of the hallmarks of being an introvert is not that you dislike people and/or socializing, but that “peopling” is draining rather than energizing. And just like any drained battery, introverts need to recharge.

After Mom died two weeks ago, I thought Dad might wither away in his room, but he put on his big boy pants and started going down to all three meals. I’m visiting him now, still turning on the charm at lunch and sometimes dinner, this time on his behalf.

After one particular noisy lunch gathering, my charm quickly wore thin. “I can’t believe you do this every day,” I told Dad on our way back to his apartment.

Introverts need to recharge.

When I got back, I opened my email, found this article about introverts and the cartoon above by the talented Aaron Caycedo-Kimura. It nailed my exact feelings. When I showed it to Dad, he agreed, with a laugh.

For too many decades, I was so caught up in people-pleasing, in wanting to fit it with the extrovert world, I ignored my need for solitude. And although I often enjoyed “peopling,” I ignored my need for recovery.

Mom and I had often talked about our extrovert and introvert experiences, but Dad and I never bonded over our introvert inclinations. Until now.

At eighty-seven, newly widowed after sixty-three years of marriage, Dad is living proof that it’s never too late to learn and you’re never too old to grow.

At sixty, newly bonded with my dad, I’m learning and growing, too.

[If you don’t see the comment box here, click on the title of this post, scroll to the bottom and, Voila! Or, you can click on “Contact” in the menu bar and send me an email. I really do want to hear from you!]

I’m in mental health therapy. It’s no big deal.

Photo courtesy Pexels.com

I have a therapist—a mental health counselor—who I see regularly.

It’s no big deal.

I’m not mentally ill. I don’t have drug or alcohol addictions. And I’m not in the middle of a big transition like divorce, serious illness, a loved one’s death, relocating, losing a job, or starting a job.

And yet, I see a therapist.

My point is that you don’t have to have a specific diagnosis or life-altering crisis or HUGE problem to engage in counseling. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Mental health counseling doesn’t have to be a big deal.

I’ve been in counseling many times in my life, starting when I was an overweight 16-year-old, my self-esteem in the toilet. In college, and as a young adult, I also sought help. And then again in 1997, when motherhood overwhelmed me because my 10-year-old son Matthew was falling apart from what would later be diagnosed as a brain tumor. (OK, that WAS a big deal, but we didn’t know it was first.)

Recently, three life events sent me back to my therapist:

  • Writing my memoir, and re-living the challenging years of parenting Matthew through his brain tumor.
  • The pain and isolation and frustration of my chronic illness, year six.
  • Growing pains. Sigh. Yes, still, at 60.

Mental health counseling is more than a bandaid.

My husband has strong shoulders to cry on, and my friends have ears open to listening, but sometimes I need a neutral, skilled party to help me weed through the surface shit and find the core of what’s bothering me. Friends and loved ones are sometimes just bandaids–very caring and soothing, but bandaids all the same. Therapy is like open-heart surgery–it gets to the source of the angst.

Some people don’t “do” counseling.

Earlier in my career, when I was a student assistance counselor in elementary schools, if I assessed a student who could benefit from counseling, I would ask the parents to consider it.

“I don’t DO counseling,” I often heard.

I get it. Some people would rather have a tooth pulled than to bare their souls to a stranger. Some people don’t feel the need to dig deep into their personalities or lives to figure themselves out. Some people won’t air their “dirty laundry” beyond family or friends. There’s no judgement here.

But if you had a recurrent pain in your calf or elbow or any there body part, when it got to be too much to bear, wouldn’t you see a doctor to treat it?

If you had a toothache, wouldn’t you see a dentist to stop the pain?

If you’re confused or sad or angry or don’t know how you feel, but you know you feel something and you want to feel better, why wouldn’t you reach out to get that help?

I reach out for help from a mental health professional because I love figuring myself out. I feel and think very deeply about just about everything…as my husband would attest. I’ve got more layers than an onion, more sides than a prism. Counseling helps me understand myself and my relationship to the world. We all have just one chance at this life, and I want to be my best self as I fumble through.

Mental health counseling is like running a marathon.

I love counseling in the way that some runners love marathons. It’s hard work. It’s usually painful. It challenges you to push through fear and self-doubt and find your inner strength. It makes you a better person in the end. For me, it’s all about personal growth, and counseling is the ultimate fertilizer.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness month, I’m sharing my “no big deal” story in hopes that it will normalize counseling. I hope to de-stigmatize asking for, and receiving support from, a professional to help you obtain, regain, and/or maintain your emotional health.

Despite my convictions, I’m nervous about this disclosure.

In spite of my conviction that counseling need not be hidden because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m still a little nervous about “outing” myself to the world on this topic. It just goes to show we all still have work to do.

I hope you’ll do the work with me. If you want counseling, I hope you’ll get it. If you’re in counseling, I hope you won’t hide it. If you’d like to “out” yourself here with a comment, go for it. I’m with you 100%.

Together, we can make caring for our emotional selves no big deal.

Resources:

How do you find a therapist? Click here, and below for some resources.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health-providers/art-20045530

Also, many states and local governments have departments of mental health, or behavioral health, and may help you find sliding fee services.