It never struck me that there’s a difference between kindness and people-pleasing. Not until I spoke at length to my therapist a few years ago about how exhausting being kind is. She pointed out to me that the exhaustion I was feeling was not due to kindness but to co-dependency. I didn’t know I was people-pleasing. I just thought I was super compassionate and hated to see people suffer. She said I was acting on my trauma responses in a multitude of ways that are bound tightly together. While some of my actions were due to my kind nature, other actions were due to hypervigilance and preventing a catastrophic outcome.
I Still Struggle
Oh boy, do I struggle. Every day still. It’s the one part of my recovery that I have yet to conquer. I’m better with strangers these days, but horrendous with my own family. Doing for others is so inbuilt in my personality that I just can’t shake it. And my therapist is right. I’m used to living in chaos and crisis since childhood. I can predict an outcome almost expertly and if that outcome is a disaster then I’ll do my best to avoid it. It’s easy to let strangers receive their consequences. However, when it’s your own children or people you love it’s a different story. Yes, I agree that they have to have consequences to learn life lessons, but sometimes those consequences are left up to parents to clean up. It sounds selfish, but to be brutally honest, I do not have the capacity to deal with more chaos created by the people close to me. It’s easier to prevent than to fix.
What Does Kindness Versus People Pleasing Look Like?
My therapist gave me some examples regarding my behavior that resemble kindness but are definitely co-dependence. Of course, I hated every single thing she said but was willing to sit and listen – and argue! She began with:
Saying No when I’m at my limit -v- Saying Yes, then feeling exhausted and resentful after.
This is me on a continuous basis. My argument to my therapist was – “well who’s going to do it if I don’t?” Her answer was, “Somebody else.”
“Letting another person know they have hurt me -v- Keeping my feelings quiet out of shame or fear.
I’m horrendous at this. Me expressing my feelings has been shot down my whole life. They’ve been minimized and I’ve been called crazy. I still have a deep belief that I’m only important when I have something to give to others. As a result, I often feel separated and lonely. I’m not sure if I will ever overcome that belief but I’m trying.
Standing up for myself -v- Denying my own truth. Now this I am good at. For some reason, my tolerance for bullying and injustice is zero. You definitely won’t coerce me or force me into something. And god help anyone who crosses my children. I guess I’m not a total failure.
Progress, not perfection
And of course, this is true. The acceptance that I will never be perfect and I may never overcome some of my people-pleasing ways. I understand where this part of me comes from. It’s because of a multitude of things, mostly cultural conditioning, and trauma. I am indeed a work in progress.