Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a people pleaser.
I have a very precise, very visceral memory of an event that took place when I was 6 years old. I feel like it sums up nicely the bizarre, unnecessary, subconscious drive I possess which requires me to lay down like a doormat at regular intervals in my life, and do things that are not in my own best interest, rather than speak up for myself and my needs.
Like I said, 6 years old. A good little girl, attending a good little Catholic school. And my mom has signed me up for Irish dancing lessons after class. Because when she asked me if I wanted to attend, I said yes. And honestly, even now, I don’t know if I said yes because I wanted to, or because I thought she wanted me to want to. It’s probably the later.
The teacher is basically an Irish Mary Poppins. There are cool costumes. The dances are pretty fun, and we get to hang out in the school after hours, which is always kind of rad.
The problem is, after a few months I realize that Irish dancing is not my thing. I hate doing the performances on stage. I’m bored with the same dances and songs. I’d rather be playing basketball.
Secondary problem, is that at this young age I’m already a class-A, full blown people pleaser and I can’t bring myself to tell my mom, or Irish Mary Poppins, that I’d like to quit. Even though I know if I do my mom will probably say something like, ‘ok then, no biggie’.
In my infinite wisdom, and perpetual fear of upsetting the other humans in my world, I decide on a vastly superior course of action. I lie.
The first time, I tell my teacher that I’m missing class this week because of a dentist appointment. She’s cool with it, no problem, see you next time. Unfortunately, by the time I get done talking to her, my mom has already left the pick up parking lot. She’s taken the carpool kids and my sister home, and won’t be back for another hour to pick me up after dancing is done.
Doubling down on my fear of disappointing others, I realize that I have no other option than to hide in the bushes behind the parking lot until class lets out, and then sneak around to the side of the building so my teacher doesn’t see me, but so my mom thinks I’m coming from class.
6. Years. Old.
And so I spend the next hour huddled in the under carriage of a large douglas fir. Slightly uncomfortable, nervous that someone will find me, scared I’ll be caught. And yet all of this accumulated discomfort is not more than the fear that by declaring my desires, someone I love might feel let down. That their disappointment will be my fault.
Mom came and got me that day, everything went smoothly. And by the next week I was ready. I had a story for mom for the day before, about the teacher’s brother being sick and class getting cancelled. Boom! No more tree hiding for me, straight home to the TV. Then I told my teacher that we had an uncle visiting and I wouldn’t be able to go. Boom again! Problem solved.
So now I’d just have to continue to think up amazing stories and excuses for both of them, for the rest of the year. My little 6 year old self had no issues with that. Tiny genius.
Unfortunately, as luck would have it, both my mom and my teacher were kind, compassionate people. Eventually Irish Mary Poppins called to check if I was ok, because gosh I’d had a lot of doctor visits lately. And Mom wanted to see if teacher’s brother was ok, because he’d been needing her help quite a lot lately. Imagine their confusion.
Seriously, imagine it! I bet it was both shocking and hilarious. Realizing you’d been bamboozled by a darling, innocent 1st grader?! I seriously wish I could remember what that was like. I mean, I was there, but all I remember is wishing I could die. Just make the decision to die, and let it happen. Or melt into the floor like the Wicked Witch. Anything to avoid the consequences of my avoidance.
Ultimately, it was a relief. It always is. Whenever I get found out, called out, when someone says just the right thing, channelling the universe and putting out the words I have to hear to finally come clean, it always feels better. The Truth feels better.
My Truth today is that, I’m still that little girl. I still don’t want to ask for what I need because it might not be the ‘right’ thing. Or it might not be what you want, which means there might be conflict, or you might not like me!
And it’s taken me 31 years to really realize that not asking doesn’t mean the needs aren’t there. And that by owning them, and voicing them, and setting up boundaries which protect and shelter them, I’m not only honoring my self, I’m presenting that self to others and allowing them to see and honor it and really appreciate and know and love it. Or not! But if not, at least I save myself the trouble and pain of trying to be something I can’t.
It’s still scary for me. I still flinch a little anytime I offer up some of my Truth. But honestly, it never doesn’t work out. And so I’m trying, offering. Working on the boundaries and listening to that little 6 year old voice inside me. Because when I feel like I can’t do it for myself, I think I can probably do it for her.