*this essay was originally published at Why I Stopped
I was a lifetime pleaser of people, desperately seeking their approval so that I would feel loved.
For 30 years I all but tried to make myself invisible, wanting to keep everyone happy and not upset anyone: I minimized my needs, downplayed my feelings, lied about what I wanted or changed it to align with what people wanted around and from me, smiling on the outside the whole time, but feeling like I was slowly dying a little on the inside, and reeling with the shame caused by that dissonance. I did this all so as not to disturb the peace, and shrunk into myself as much as possible; the story I told myself was the if I made myself small enough, quiet enough, pleasant enough, then I would feel loved, and valued and appreciated.
I worked hard at this until it became my nature: I learned to hear what my intuition had to say, then promptly do the opposite, because I was sure that I was always, always wrong, and that somebody, anybody knew better than me. I took all my natural talents and abilities and shoved them under my bed, abandoning all interest in expression, creativity, music, and writing, because I felt that I would be valued more if I studied and pursued areas that were of higher value to others.
I chose relationships and situations and employment in which I felt I had to please everyone around me, feeling overlooked and undervalued – confirming that I would feel loved after i had earned it by proving myself to others and showing them how happy I could make them. I almost constantly strived to make my “presence” known my hiding the real me, and keeping up the appearance of the version of me that I thought would be appealing to whomever was there at the time. I felt like an imposter living in my own skin, not ever knowing why I didn’t feel the way I thought that acting like this would make me feel.
And then I became a mom. And when I became a mom (three times over), I felt this wonder of pure and unconditional love for my daughters, knowing that they could be anyone, do anything, and I would continue to love them how and for whom they were. And that love – that big, bright, nearly blinding love – shone a mirror back on how I felt about myself. I became aware that there was also a little girl in me, lost in there somewhere that I’d abandoned so long ago; I became aware that I had either forgotten about – or more honestly, never bothered to even try – making her happy.
Which changed everything.
I began the big and life-changing work of learning to love myself, a concept I’d previously glossed over and snickered at, or written off as something for the vain and narcissistic. I dug the hell in. I read the books, I listened to interviews, I went to therapy, enrolled in courses, and consumed all of the content that resonated with me, like I was waking up for the first time in a body I’d never truly felt was mine, with a mind that I’d never truly felt connected to.
I woke up to a brand new world of love and self-discovery, which changed my entire outlook on the world around me. I found meditation and gratitude, which lead me to forgiveness. I found joy and appreciation for living in the moment. I found there are only about three things that truly matter in this life, and the rest is mostly insignificant. I found my natural gifts and abilities, and how they supported my hobbies and interests, and how I could use that whole package to not only heal myself, but engage in an influential writing and coaching practice that would take all of the pain and disdain I’d previously felt, and transmute it into beauty and healing, for myself and for others. I found an ability to look in the mirror and not only truly see the person who was looking back at me, but look back at her with a genuine love and reverence held previous only for my own children.
I found that I could call myself beloved. Once I had the maturity and grace to call myself beloved, to make myself happy and do the things that filled me with delight, I could honour and integrate every part of me – the things I did right, the things I did wrong, and the things I’m still learning I didn’t know.
I stopped trying to make other people happy because I realized that my happiness is dependent only on me, and the happiness of others is dependent on them. I know how to augment and support my happiness with family, friends, and tacos, and I know how to bring my light into the lives of others and share it where it’s most needed. I also know that I am my one true home, and that this is the key to feeling loved: feeling at peace with you, wherever you are.