Confessions of a Stage-Four People Pleaser

zen cat anyaMy junior year of college, I bought a used computer for $100. It was cheap because the thing was as huge as it was heavy. The challenge was to walk with this cumbersome piece of technology across campus to my dorm. I was finally to the steps of Holy Cross Hall when I tripped and fell flat on my face.

Did I issue a four-letter word?

Of course not.

I apologized.

To the student who was on the stairs staring at me.

“Why are you apologizing to me?” She asked.

“Because … I’m an adult child of an alcoholic?”

I always think about this story as I prepare my apology for, say, breathing, eating, sneezing, sleeping, talking, existing.

I desperately want everyone’s approval, not excluding the Fed Ex guy, the bank teller, the barista, the technical support person for GoDaddy.com.

I’m sure it goes back to inner child issues, of being my mom’s counselor as a kid, and wanting so badly to earn the love of my father.

Yes, I’ve been in therapy. For 14 years. But the problem with therapy is that I need to make sure my therapist knows she is doing a good job. Nothing like forking over $125 to make someone feel good about themselves.

I’m definitely making progress, though.

Because last week I did something hard.

When I wrote my piece, “What I Wish People Knew About Depression,” I could hear all of the voices of the people in my life who have told me how to cure depression: from the relatives who believed in energy work or reiki with a natural healer (who can only work with people off all medication) to my psychiatrist and all the experts I met at Johns Hopkins who advocate traditional medicine. They did not agree with parts of the blog. I could visualize the holistic doctor I worked with shaking her head at what I wrote as well as my meditation teachers. My words did not fit into their belief systems. I could hear and see the disagreeing, and the gestures of disappointment, but I kept writing. I arrived at my truth anyway.

And then I did something even harder.

I sent it to a person whom I respect very much and is really important in my recovery from depression. I sent it to her even though I suspected she wouldn’t like a few paragraphs.

I should have been prepared for a curt, polite response.

But I was hurt when it came.

It felt as though I received a big, fat D on my paper, an essay that, for me, was the expression of 43 years of trying to find an end to the pain of depression, a scavenger hunt through different fields of medicine and pockets of remedies looking for some healing, a quiet place to plant my maddening mind.

“Ah, the imaginary grade,” a friend of mine said to me after I whined to her about my deserving an A. “When will we ever stop giving ourselves imaginary grades from people?”

The Buddha spoke.

I could have listened to my very wise friend and stopped with all my efforts to win A++++++s. I could have told myself that I’d done good, that my piece lived up to its purpose: to make people with depression feel less alone.

But I didn’t.

Because I am not a stage-one people pleaser.

I am stage four.

Instead I brainstormed on whose approval would matter the most, and I came up with Andrew Solomon, author of the bestseller “The Noonday Demon: At Atlas of Depression,” one of this country’s most celebrated writers on the topic of depression.

If he likes it, I’m cool.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had gotten a curt, polite “stop bugging me, you stalker” message from him, or nothing. I probably would have had to do more brainstorming and written to Kay Redfield Jamison or someone else famous.

But I didn’t have to!

Andrew wrote me a beautiful response, congratulating me on my important mission.

Ahhh. Approval at last.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

 

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13 thoughts on “Confessions of a Stage-Four People Pleaser

  1. People pleasing or people accuser is just us unproductive. You are doing something positive working to get rid of this monster.

    Our daughter is seeking help at Hopkins we hear. All she does is accuse us & send rude & curt Cap long & shot email. Or she threaten us with by phone calls & her silence.This hurts. This hurts. We often cry in despair not knowing what we should do as parents. The voices in her head is much louder & powerful, it will wake up the dead. She is writing a book we hear. We fear she is not only hurting us she is hurting her self most of all. Depression is eating her up bit by bits & killing us before our time. She is depriving her kids from knowing the grandparents. This is more than a wicked illness. It hurts more than her alone. It hurts us all.

    Shanti

  2. Oops!

    People pleasing or people accuser is just us unproductive. You are doing something positive working to get rid of this monster.

    Our daughter is seeking help at Hopkins we hear. All she does is accuse us. She send us rude, curt, long & shot all Cap email. Or she threaten us with phone calls & her long silence.This hurts. This hurts. We often cry in despair not knowing what we should do as parents. The voices in her head is much louder & powerful, it will wake up the dead. She is writing a book we hear. We fear she is not only hurting us she is hurting her self most of all. Depression is eating her up bit by bits & killing us before our time. She is depriving her kids from knowing the grandparents. This is more than a wicked illness. It hurts more than her alone. It hurts us all.

    Shanti

  3. Hi Therese, I love your Confessions post and totally relate! I would love to get together and talk, walk or whatever. My schedule is very flex and we aren’t going anywhere for the Thanksgiving…. Feel free to call me or send me your contact info and I’ll come find you if you’re hibernating:) Peace and Love, Brenda

    Brenda Brown 410 353 5837

  4. Thank you so much, Therese. You’re helping me and, indirectly my son, tremendously. I recently chose to reveal to one of my closest friends that I’ve been on anti-depressants for 15 years. I knew she’d judge me because she’s a medical provider (!) who for the entire time I’ve known her I’ve heard judge and ridicule psych meds and the people who take them. (She has a bumper sticker on her car that says ‘God grant me to be the person my psychiatrist medicates me to be).
    I no longer wanted to hide this from one of my closest friends. Especially since I recently tried off meds and became severely depressed and withdrawn. Just coming back after months of agony. I wanted her to know. She’s been distant since the news, but we’re getting together later this week… (She did share that she thinks I probably permanently changed my brain for the worse by the meds, so will always need them; hence finding sort of a way to blame my depression on me and my med-taking after all).
    At 61 years of age I’m striving to be authentic, help break down the stigma, and yet avoid my ‘Adult Child’ tendency to trust the wrong people and share too much. Complicated!
    thanks so much.

  5. YES !! We CAN do hard things, and it was/is most important to you write your truth. Thankful you got validated by someone who understands. Love, Hugs, BLESSINGS

  6. Please don’t doubt yourself, I am a clinician and I’m using your article, “What I wish people knew about depression, it has been amazing. Clients are able to identify themselves in and with your words, so clearly and boldly. It has been an eye-opening and reminds me, yes a professional of how hard living with depression really is…. Helping me to understand depression at another level. You share yourself so openly and bravely, so transparent. THANK YOU. Sharon Harrell, LPCMH, ThD.

      1. My pleasure continue to do what you do. God bless you! One of my favorite quotes as a helper. “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Carl Jung You my friend are a light in a dark place. Glory be to God!

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