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Onions and People; We Both Have Layers

When I introduce myself before a talk or at a meeting I usually describe myself as a recovering people-pleasing, perfectionist, good girl. Just to be clear I don’t generally do that at non-work related events, that could get weird. But, in reality that is exactly who I am. I choose to use the word “recovering” because old habits, patterns, and learned behaviors run deep. Research shows us that over time repeated thoughts actually create neural pathways in the brain. We can absolutely change our thoughts and behaviors and even create new neural pathways, but it takes work. I like the metaphor that people are like onions in that we both have layers (as do ogres, shout out to Shrek fans). When I become aware of and work on an old pattern or belief, I am essentially impacting the outer layers of a long-held and deeply embedded belief. There is always deeper work to do. I’m not sharing this to discourage you. In my experience, gaining awareness of a belief or pattern can start to shift how we see our world and our reactions. That is a good thing. Digging deeper continues that growth pattern.

You would think that as someone who is comfortable standing up in front of a room full of people and declaring herself a people-pleaser that I’d have knocked that behavior right out of the park. Over it. Done. But this my friends is a deeply rooted pattern for me. I think it stems from years of trying to fit in with my much older siblings, to prove to them that I wasn't a dork and my constant attempts to smooth things over with bullies when they were making my life feel like a living hell.

Lately I have again become aware of how I bend, acquiesce, or overproduce/over achieve to make people happy, to fit in, to be accepted; hell let’s just put it in plain English to be liked. In my head it can sound like:

I don’t want to let this person down...

I’m worried that…

I don’t want her to feel bad…

I don’t want to upset…

By doing this pre-emptive “smoothing over” I’m not trusting people to be responsible for their own feelings and actions. And it is often at the expense of my own feelings, opinions, or ideas. I want to be clear, I have done work on this issue before. I really used to hold my tongue and worry when I did let opinions slip out. This was to my own detriment and I am not that person any longer. But, I am an onion and this deeper layer is coming out more subtly these days. I noticed recently a sense of relief when a friend wasn’t disappointed in me or maybe she was disappointed but still loved me. I had no idea how much fear I’d been carrying until the relief came. I spent a little time tracing the feelings back to discover that I had been holding on to a long held belief that disappointing people results in them disappearing from my life. That’s a rough one and not true.

With this awareness, I am vowing to no longer swing on a pendulum of other people's emotions, opinions, or thoughts; perceived or otherwise. I know that someone's lack of enthusiasm could be disappointment in me, but it could just as likely be that they are having a bad day. I am on to this default behavior that causes me to (1) jump to a conclusion that someone else's mood or actions means something about me and (2) that I might lose them as a result. We cannot control the thoughts/actions of another and according to Byron Katie what others do or think is really none of our business. So, the lesson for me (and hopefully you too) is to stand firm in who I know myself to be. To do my best, express my opinions, thoughts and ideas, but not to let old fears stop me or dilute my message. How others respond to me is beyond my control. This is the "recovering" part.

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