Are you a martyr? Do you sacrifice what you want in order to please other people? Is it because you fear that they will reject you or walk away if you don’t give them what they want?
If so, you are part of a big crowd of people who subordinate their wishes to others. This isn’t a problem in itself, and it rather depends what those wishes are. So let’s look at the different versions of wish-sacrificing. See if you recognise yourself. First, the control freak.
THE CONTROL FREAK
The control freak actually wants others to do what they want. As part of a big plan of action, they begin by appearing to conform to others’ wishes. They gather around them a series of people with acute needs. They weave themsleves into those lives, and then set about creating dependence on themselves, so that they can take on a job as general manager of everyone around them. Then begin the speeches about how they have to subordinate their wishes to everyone else. But what they have done is create the relationship by their own actions.
IF YOU’RE A CONTROL FREAK…
It’s tough, but you’re going to have to get used to your own company. Right at the beginning of those relationships, you started to position yourself as someone who was needed. Your fear might be your own redundancy. But if ‘what you want’ has become ‘what the needy people around me want’, then you are trapped in a cycle of others’ need. You are going to need to become redundant in order to find out what YOU want. Initially, you might find you have no idea, or have forgotten. You may need to give yourself a lot of space to find out what you wish.
Second, the people-pleaser.
The people-pleaser, unlike the control freak, does not really need to be needed. The people-pleaser just lives in fear of others’ anger or rejection. They might have had a parent who was quick to anger, and so they have learned to be watchful of, and to avoid, other people’s displeasure. It becomes the thing they are trained for – pacifying others. Such people often become nurses or carers: they are expert at absorbing displeasure and averting it. They cheer up patients; socialise angry partners; make excuses, frankly, for complete shitheads. Their motivation is short-term: to avoid the panic in themselves that others’ anger causes.
IF YOU’RE A PEOPLE-PLEASER
You’re going to have to get used to upsetting others. Practice by choosing some things that you don’t like, and telling people about them. Tell your angry partner that you don’t like their moods. Start holding other people at least a little accountable for their own tantrums. Do not consider yourself responsible for other people’s bad moods. You are brilliant at empathising, at detecting displeasure. But let it go; leave others to manage it.
Finally, the duty junkie.
THE DUTY JUNKIE
The duty junkie doesn’t need to control, nor to please others. The duty junkie has a map of the world which includes moral imperatives, and they override personal wishes. They align themselves with Joan of Arc, Jesus, and a host of others who sacrificed their own wellbeing to the wellbeing of others (though I suspect the real Jesus was pretty chilled, actually). Often, they were brought up in tightly controlled religious environments, where all the literature and ritual supported a way of life dedicated to service.
IF YOU’RE A DUTY-JUNKIE
You’re very hard to help! You will always have a reason to apply the rules of your chosen moral outlook. Whether you are a grammar-Nazi, dedicated to eradicating poor language; an evangelist, dedicated to projecting your inherited version of ‘the truth’; a priest, vocationally tuned to serve a political, religious, social or academic system… whichever version you are, you will always have a ready-made set of justifications for your behaviour. An economist has an academic culture decicated to its own perpetuation; a researcher the same; a queen has a royal tradition…
A duty junkie may have to formally leave their home environment in order to be happy. if there are aspects of your official duty structure that you disagree with, then you may have to learn to be more vocal in your opposition. You will be branded a rebel, but really you are speaking up for the obvious: you are saying that no organised moral structure can cater for every context.
If you have a nagging feeling that you are unhappy because you never do what you want to do… then choose one of the following options:
1. If you are stuck helping needy people around you, then run away and give yourself space to find out your own likes and dislikes.
2. If you are stuck pacifying the angry people around you, then start being vocal about what YOU don’t like.
3. If you are stuck conforming to a restrictive moral code, then start to vocally oppose the restrictive aspects of it.
1. Take a holiday
2. Be open about what you don’t like
3. Be clear where moral restrictiveness makes you uncomfortable
However, if you want to remain a dutiful, people-pleasing control freak, then do ignore my advice and carry on. That would be the expected behaviour for your condition! 😉