Hi, my name is Elli and I am a recovering people pleaser. I want to make other people happy, which always seemed like a good goal to have. However, this well-intentioned aim got me into hot water. I was trying to be everything to everyone.
About ten years ago, life was tiring. My girls were tiny, and I was pregnant with my son. I had lots of friends and a brilliant husband who was very busy with work. There was a small group in church that I ran, that was made up of lots of fantastic women who were also in the same life stage as me.
Like me, they were tired all the time
My group was always making meals for a new Mum, grieving over another miscarriage, praying for a sick child, or supporting someone through IVF. There were practical and emotional needs in abundance.
I felt pressure to care for these women, that I should be able to support them all. However, I was regularly aware things were slipping through the net. I missed the mark often and let them down.
I would beat myself up for my inconsistency, my inability to meet all their needs. That meant I had set myself an impossible task.
Rather than realising this I re-doubled my efforts, giving myself another pep talk and ploughed on.
Crippling guilt overwhelmed me
I wound up exhausted and anxious, with cripplingly low self-worth. I ended up not knowing who I was anymore.
Overwhelmed, guilty and overloaded, I prioritised everyone else’s emotional needs above my own.
This was bad for me and bad for my family. Eventually it became clear this was not sustainable.
I have found a healthier way of life
As I have moved toward a healthier way of being, I have increasingly noticed I am not alone in this way of living. There are lots of us, (especially women), and you’ll find a great number in caring professions and in the church. We have stretched the good gift of compassion too far, who are unable to see the line between caring for others and over-responsibility.
My concern and desire to make others happy had become soul-wearying empathy. It was as though all the hard things my friends and family were going through became my problems too. I would worry about them and feel as though I should be able to solve or at least ease their woes.
I felt I couldn’t stop, that I was needed, essential. This, briefly, gave me a sense of self-importance but also left me exhausted and unable to think clearly.
Then I would wind up feeling frustrated that my life was so difficult. This lack of boundaries and inability to care for myself ended badly. It always does.
Five indicators your empathy muscle is overworked
Just in case you are not sure if this applies to you, here are a few ways you can tell if your empathy muscle is overworked. Here are 5 indicators that your desire to care for others has become self-destructive.
1. You feel a great pressure to make other people happy. It is rare that you state your preferences, and you’re willing to acquiesce to a stronger voice, or person you deem more in need. Often, you carry all the information about everyone else’s desires and dreams.
2. You over-commit, and struggle to say no, or to know what you should say no to. Too often, you find yourself looking at the week ahead with dread as you wonder how you will manage all you have agreed to. You think if you physically can squeeze in another thing (meal to make, lift to give, coffee, meeting) you should. There are no margins in your life, no time for hobbies or spontaneity.
3. You feel overwhelmed by other people’s problems. At night you awaken, wondering how friends and colleagues will get through their hard time. You are always sending texts, rushing to someone’s bedside or to get them out of a difficult situation. Everyone calls on you when they are in need because they know you won’t or can’t say no.
4. You rarely ask for help. The vision of yourself, as the strong one others can turn to, denies you the possibility of true vulnerable friendships. You’re thinking, is there is time or space for you to have needs? Everyone else is obviously having a harder time than you, so how could you possibly voice a desire or request?
5. You feel you can’t keep up with all the needs and your stress levels rise. At night you struggle to sleep and have forgotten how to rest. Feelings of guilt overwhelm you because you think you should be doing more. Soon you will start to feel anxious and panic will make itself known.
You are NOT superhuman
I’m telling you, not as a threat, but as reality, you are not superhuman.
Learning how to live a life where you are not constantly trying to please everyone else is a process. But the first step is acknowledgement.
This behaviour is not changed overnight, but recognising it is the first step. Once you see it, you can do something about it, which then clears the path for you to be able to begin looking after yourself properly.
If you see yourself in this post
If this post has sounded familiar, please don’t ignore it. Talk to someone, ask for help, begin to think about how to establish some healthy boundaries. It is not easy, but so worth it.
And remember, you are doing great.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here