People Pleaser

The title makes me think of that song that goes “One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater”… anyways.

My whole life, I’ve always felt like I’ve had to prove myself to others. Like if I didn’t do everything exactly right the very first time, they’d think poorly of me. I’ve also always been someone who will do things for others even if it comes at a personal cost. It’s been about pleasing others, all the time, and never failing to do so.

Only lately have I started to realize how destructive of a mindset this is. And I’ve been able to identify it as one of the biggest driving forces behind my eating disorder. It was always about making myself better so that I could be greater for others. Recovery has been much the same way. Very rarely do I ever feel like I’m engaging in recovery for myself. Most of the time I have to think of others in order to keep motivated.

This works to an extent. It’s a means to an end. It keeps me moving forward, but sooner or later, I hit a wall.

Anyone who’s also a people pleaser will know what I’m referring to. You run out of the ability to justify what you’re doing. You feel like you’re not doing it well enough, so why even bother? Everyone already thinks you’re a failure anyways.

This is a prime example of the phenomenon of black and white thinking. What exactly is that?

Well, it basically involves having no space for grey area in your thought process. Something is either true or it’s false. You’re either perfect and good enough, or a complete and utter failure.

It sounds silly to say out loud, doesn’t it? But it’s a lot harder to make that determination than it ought to be.

I’m here to try and convince you that the “grey area” is really, really important. It’s something I’ve learned over the past few months.

Having an eating disorder became a form of perfectionism for me. It was all about controlling exactly what I ate and how I looked with a rigidity that was unbreakable. But it was never for my own personal benefit. I suffered from the delusion that if I somehow had an eating disorder perfectly, then I would be better. Others would like me more. I’d be happier, more friendly, more open.

Obviously, that was just about the farthest thing from the truth. But as I went deeper and deeper into the trap of anorexia, I became less and less capable of discerning that.

Oftentimes I feel like if I can’t have an eating disorder perfectly, then I need to do recovery perfectly. As if people will be upset with me for not doing the absolute best and most that I can at all times.

Again, doesn’t that sound horribly irrational? Yes and no.

Because it’s so easy to rationalize. If you do something well, of course people will like you more. If you look a certain way, of course people will like you more. If you’re a better version of yourself, of course people will like you more. It seems only logical. Why would someone like a failure like yourself?

That’s the problematic thought right there. The idea that you’re somehow a failure if you aren’t one hundred perfect perfect at everything you attempt. That people will place you in some sort of permanent “negative column” that you can never escape from.

Last week in treatment we did an activity around this sort of monochromatic thinking. We were asked to write down some “should” statements that related to things we thought we “should” be doing.

What did I write?

I should be able to do recovery and everything I try perfectly.

I should be happy all the time.

I shouldn’t do things that are bad for my health.

I should be the best version of myself possible.

Should, should, should. It’s a destructive word. When I said these things aloud, they sounded completely bonkers. Of course I shouldn’t be happy all the time; that would be creepy. Of course I shouldn’t be able to do everything I try perfectly; mistakes are an essential and inherent part of human nature.

But it’s so much easier to realize that in theory than it is in practice.

Here’s the truth of the matter, though.

You do not have to prove yourself to anyone. This does not mean to avoid striving to be better, but do it for yourself, not for others.

You do not have to please everyone. It is natural for people to be discontented sometimes. This is not a reflection on who you are as a person, it is a reflection of their attitude towards the situation.

You do not have to be perfect. Perfect doesn’t even exist. It’s an unreal ideal. For everything you envy in someone else, for every attribute you wish you had, someone else is wishing they had something you possess. Work to be the best version of yourself that you can be, and learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes and failures. They are a natural part of life; we’re all writing in pen and cannot erase the things we do.

Nor should we want to, because every little thing we do shapes who we are as individuals.

Don’t lose sight of who you are in the fight to try and become someone else.

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