So it turns out I haven’t managed to follow through with what I so assertively stated in one of my more recent blog posts quite the way I’d wanted to. It turns out that realising what you’re struggling with and changing the underlying thought pattern into one that serves you better are two entirely different things and sadly, there’s no quick fix. Surprise, surprise, am I right?*
The reason why I’m a little frustrated by this (again) is that I’ve had a bit of a hard time with certain situations (again), not because of the situations themselves and not even because of the people I was with in said situations, but solely because my brain has been playing a rather nasty trick on me which basically consists in me debasing myself by picking apart the last shred of self-confidence that I’ve been harbouring the way I would a precious diamond.
Let me illustrate what that could be like. Let’s say I enter a room and there’s at least one other person there and we start talking, and my brain immediately starts an internal monologue that goes along the lines of this:
OMG imagine if you had spinach in your teeth! Your hair probably looks weird right now. And how embarrassing of you to have a pimple today! Why are you standing funny? Oh my, wouldn’t it be weird if you were to stumble or walk in a funny way… Ha-haaa nevermind, you’re actually already doing just that. Also, your dress doesn’t have pockets, so you’re bound to do weird things with your hands during this conversation. IF ONLY YOU WORE A DRESS WITH POCKETS! Are you smiling enough? What if your facial expression isn’t appropriate? Remember to make the right amount of eye contact, but not too much (I mean, what are you, a serial killer?!). That thing you just said was probably very stupid.
Due to this bullying voice inside my head, I often believe I’m not enough, no matter the circumstance. The reason for this is that I’ve set an unattainably high bar for myself that’s derived from my assumptions about other people’s expectations of me** that I’m desperately trying to conform myself to everytime I find myself in a social situation that I’m at least a little uncomfortable in. As a “remedy” for this impossible endeavour of mine, I often switch to people-pleasing, meaning that I start acting and responding the way I assume would make the other person happy or like me better. All of this happens on a subconscious and automated level. I don’t plan on behaving that way, it just happens. I usually notice when it happens, although sometimes only after the fact because when I’m particularly uncomfortable, I go on autopilot, which is my “survival mode” that has helped me get through uncomfortable situations in the past.
The problem with being a people-pleaser is that every now and then there comes a time when I find myself wondering whether I’m being liked for me or rather for my people-pleasing tendencies. The thing is, people-pleasing is kind of like a mask that I put on so that I don’t or only partially show the real me. Also, after a lifetime of being a people-pleaser, it’s sometimes tricky to know for sure how the real me would react versus which reactions are actually a manifestation of people-pleasing (AKA the mask).
This insecurity, which is a mix between me not exactly knowing who or how I really am without the people-pleasing and other people mostly seeing me with the mask and therefore making it difficult to reveal the real me (whoever that may be 😄!), often makes me feel unsettled in relationships.
Do they actually like me? Or do they like the mask? Could they actually like me for ME? Will they stop liking me if I lose the mask?
While I was brainstorming prior to writing this post, I realised that this behaviour, apart from being rooted in low self-confidence, probably also stems from a fear of rejection which I had always been convinced I didn’t have. Despite it being quite logical, I always figured that my fear of not being good enough was linked to a low self-esteem rather than the fear of being rejected.
I know for a fact that, whenever I like someone and have some kind of relationship with them (not necessarily a romantic one, even though the behaviour I’m about to describe is definitely amplified in the latter), I freak out at some point about not being authentic enough (oh, the irony…) for fear of only having shown them the mask. I then usually proceed to test my boundaries with the discretion of an ambush, meaning that I somehow shock the other person with information or a sort of behaviour that’s not even aligned with how I usually act or feel, only to see if they can handle this “unmasked” (albeit a little extreme) version of me. Needless to say that this type of action generally pushes the other person away rather than making them empathise with me.
In short, my brain’s convinced that it’s performing the ultimate test to figure out whether people would like me even without the mask when in fact it just makes me act like a douchebag.
Unsurprisingly, freaking out and pushing people away (albeit unwillingly) has blown up in my face a couple of times over the years. Luckily, I’m now aware of what causes me to behave this way, which also means I’m now very aware whenever I’m being an a-hole (which doesn’t happen too often, I think [/hope]). Yay me!
The only way to change this unhealthy behaviour is to silence the bully in my head. One way this can be achieved is by having a few sips of wine. Sadly, being constantly a little tipsy is neither a long-term nor a healthier solution than keeping the bully. In light of this, the only way through is to bite the bullet and to work on replacing the bullying voice inside my head with a nicer one in order to get comfortable(-ish) with myself and eventually in social situations.
Come to think of it, most of my struggles actually stem from my infamous lack of self-acceptance coupled with a pinch of good old-fashioned social anxiety***.
It can be exhausting to be fighting so many battles within yourself all the time, while life keeps rushing ahead, demanding your attention on other fronts. This is the reason why I’m grateful to be friends with people who know the struggle and understand how hard life can be when you’re getting in your own way, even if our experiences aren’t the same. I understand that not everyone gets what it’s like to function this way for lack of experience in that department (lucky ones!) but I truly believe that working on self-awareness and oneself is a vastly under-appreciated quality.
To everyone who dares to face their own demons – keep on going. I cherish your efforts 🙏.
Fellow worriers, soldier on!
* Not really though.
** But how could I even know what their expectations are?!
** If you understand French, you should check out this video a friend of mine made.
Dear Wakeminday, I understand how difficult and vulnerable it can be to talk about the things you’re struggling with, which is why I greatly appreciate videos like the one you posted. When I was a kid, it wasn’t considered normal to struggle, nor to talk about struggles. I can’t imagine how different things would be for me today if, as a teenager, I’d been exposed to publications like yours (and mine 😇) rather than women’s magazines. Thank you for sharing 🧡.