Women thinking, "I need my support" and "I can care for others and care for me too" while hugging herself

One of the fears that people who are considering improving their sense of self and boundaries struggle with, is the worry that in finally focusing on taking care of their own needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions (rather than expecting others to do so), that they’re going to be perceived as “selfish”.

What we essentially do by taking responsibility for our own feelings and behaviour is put us on equal footing with others, so ironically, this fear that some of us have is basically a fear of being equal. It’s not wanting to recognise that everyone has their own life to lead and also has their own needs, desires, expectations, feelings, opinions, motivations, experiences and purpose.

When we don’t put us on equal footing, we come from a place of inadequacy and dependency because we’re essentially reliant on people to “do the right thing”, to take care of us as a result of us putting everyone ahead and above, and to also live up to our ideals. When we worry about being selfish, we also have to acknowledge that on some level, we think that people who consider their own values and boundaries and as result, may not want to be and do as we would like, are selfish. Because we are willing to extend ourselves to such a degree that we’d forget about us including our own values and boundaries, we can feel perplexed and in fact shortchanged, by people not wanting to pay up the debt created by us not having our own back.

Selfishness is about lack of consideration for others which doesn’t have anything to do with healthy self-esteem and healthy boundaries.

It would be fair to say that the people pleasers of this world are too considerate in the sense that they over-feel, worrying excessively about other people’s feelings and behaviour and making themselves responsible for those said feelings and behaviour, resulting in going about trying to be and do things to influence and control it. They don’t honour the separateness that we all need in order to retain a sense of self and to have healthy boundaries. Of course, by taking on this unnecessary responsibility, it means that when they feel bad, they correlate improving their feelings with other people amending their behaviour. When these people don’t, they feel shortchanged because on some level they’re thinking, What? After everything I’ve been and done for you and you won’t just do this thing that will take away my pain?, and then they feel that they haven’t been “pleasing enough” which just reinforces the sense of inadequacy.

People pleasing is not a selfless pursuit; it’s a transactional one with an underlying expectation about what we will receive in return.

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Acknowledging what you've been through isn't so that you beat you or others up for it; it's to understand the map you've used to get to this point in your journey so that if you want to go somewhere else, you can now choose a different route.

Many Baggage Reclaimers are dealing with people who have an attitude of, “Yeah, I beat you, cussed you down, ignored you, tormented you, abandoned you, abused your parent or siblings, breached your boundaries and all sorts of malarkey, but we’re family. Blood is thicker than water. Why aren’t you carrying on as if we’re best friends / giving me your money / licking my feet / telling everybody how great I am?” And here’s a good one, “Well your friend Bessy’s mother used to beat her and call her names and they’re very close. Why can’t you be like that?” What the what now?

I’m all for forgiveness and moving on but, come on now! It’s not about bearing grudges and holding stuff over people, and I think it’s safe to say that things were very, how shall we put this – “different” back in the day. I was brought up in Ireland plus I have the Afro/Caribbean culture and there was so much turning a blind eye and ‘rules’ about what so-called ‘elders’ (the grown-ups) were allowed to do that hell, everyone might as well have been blind! I’ve often wondered, Erm, when do I get to be a grown-up with rights? When you all kick the bucket? When I’m 99? I don’t feckin think so!

I really feel for the many people I hear from who spent most of their childhoods not having a voice and feeling scared, who are now adults who are still trying to figure out who they are and where they fit into this world. Some of them still don’t have a voice (or don’t believe that they’re allowed to) and are still scared.

These experiences that are dismissed as being part of being in a family deeply impacts people, affecting their interpersonal relationships, their self-image, their assertiveness skills, and their habits of thinking and behaviour. It can have lifelong impacts because the way in which we judge ourselves as children becomes our reasoning habit that we keep using into adulthood until we become more conscious, aware, and present.

The problem with being dismissive of childhood experiences that have left their mark on us, is that we can be left with the wrong associations and actually not be fully aware of how they’re weaving their way into our interactions. We may find ourselves unwittingly gravitating to partners/people who reflect old patterns from our childhood and feeling bewildered as to why we feel so triggered, so scared, so small, and wondering why we find it so hard to say, Um, hold up a frickin second here! Your treatment of me doesn’t feel right. I don’t like it. This is wrong.

Why is this?

Because we’re still mixing up those associations where we were told that certain things were happening because we were loved or that they wouldn’t have been done ‘If only…’. No wonder it’s so easy to blame ourselves or to feel confused in bound loyalty. To acknowledge that certain things that have been happening are wrong or certainly not right for us, causes us to feel in a bind, because to step away from those patterns is to cause us to feel disloyal to the original people connected to those patterns.

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Why am I still stuck?, is a question that I’m asked pretty much every day by people who find it difficult to move past somebody or something not living up to their hopes and expectations. They are gutted by disappointment and struggling to keep their head above water as they struggle against the tide of self-criticism and blame.

Sometimes as humans, we fall into the trap of feeling entitled to not be disappointed. We set our hearts on something or we work out, even if it’s subconsciously, a set of conditions under which we feel that we will be ‘OK’ or where we’ll ‘win’. If we feel that we have met these conditions and yet our desires have not been realised, we feel wronged. We feel a pervasive sense of injustice.

It’s not fair!

  • We expect people to ‘act right’ even if it’s not their typical rule of behaviour.
  • We expect people to express remorse when they wrong us, to feel suitably bad about the discomfort they have caused us, and to reflect all of this in their subsequent treatment of us. We expect that they will not repeat the very thing that they know caused a problem.
  • We expect people to know that we have been through so much that surely we should be cut some slack or rewarded.
  • We expect that because our parent(s) inadequately parented us and said and did certain things that set up a pattern of us being sensitive to conflict, criticism, rejection or disappointment, that they should either want to make it up to us and fill that void or that somebody else [that brings out similar feelings in us] should do it instead.
  • We expect to be paid back for our people pleasing which is the equivalent of creating a debt and expecting others to pay it off.
  • We expect that if we feel intensely about something that it should be matched with the outcome.
  • We expect not to be ‘rejected’ if we have gone to the trouble of accepting the unacceptable.

It’s not fair!

This is not what we predicted.

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There's no dating equivalent of a get rich quick scheme. if we want a mutually fulfilling relationship with love, care, trust and respect, it takes time and vulnerability.

Back in the day when I first started blogging (can’t believe it’s about to be eleven years – eek!), I briefly dabbled with using a website to meet a potential date. I describe it this way because the term ‘online dating’ is so misleading; they are introduction websites, not some sort of technology that we can use to simulate a relationship, though goodness knows many thousands try. Until we meet and date a ‘prospect’, they are just that and we are essentially at ‘stage 0′ until such time. All the texting, calling, IM’ng, sexting and whatever else in the world, won’t change that but it will ensure that we build sandcastles in the sky and overload ourselves with assumptions that will ultimately leave us with an Imagination Hangover and a sense of being misled by our ‘feelings’.

Anyway, I digress…

When I put up my profile, it was minus a photo with a bit about me and specifying that I was only interested in a relationship and the age range was 25-34 (I was 27 at the time). I heard from guys right up to seventy years old and received a lot of messages and winks. I found the experience so bizarre that I decided that I didn’t have the patience for it (I would have ended up firing off replies with just, RTFP in them (read the effing profile). Almost all of the messages were inappropriate (too forward) with some being explicit. I’ve always been a bit of a Cautious Carol, so in much the same way that I shied away from drugs when pals were off their face on E’s, coke and speed because I figured I’d be the statistic that would keel over, I also figured I’d be the one who ended up going on a date and being found under a carpet in some dingy flat somewhere.

I’m not crazy about dating (introduction) websites because many people who are actually looking for love and a relationship, have underlying expectations that essentially set them up for a fall. It’s not the technology; it’s the way that people use it and the chaos and pain that results. Putting aside the shady folk that misrepresent themselves online and the persistent collectors of attention, many of the people I hear from, see these websites as an opportunity to meet people in a ‘safe’ way (i.e. in a way that involves less vulnerability and is less time/energy hungry), after all, these days, all we have to do is swipe from left to right or do a few clicks instead of dolling ourselves up and dragging ourselves out to various social occasions while keeping a hopeful/hungry look on our faces.

If we have our feet planted fairly firmly in reality and we know who we are and are relatively personally secure, trying to meet potential partners online can actually be an enjoyable experience albeit punctuated with gritted teeth moments from dealing with time wasters and inappropriate folk, but if going online in an attempt to meet people is a means of avoiding vulnerability, of escaping ourselves, of looking for attention and basically external solutions to our internal issues, we can unwittingly end up feeling aggrieved because we on some level hoped to strike gold immediately or very quickly.

We inadvertently feel entitled to not be disappointed and to be made an exception to the rule of the ‘online dating’ experience that many millions have to go through.

Who do you know in this century, no scratch that- this decade, who met up with the first person they linked up with online and lived happily ever after? What are the odds? Even the people I know who met online in the late nineties encountered some foolishness and effery before that happened!

Why do we go on a site like Plenty of Fish or apps like Tinder or the myriad of sites and apps out there, and expect to strike gold?

I know it would be “great” to have a series of dubious relationships or go through a painful breakup or other loss and then go online or open up an app and come across somebody you like the look of and then shazam, you hit it off and ride off into the sunset as a reward for all of the pain and suffering you went through before that, but that’s not how it works!

As I’ve said many a time before, you practically need Columbo/Jessica Fletcher skills combined with hide of rhino to use these websites, or at the very least, you need to not have a do or die attitude about it as if finding somebody online or in fact, finding somebody full stop, is going to be your salvation, because that’s a recipe for Fast Forwarding and Future Faking (by you and them) as well as codependency and pain.

If we approach dating post breakup with the same (or even worse) mentality that we had in previous relationships, we stand to replicate the same problems. Expecting to ‘strike gold’ with somebody who is already being far too forward or who we haven’t met yet, or who we have not consistently spent enough time with in real life to see them unfold so that we can get an accurate reading, is a guarantee of a rude but necessary awakening.

Rather than us holding on to feeling angry, resentful, wounded and disappointed that we didn’t ‘strike gold’ immediately and that we have to actually take our time and opt out of anything that doesn’t align with who we are, we have to turn these understandable frustrations into the valuable turning points that they are. We must get grounded. We must take a few moments to reflect and have an honest conversation about what we’re trying to do. We must home in on whether we are able to deal with the emotional consequences of engaging virtually with strangers because if we have a tendency to to see potential very quickly or to feel attached very quickly, we have a duty of care to go slower and to recognise those signs in us so that we can be more self-aware and pay attention. We have to also be willing to note any recurring themes that come up with the people or situations so that our blind spot is no longer a blind spot. If messaging, attention, or sex (or whatever) is our kryptonite, these (or the prospect of them) have got to be our cue to be conscious, aware, and present.

When we have a strike gold mentality with dating whether we’re meeting people on or offline, we are coming from a place of fear; it’s a sense of scarcity and fear that a relationship might not be coming to us. That’s not a good space to be in not least because we end up spinning our wheels and being so ‘on’ the prospect of it that we’re blinded and keeping ourselves away from something good because we’re too eager to chase after anything and everything.



If i can't care about me and care about you at the same time, you've got to go

People who think that they are mighty and powerful and who think that they can force you to oblige their wants and in fact demands even if they are contrary to your own needs etc., and all while encroaching on your rights as a human being, aren’t so powerful and mighty once they realise that you don’t give a beep. It’s at that point that they realise that you just don’t care that much that you’d do you an injustice just so that you can prop up their ego.

What you must understand about people who rely on a sense of superiority on their part or obvious signs of you feeling inferior, is that they pull their moves and if you respond by, for example, looking for validation or claiming that you love them or looking for them to be who you hoped for them to be, they realise that you care too much. Their own rationale and attitude does not make sense but at the point where you are willing to continue engaging them and/or trying to make sense out of nonsense, your rationale (and attitude) does not make sense either so they are then able to exploit this.

At the point where you’re saying or showing, “I don’t care and in fact, I don’t care that you think you’re mighty and powerful; I don’t care if you’re going to leave or find somebody else or disapprove or whatever”, they lose their power and mightiness plus they end up feeling wrong-footed. They realise that you’re a grown-up and that you are not reliant on them for definition and vitality.

It’s not in the playbook; it’s not in their predictions. They don’t know what to do with this kind of mindset because they rely on what they perceive as weakness. They rely on exploiting the vulnerability that exists when a person is not responding to boundary breaches with ‘increased security’ (read: more boundaries and basically having an active response). They interpret a passive response or your seeming positivity and hope even in the face of shady behaviour, as a green light for code red behaviour. This all screams, I care too much. It says, I care so much that I will derive value from my interaction with you and my self-image and future perception and actions will be impacted by you.

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There’s this falsehood that many people who are in the process of improving their self-esteem, addressing unhealthy or redundant habits, or who are thinking about doing any of these things, subscribe to, and it’s this idea that once we tackle whatever it is that we think has held us back and even “grow up” as such, that we will not be knocked by things anymore. We believe that once we do what we feel that we need to, that we won’t be put to the test. But, how would we know that we have the courage to deal with things and how would we know the length and breadth of what we’ve learned, unless these on-the-job training lessons are put to the test on occasion?

In the almost ten years since I embarked on my own personal journey of learning to like and love me as well as starting Baggage Reclaim, I’ve thought that I’m “finally” a grownup on a number occasions due to coming out of the other side of deeply testing situations. I think on some level, for a time I believed that once I had some experience under my belt of having improved self-esteem, I was never going to be ‘back there’ but if life has taught me anything in recent years, it’s that a lot of what I’ve learned along the way has prepared me for facing adversity such as different major stresses I’ve experienced with both of my parents, grieving the loss of my relationship with my father and his family, and having to face down experiences that had the potential to bring up those fears of rejection, failure, and even success.

Each time I’ve been put in testing situations, I’ve had to figure out through trial and error as well as my existing bank of self-knowledge, how to get back up.

Each testing experience, I’ve come out of it thinking, “OK – yeah, I’ve definitely grown up now”, and then down the line, something else happens and it’s, “Jaysus! Now I’ve grown up”. It reminds me of when after each breakup and disappointment, I’d think (and often say) that I’d never get over this”.

For the majority of my life, a lot of my story was “I got knocked down” but over the last decade it’s changed to, “I’m still standing” or “I got back up”.

I’m still standing. You’re still standing. We’re still standing.

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unselfish doesn't mean little or no boundaries. that's just code for being a doormat.

When we suppress and repress our own feelings, opinions, needs, expectations and desires, we become oversensitised to those of others and develop a pesky habit of taking ownership of their feelings and behaviour. It’s as if in silencing us and being on high alert, we think that we’re feeling their feelings and thinking their thoughts, causing us to anticipate and forecast doom while burdening us with ‘duties’.

When we take ownership of other people’s feelings and behaviour, we spend a lot of our time grappling with doubt, guilt and shame. We fear that we are being “selfish” and we also tend to engage with people who feel entitled to our compliance.

We see it as our responsibility to be and do things that make people feel better… even if it’s to our detriment and even if it means that we are preventing them from taking ownership of their feelings and behaviour… and even if it means that we are avoiding our own responsibilities.

As a result, when we perceive that we’re being requested or expected to do something that takes care of their needs, expectations, and desires, even if it isn’t 1) fair and reasonable and 2) our responsibility, we convince ourselves that to say no or leave them to it, would be “selfish”. We imagine that they’re feeling really bad or thinking whatever and whatever about us. In order to relieve that tension within us and keep up with this image of being what we think is unselfish, we do what they need/want/expect or do what we think that they need/want/expect.

We of course, end up feeling pretty bloody awful because it’s one thing if we are being and doing stuff because it’s truly who we are and without expectation of a reward of some kind, but invariably, we are not being ourselves and we also have an underlying expectation that we should be rewarded in some way, so lack of conflict, criticism, disappointment etc. Really, all we’re doing is operating under the misguided hope that one day somebody will say, “Wow! Isn’t _______ such an altruistic person? Did you know that they’ve thrown themselves under a bus thousands of times? I think it’s time that the universe cut him/her a break and let the good times roll.”

That’s not how it works.

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There's no such thing as a one-sided committed relationship.

Over the years, many a reader has claimed that they’ve been emotionally available to an emotionally unavailable partner. Here’s the thing:

If we are truly emotionally available and want to keep our integrity and basically not be met with tumbleweeds or the equivalent of, “What? What was that? You’re breaking up…” or even a ‘dead ringtone’, why are we choosing to be emotionally available to somebody who is afraid of intimacy, commitment, progression, balance, and consistency?

Why are we claiming to be emotionally available to somebody who doesn’t want to ‘hear’ us and ‘feel’ us to the level of which we’re claiming that we’re available?

One of the things I’ve learned from experience and also through the stories of BR readers, is that when we habitually engage with an emotionally unavailable person, even if we started out available, in the context of this involvement, we adjust ourselves. It may be conscious, it might be unconscious, but we do.

We can pick up on cues that indicate that certain subjects or situations are not a good idea.

We edit ourselves.

Let’s be real: If we’ve been raised in an environment with a lot of tension or where feelings or discussions were a no-no, or where we’ve gotten into the habit of being a pleaser, we can be pretty damn adept at reading a room or reading for what we feel are signs of tension, and then adjusting ourselves.

What do you do when you feel as if you’re putting yourself out there with somebody who at one point, was all over you like a rash or certainly giving the impression of availability, and now they seem to be stepping back by quietly or even aggressively putting up walls? You become more guarded and stop being as honest and vulnerable as you were before.

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Just because you did some seemingly good deeds, it doesn't give you the credits to act out and mistreat me

Have you ever been on the best date ever or best few dates ever, only to be unceremoniously blanked afterwards despite promises of another date? This person wanted to leave you with a really good impression and fill you up with good feelings and memories so that when you didn’t hear from them again, they could move on with a clear conscience.

Some people extend this beyond dates and devote their energies to trying to come out smelling of roses when really, it’s Eau de Bullsh*t (BS). It doesn’t matter whether it’s months or years; they engage in compartmentalisation and image management activities that appear to put them in a good light.

They’re masters of abrupt endings of what are often believed (by outsiders and even their partners), to be near “perfect” relationships.

Holding back their concerns or their secret ambivalence, you’re invariably ambushed by their announcement (if you get one) and their exit, all while insisting that there’s no one else (even though there is).

The exit can be so fast and in such a way that it can be tricky to get answers to burning questions. If they dignify a conversation, it’ll be poetic and nostalgic smoke and mirrors, possibly reminding you how amazing you are and how they’ve been so happy in the relationship (So why the eff are you leaving me then?, you wonder). Or, you’re met with such an alarmingly level of coldness that you wonder if they’ve experienced a knock to the head. They might even sleep with you, take you out to dinner or even on a fancy holiday, to let you down gently…

You may be brokenhearted while singing their praises even when others aren’t. It can be uncomfortable to admit that you may have felt flattered or even very grateful, that somebody “like them” had ‘chosen’ you, that you don’t know how entrenched you are in their image.

This image management and compartmentalisation malarkey is at the dubious end of people pleasing, which on the whole is about trying to influence and control people’s feelings and behaviour by attempting to cater to and satisfy what we perceive as other people’s needs, expectations, desires, feelings, and opinions, so that we can relieve tension and avoid conflict, criticism etc. You don’t see what’s coming because in their efforts to ‘look good’, they smile to your face, closely guard their innermost feelings and thoughts even when they contradict that outward appearance, and appear to be giving you ‘everything’, because they’re wearing a mask while telling you (or inferring) that it’s their face.

In their mind, they’re not going be “that guy” or “that woman”, you know, the one who’s cheating on their partner. They’re above that. They are doing it but it’s not cheating. It’s horizontal friendship or some other guff. They don’t want to be in the same camp as say, their own parent/caregiver or even yours, so they pad out what they’re doing with all of this puffing you up and sheltering you from the truth.

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What’s so bad about saying that we like and love ourselves? Or, what’s so bad about saying that we would like to get to know ourselves and evolve our relationship to one that’s coming from a place of healthier self-esteem and personal security? Doesn’t this benefit everyone all round? Isn’t this better than looking for romantic partners and other people in our lives, to fill voids or even parent us? Isn’t this better than rocking up to relationships expecting this person to tell us who we are and validate us?

What’s so bad about saying, “I’m OK” or “I like and accept myself”?

When did things get so bad that being self-aware, having some self-worth and self-compassion, along with internalising our accomplishments, achievements and deeds, became a source of embarrassment and shame?

Some people teach shame.

They teach us to feel wrong, bad, and humiliated. When we were little, we may have been told that “good girls” or “good boys” don’t take pride in who they are because it’s “showing off” or it will make people uncomfortable, envious or jealous. We may have gotten into the habit of dimming our light to fit in with or boost others. We may associate even the teensiest kind thought or action of self-appreciation as “selfish”, “uppity” or “self-involved”. It may be embedded in us as a default reaction to fear thinking decently of ourselves or thinking independently in case we cause embarrassment and problems.

Even though we’re grown-ups and know that the teachings are wrong, we remain loyal to the pattern out of fear of betraying and upsetting the proverbial applecart. This keeps us small.

Sometimes this happens because the person is trying to squash us because they then get to feel big or certainly less inadequate, but often, they think that they’re teaching us protective life lessons designed to spare us from a bigger pain that they imagine for us.

Reading stories from readers and students who are people pleasers or who just quite simply don’t like themselves, there was this recurring theme:

Often, when a person projects their fears and perspective onto us through criticism or distorted talk and ‘lessons’, it’s their way of not only protecting us from, for example, failing or being ridiculed, but it’s about controlling us so that they can feel in control and fit in with whoever they’re trying to please. They may have wanted us to tow the line so that they looked good to the community, parish, family etc. They are in their own pattern.

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