The secret I had been hiding my whole life that caused me anxiety was wanting/needing approval from others. And the older I got the more this anxiety showed up when I needed to be around people.
What was up with this? I thought as I got older my anxiety about wanting approval would disappear. But it didn’t, it actually got worse for a while and I started avoiding my normal life and I stopped doing the things I loved to do. How do you get to a point in your life that you can’t function?
Let me tell you my story. But first I want to clarify that I am not writing this to blame anyone outside of myself for this anxiety. If I have learned anything from this journey I have learned that it is the way I thought and the beliefs I’d taken on that caused my anxiety.
As a child I can remember that the thing I hated the most was to think or feel that I had disappointed my parents in some way. Looking back on it, probably what I thought of as disappointing them was really just normal stuff that happened to most kids in most families. But never the less I talked myself into believing that I had disappointed my parents and that I should figure out how to please them so they wouldn’t be disappointed in me. Soon I developed a habit of focusing on other people and thinking that I wasn’t safe around them unless they approved of what I did and how I behaved. And this drove me to become a class A people pleaser.
But what happens when you try to please people or focus on what you think they want, is that you lose yourself because you stop knowing what you want. The habit becomes to focus on the body and verbal language of others so that you can figure out what they want and then you try to meet their goals. And so much energy is expended on this habit that you literally have no energy left for yourself and the only way to fuel up again is to spend some time alone. So I did, I spent a lot of time alone, I felt safe when I was alone, I could breath again and sometimes I would even get a glimpse of what I wanted.
Then reality would hit and I would have to go back to my job or I would get invited to go somewhere and because I didn’t want to disappoint someone I would have to force myself to go and the more I forced myself to go the more anxiety I got and the more physically sick I would feel and sometimes get. This wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life and it for sure wasn’t something I could control, so I hid it. For many years I hid it because I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t want it, I didn’t have time to deal with it, and I thought I was tougher than that. Then one day I had my first anxiety attack (or at least that’s what the ER doctor called it). The doctor wanted me on anti anxiety pills. I took one pill went to bed, got up the next morning and threw the pills in the trash and told myself this was bullshit.
You see deep down I knew that I could either cover it up with pills or I could finally take the time to listen to my body and seek out the truth about what I needed to change in my life, so that I could relax and maybe have a chance at chasing some of my own goals.
It has been the most uncomfortable thing I have ever experienced in my whole life. Because what I found was that I had to learn to tell people “no”. I didn’t have the ability or the skill to tell people “no”. I agreed to do almost anything anyone would ask me to do, as long as it felt morally right to me. I had learned that people didn’t aprove of me when I told them “no”, so I just stopped say it. Learning to say “no” to people is without a doubt one of the hardest things for me to do, it brings up guilt and fear. The fear is about people not liking me and the guilt is about thinking I’ve done something wrong if you get angry at me for telling you “no”.
I realize that most people don’t have trouble or anxiety about telling someone “no” but that hasn’t been my life. My life was about agreeing to do almost everything that people asked me to do and having no time for my own dreams because of it.
I’m done with that life, I have learned how to say “no” and when it feels uncomfortable I know I really need to say “no” because I’m people pleasing again. You see what I’ve learned is that you shouldn’t be mad at me in the first place because I told you “no” and if you don’t like me because I told you “no” then you really weren’t my friend anyway. I’m still working on letting go of wanting approval, but I’m getting pretty good at saying “no”.