When I was in my addiction, no one would have ever called me a people pleaser. Like most addicts, I was anything but. My life revolved around getting and using. Everything else was secondary, and by extension, everyone else.
So when I got sober and started working the 12-step program, step 4 hit me hard. I put 100% into my apologies, but the guilt stayed with me, regardless of how well they were received. And when they weren’t, I was devastated.
In retrospect, there were some people in my life who took advantage of my guilt, the ones that held onto the hurt and anger I caused them for so many years. Some believed that I owed them more than an apology; others wanted payback. All of them played me like a fiddle.
Every time my counselor pointed these things out to me, I took all the blame. It didn’t matter what she said because my guilt held me in check.
Then one day she called me out. She said that she believed that it wasn’t just my guilt over my past that made me feel so powerless. It was also that I simply didn’t want to go through any more unpleasantness, so I gave into whatever demands people made of me.
Okay, so what, was my response. I mean, could she really blame me for reacting that way? How would she feel if she had done everything she could to make amends with these people, and they just persisted on squeezing her emotionally dry?
She had a simple answer at the ready; she said she would simply say no.
But how could I possibly say no when I am still trying to show them that my apology is real and that I am sincere about my recovery?
She explained that my sincere apology, one apology, was enough. I don’t owe anyone the rest of my life. Sure, some people may be hesitant at first, but as time goes by in my recovery, those folks who sincerely want to be my friend will be a true friend.
She also told me that every time I say yes when I really want to say no, I am actually hurting myself. While saying yes might seem like self-care at the moment, a way to avoid confrontation, it’s not a healthy form of self-care.
So that was it then? I am in a no-win situation?
Thankfully, my counselor had an answer for that, too. She explained that I had an equal amount of power in this situation. By saying yes all the time, I am telling those other people that when they say jump, I am always going to say how high.
It was time to start changing my role in these relationships. As a people pleaser, I have fallen into a passive role while others take the aggressive one. The first change I had to make was to learn how to be assertive.
This starts with remaining respectful and taking full responsibility for my current actions, not the past, and learning how to deal with the fallout when I say no.
As you start saying yes to yourself, you will be practicing genuine self-care, and you will find yourself getting stronger, able to deal with others anger and disappointment.
As I learned to put this into practice, I found myself weeding out the truly toxic people from my life while gaining respect from others.
Assertiveness was the key to developing genuine relationships in my life. It is the greatest gift I have ever given.
If you or a loved one wants to achieve a long-term sobriety, check out our Aftercare Program. Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today for more information. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available now.