Below is the diary of a man we shall refer to as ‘Mr Anonymous’. He has offered to share with you lovely people his journey through therapy so far. He has given me express permission and signed consent to share this information in the hope that it inspires and encourages others to reach out for therapy if they need it. Mr Anonymous wanted me to share excerpts from his own therapy diary which details a refreshingly honest and open account of the process of changes, challenges and learning he went through.
People pleasing has been one of the core process that’s been the most difficult for me to change. I wasn’t even aware of it before therapy and felt it was who I was full stop. Never questioned it and thought it was good and healthy. I had limited awareness of my gut instincts and often ignored them not trusting or listening to my self. Internal vs external voices. At this point I listened more to others about what was good for me. I was never the champion voice in all aspects of my life.
I realised how much I was influenced by others and how out of touch I was with my own self but continued to make the same mistakes, and pleasing others at my own expense. So knowledge alone didn’t help, in fact the awareness of it frustrated me even more because now even though I knew I felt I was still unable to change. I had a crisis of identity not knowing who I was anymore and looking for myself in others, in work, but not in myself.
I made some tough decisions and stayed true to myself actually tuning into my inner voice, hearing it for the first time clearly over the hubbub of the many external voices telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I questioned my value and worth as a person. Was it enough to be me? I was torn internally with conflict as the process of change began. I fell into darkness emotionally for a few weeks feeling lost. I finally recognised that in all my people pleasing the one person I failed to please was myself.
Trying to overcome my people pleasing nature is like trying to drink soup with a fork. Frustratingly slow, drip by drip and almost impossible to finish. Yet I am aware that this is my core process and will always be part of me. It’s how I manage it. I need balance in my life and to feel my needs are fulfilled first. Then I can offer others what’s left. I don’t think I will ever fully shake off trying to please others but I can lessen its extent allowing myself more freedom, time, energy and peace. Just trust the process. Avoiding conflict, challenge or sharing my truth to please others is not something I want to do anymore.
Issues I chose to address: Talk too much
How I was before Starting Therapy: Felt the need to talk a lot- to be noticed, to be the joker, friendly, be seen as likeable and accepted. It was the only way to get noticed as a child by my busy father.
Mid -Therapy: Discussed painful challenge from peers about talking too much, airspace, felt my mother haunting me. She always said I talked too much. Brought hurt to surface and I went silent withdrew. Reflected on my childhood and history of relating to others.
Learning Moving Forwards: Worked hard to achieve a balance. Embraced the challenge and balance of speaking, listening and hearing. Feel I don’t talk as much around friends and family. Noticed changing dynamics as a result. Can notice more when I talk less. Feels okay to talk less and have had personal growth from working in this area. Effective in personal, professional and private life. I still like talking but its more measured and less just for the sake of it. Enjoy hearing others speak and learn more from listening. Need to continue working on it.
Vulnerabilities: Heart on sleeve
I was too open to the point where others were able to easily manipulate, control, and upset me. Too emotionally available and accessible to others not keeping anything back for myself. Vulnerable.
Didn’t realise I was the one leaving myself open to such hurt in my eagerness to be there for everyone else. I forgot about myself and my needs. I thought by helping others I would feel fulfilled. That was not the case. People took advantage, I gave my all, got little or nothing back, felt used and resentful. I started to recognise changing dynamics in relationships with others as I began to hold back a little and put in boundaries for myself.
I still have a relatively open heart and still fall into the pit of past mistakes but am more aware of it and can sometimes stop myself. I don’t want to change my heart too much but do want to guard it better so I have developed some careful defences such as not being so emotionally available and saying ‘no’ to people asking favours.
A work in progress, the security guard in charge of my heart is being given new instructions daily, but I still remain open most hours. This suits me fine, it’s when I feel I am being taken advantage of that I pull up my barriers and shut up shop. I distance myself to keep myself safe and am learning to be more assertive to have my needs met. Need to work on not feeling so responsible for others all the time.
Self- awareness: I went about life in a haze of selflessness feeling selfish and guilty if I did anything for myself. Totally convinced I was okay, but secretly knowing things kept going wrong. No matter how much or what I did for others it wasn’t enough, I still got criticised, and beat myself up believing every word they said. Turning the anger inwards on myself.
I started to realise how desperately I wanted to feel needed, liked and accepted by others. Like the ‘real me’ wasn’t good enough so I would perform to be liked, always the joker, agony uncle or dependable one. Recognising how much I did for others in comparison to what I got back was eye opening. I started to learn more about the real me and my self- concept.
I am still uncovering layers of myself hidden away from my own self. I am more self- aware and recognise when I’m doing things that go against my nature just to be accepted. Knowing and acting on that knowledge is my challenge. Changing behaviours is hard when it’s been a lifetime long thing, subconscious influences abound. I learn more via my relationships in my personal life. It has helped me understand how easily people can misunderstand, assume or prejudge others. I have definitely embraced the congruence with empathy concept.
A work in progress, my self- awareness is more acute than it was, but can be improved further. Still unpicking the past to make sense of my present. I’m reflecting on the emotional maze of my life so far. I feel hopeful that with this awareness I can change patterns of behaviours, thoughts and relationships to fit me better. This will in turn impact on my relationships as my empathy and understanding of self improves so will my practice with others as I learn more and develop further.
There was a time when I thought self -care was sleeping, and eating. It is so much more than that but my understanding and awareness of it was so limited. The concept was alien to me. I never did anything unless it benefitted someone else before me. I felt greedy, guilty and selfish if I did anything for myself, like I wasn’t allowed as it was frowned on in my family. Selflessness was the order of the day.
I quickly recognised that self- care was important to staying healthy in every way and it wasn’t just about food and sleep. It was looking after myself emotionally, psychologically, physically, socially and spiritually. The whole entity of my being not just two aspects. As I started to look after myself it felt wrong, like I had to hide and do it. I did enjoy the feeling it gave and ‘me’ days became a monthly activity.
I have learned to schedule in me-time and openly enjoy time away from family. I am fortunate to have a wife who understands and is supportive of my quest for fulfilling my life’s potential. I still feel pangs of guilt for leaving the children as they tug on my emotional heart strings moaning they will miss me so I do cave in and buy them gifts to compensate on my return journey- to please them. See how powerful these core processes are!
I understand that in order to look after others I have to look after myself first. I feel liberated as I allow myself to spend time and money on myself. To feel safe I need to first and foremost look after myself and give myself unconditional love. Otherwise I could burn out and do more harm than good to myself and my relationships A work in progress…
My ability to mask pain with humour was something I learned early on in life. It worked a treat enabling me to form friendships, escape from reality and perform like an actor acting out a life chosen by me far from reality. Childhood was a difficult time for me and I learned how to cope best I could with conflicting parental role models who had their own emotional baggage. They did their best.
I learned fast how easy my defences kicked in when feeling threatened or challenged by others. Magnifying them made me recognise how much my parents impacted on my self- concept and patterns of relating to others. Saying sorry was my mantra I was always in trouble for something or other and this I carried into adulthood. Apologising myself out of existence just in case I had upset someone. It was a defence against others anger, and a protection from being hurt if accepted. Door mat. Social chameleon adapting for others to fit in, joking my life away.
Being aware of my defences doesn’t make it any easier to shed them- like armor suits they feel fitted on to me and heavy to wear. Only some have outgrown their use. It’s so tiring having to over perform, over achieve and be the joker. I do it less now, but in social situations this still occurs. I have been typecast into people’s memories and when I meet old friends I subconsciously perform again. Only I am aware of it now and try to control it. A meeting with school friends recently was good practice, I tried to be me and less jokey, they didn’t like me any less. They commented how grown up I sounded and liked this new aspect of me.
I enjoy joking and being lighthearted but for the right reasons and not in order to please others to fit in. My humour is part of me and all I need to continue working on are knowing when, and why I perform. To be myself and have that humour not used as a defence to hide behind but to genuinely express my joy and have fun.
I don’t feel the need to hide my pain as much as I used to. I can show more of my authentic self to others now than before but am slowly progressing. I need to keep myself safe in the process of revealing my truths so everything in due measure. A work in progress this one.
My Personal challenge: Self -acceptance
I thought I was okay. I never really loved myself but felt I liked aspects of myself enough to get by in oblivion to what I was yet to learn about myself. I thought people who loved themselves were narcissists and self- absorbed. Negative labels for a fulfilled fully functioning person. My understanding was skewered by life’s examples to me so far. My culture didn’t allow me to be proud of myself it was frowned upon to think anything good about yourself- my dad taught me that no matter how good you think you are you can always do better- hence the constant over achieving, over performing and seeking perfection, needing to get it right or I won’t be accepted.
I looked at my self- concept and saw everyone else, not me. I examined my processes and saw it reflected my parents subtle messages to me growing up . I felt sad for the lost little me trapped inside the dilemma of myself. Who was I anyway? What did it mean to be me before, and now the changing me. Was I enough for me, for others? Would this new emerging confused me work in reality? I didn’t want to change too much but did want to reconnect with myself. I was scared and excited, delving into my own depths I found more than I could have expected. I could barely breath like a tsunami of emotions, I had stored for so long hitting me so hard I felt unconscious and conscious at once.
I am beginning to get used to not knowing who I am, or who I thought I was. I’m still in a strange place emotionally trying new things and feeling everything with a new vigour. Like seeing and feeling emotions in technicolour for the first time after having black and white for so long. It hurts but feels good at the same time. I feel emotional and connected to my roots more than I have ever felt before. I have tempered my anger, cautioned my inner parent, soothed my inner child, teased my control and liberated my emotional expression.
I have yet to fully accept myself and all aspects/ configurations of myself. To fully accept, I have to know myself and I am still learning new things about myself. However what I am learning I am accepting. Some parts of me remain a challenge. I still struggle with my need to feel in control, to people please all the time, and the pressure I put on myself to get things right and over perform. To be the joker and allow others to hurt me. Lots of personal development and growth yet to work on but I am aware of it and actively exploring them which is much better than living in oblivion.