by Ron Houssaye, LMFT, SASA, licensed psychotherapist

No matter how devoted, few of our parents were able to respond perfectly to all of our needs. We all had some parts of our childhood that were tough, even perilous. Every child experiences a “primitive anxiety” that the world is not a safe place.

There’s a group that was created for adults with emotional scars from childhood, and those who are recovering attest that their scars are healing.  The group is Adult Children of Alcoholics.  I was a member for nine years and I can tell you that during those years I uncovered my own wounds, many of which are healed.

I no longer worry too much about what people think of me.  I no longer spend my weekends feeling I must go out and party to feel accepted.  Instead, I can stay in and read a good book, or go out to dinner with someone, then come home to my nest.  It’s because I now feel secure inside, so the outside doesn’t matter as much.  In short, I no longer fester in the wounds of my childhood.

As a therapist, I know that people enter relationships with the expectation that their partners will magically restore to them a feeling of wholeness.  For those of my readers who may be in that category, I recommend this book: Getting the Love You Want, by Dr. Harville Hendrix.  He explains The Imago, which is the psychic image inside each of us that leads us to our “perfect partner,” although that unconscious mental picture is merely a composite of the positive and negative characteristics of our parents.

Once in the relationship, when we are beyond the romance stage of about six months, the chickens come home to roost, so to speak, and we must confront the reality that our partner is flawed in many ways we did not see before.

Then often begins the call for healing inside both people in the relationship.  If they seek help and don’t blame each other for the psychic aches inside them they can make it.

So don’t give up when you realize your parents weren’t perfect.  None of ours were, that’s for sure.

The Confessions of an Anxious People-Pleaser

It’s hard to resist people-pleasing.  People pleasing brings rewards, perks, even material advantages sometimes.  I’m a people-pleaser and I’m going to be completely transparent.  Take a glance at that photo of me below.  I look like a people-pleaser, don’t I?  I know I do.  Look at that smile and you can tell right off.

May I take a stab at defining this?  People-pleasing is acting in specifically contrived ways so that others will like or approve of you.  You may relate to this or you may not, or you may know someone who people-pleases.  Maybe you are a reformed pleaser and escaped it somehow.  If so, good for you.

I am “in recovery” from people-pleasing.

I used to believe that my life was about becoming what others wanted me to be.  I craved acceptance at any cost.  I tried so hard to make you like me.  Today, if I sense someone doesn’t like me, do I obsess about it?  I wish I could say I didn’t.

I still do obsess, but I’ve stop obsessing as much.  I mean I don’t obsess about it as long.  I used to obsess days and days, even sometimes weeks and weeks when I sensed someone didn’t like what I did, or didn’t do, or didn’t like what I said, or didn’t say.  Now, thanks to a wonderful therapist, I only obsess hours and hours about it.  Okay, I am not fully cured of people pleasing.

I’m in partial remission, which means I’m in a training-wheels stage.  I don’t call my therapist between sessions to talk about the last session “in more detail.”  So I’ve made progress, which is good, because that drives therapists crazy, believe me.

“Can I buy you a latte?”

Do my insides match my outsides now?  Not really.  I’m calm on the outside but nervous on the inside most of the time.

I’ve come a long though.  I used to believe the entire purpose of my life was to become the best replica of the person you wanted me to be.  Not true anymore.

My anxiety about whether you like me or not is still the same as it was, truth be told.  Sometimes it goes through the roof because now I refuse to pretend who I imagine the other person wants me to be.

Today it matters very much to just be who I am.  Writing helps me do that.  Who has the time time to play around with projecting images to others?  Let me know if you have any thoughts on this issue of people-pleasing.