Curing the Disease to Please by Victor La Cerva

Curing the Disease to Please by Victor La Cerva

Curing the Disease to Please

by Victor La Cerva

   More than twelve years ago, I was in a relationship that involved a lot of suffering for both parties. My part in those challenges was that I often would say yes to something – mostly to avoid conflict – and then have to deal with the consequences of agreeing to something I really didn’t want. My big learning in that intimate partnership was about having my yes, my no and my maybe. As we enter the quiet turning inward time of the year, I realize again that I still have some inner work to do. Especially during the twindemic winter ahead of us, with the isolation needed to contain CoVid19, it is even more important to ask kindly and clearly for what I’d like, and seek support when I need it. 

   So many of us grew up believing that: It is better to lie about my feelings if the truth might upset someone. AND I feel virtuous when I override my own needs or wishes to please others. AND I want people to sense it when I’ve hit my limit, without my having to say anything. At one extreme, some of us simply go blank when asked what we want, like, or think. We are habituated to tuning into the needs of others, while ignoring or minimizing our own. Our “to do” list often includes things we don’t have to do, and things we don’t want to do, and maybe we complain about other people’s needs and demands when they aren’t present, or feel resentful while doing things for them. All of these signs indicate that we need to practice saying a simple word: “No” It’s a complete sentence. We can soften it with “no, that really doesn’t work for me” or “no, not now,” or perhaps, “I’d like to think about that before I commit.” The NO or the maybe has to be clear. 

   We might feel distress about the thought of someone disliking or disapproving of us. To break out of people pleasing patterns and be done with being a doormat, I’ve found it illuminating to handstorm write no edit responses to these two statements: It’s not okay for other people to… (consistently show up late/expect me to always initiate getting together/ ask me to do stuff at the last minute because they were unorganized, trying to shift their stress to me. I have a right to ask for…. Quiet transition time when just home from work/ free alone time to do nothing in particular. When we are willing to consistently set limits, we actually increase our intimacy and connection, because we are being authentic and vulnerable. Healthy boundaries help to protect us physically emotionally, sexually and even intellectually from unwanted intrusions of other people. With time and practice, we learn to interact assertively rather than passively or aggressively. We make requests of others, rather than demands. We communicate clearly what we’d like, and what is really important to us. I still struggle – at times – with thinking that I am being selfish when I ask for something. Usually those close to me prefer it when I am clear. One simple technique to practice good boundaries is to habitually use a direct statement, rather than ask a question. “I’d enjoy going dancing tonight,” is direct, clear and kind. No need to hide my desire in a question: “do you want to go dancing tonight?” I may eventually ask that, but first I state what my preference is. It’s a subtle distinction, but it helps me practice first stating what I would like, rather than hiding it in question to the other.  

   In general, instead of concealing how we are feeling about a given choice, we can speak our truth, stand up for ourselves and regain our personal power by revealing what we’d really prefer. When setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain our feelings. We can be firm, yet gracious. When faced with resistance, repeat our statement or request. Practice with small things. Ask for support in making these changes, to overcome the inevitable guilt and resistance. Keeping healthy boundaries is a powerful strategy for getting my needs met. Doing so is really about self-care and self-love, and requires me to be in touch with my own needs in an ongoing way as I relate to others. Others may have their expectations around what they want from me; I get to create the ABC of my own boundaries, in terms of Action (my yes no and maybe), Balance (how I spend my time and energy) and Communication (how much I reveal or conceal). It takes practice to find the sweet spot between being too rigidly self- absorbed, or having boundaries that are too porous, where I am too concerned about the other to the detriment of myself. 

   Boundaries are where the core relationship issues will keep showing up. 

At times, everyone dissolves boundaries in order to avoid conflict or please another, or meet another’s expectation—no problem with that. I know I’m on the right track when there is a sense of spaciousness in the relationship, I can make requests with kindness without a lot of emotional charge, I feel mostly centered and grounded, without drama around everyday doings. Relationship boundaries also seem healthy when there is a mutual willingness to break habits and routines creatively so we both get needs met, and when I take full responsibility for the results I’m getting in the relationship