Monday Musings… Get the Monkey off Your Back

Remember when you were a kid and the teacher asked: “Can I have a volunteer?” Were you jumping inside saying “Pick me! Pick me!” while your hand was waving in the air?

Or what about this scenario: someone calls you up, compliments you on something, and then slides in a sideways question: “Can you help me out with ______?” Are you quick to say “Sure”, and then do what they ask?

Or have you heard the expression: if you want something done, ask a busy person? And you’re that busy person who’s often taking on more and more tasks.

Well, all of the examples above have a good chance of ending up with the same result: you choose, of your own free will, to help someone out.

Now that sounds like a kind and honourable thing to do. You may even say that it makes you a good person. And, that could very well be true. But sometimes your kindness comes with a cost, literally with your money, and figuratively with your time. You may even realize that you’ve actually done the work for them, while they’ve enjoyed a free ride.

Why do you feel compelled to volunteer in the first place?

I think if you’re honest, when you’re asked and then choose to do something, you feel valued, important, like you’re the best person for the job. You’ve got the smarts or the know-how to really be of benefit in the situation. And that can be flattering. It’s almost like a win-win: the person gets your help and you feel good about yourself. But are you still winning when you realize just how often you feel compelled to please other people?

From years of working in mental health, a very common theme emerged, particularly among clients who were anxious or depressed, and that is the pervasive belief that “I’m not good enough.” Somewhere along the line of your life, you believed that in order to feel secure, loved, and good about yourself, you needed to seek other people’s attention, approval, and affirmation. Now, every person does need those three things; but they should have been be freely given to you by your parents, or your partner, or boss, rather than you having to work to receive them. So, when those needs are unmet, or you are hungry for more, you are going to look elsewhere and that often results in feeling compelled to please others.

Think about the student in the classroom who thinks: if I volunteer to help, the teacher will like me. She’ll know I’m trying hard to learn and that I really like her class. That’s what the student is thinking on the surface. What’s really going on though is that the student most likely feels unworthy and this action will convince him/her that they are valuable – the teacher needs me. It gives the student the good feeling that I’m important. I matter. I am a good student.

Now think about the person who jumps at opportunities to help, especially those individuals who already have a full plate. What’s in it for them? The belief that they are indispensable. The belief that they have something really special or important to offer. Again, this strokes the ego, their sense of value and worth. The idea that not only am I good enough – I am better than that! The motivation is clear. But it is unhealthy when you are repeatedly being taken advantage of, and when your sense of well-being is dependent on other people using you.

So, how do you learn to say “No”?

The first thing to realize is that you have a choice. You do not need to volunteer your time, your talent, your expertise every time someone asks you. People pleasers imprison themselves believing that if they say ‘No’, people will think less of them. So, they feel compelled to keep answering the text messages, running out in the middle of the night to help someone even though they have family nearby, putting their own life tasks on hold, because this person ‘needs me’. No, they don’t. We live in a world with a ton of resources - you are not the only one who can help. You need to break the cycle of rushing to commit every time the call comes in.

Choose to respond and not react. Whenever anyone asks you to do something, do not answer right away. Take a few moments to sit back and ask yourself these questions:

· What are they really asking me to do?

· Is it something that only I can do for them?

· Is this something I really want to do?

· If I say yes, how will this impact my life and my family’s life?

· Am I only doing this to build myself up?

Once you carefully think through these questions, you can now make an informed choice. You may still say yes, but now you’ve counted the costs.

But I feel so guilty saying ‘No’! Then truly there is a problem. You need to realize that you are not the solution to everyone’s problem. You have to recognize that your worth is not dependent on your good deeds. You have to believe that you are still being kind when you turn down the opportunity, because it is allowing that person to become more resourceful and potentially less dependent (needy). And as you very well know, if you say ‘No’, there are more people pleasers who will say ‘Yes’. If your relationship with that person was dependent on you doing things for them repeatedly, and they get upset when you don’t jump at the chance to help, well, it most likely is a one-sided selfish relationship on their part.

Years ago, when I started a new job, I can remember a seasoned colleague warning me about doing too much and taking on too many projects. Did I listen to her? No. I thought I would know when I was doing too much, recognize when I was being taken advantage of, and notice well ahead of time when I was getting exhausted. She also told me, they’ll keep using you if you let them and then find the next warm body to fill your shoes when you’re gone. She was so right! I should have listened then, but I certainly apply her wisdom now. If I don’t take the time to consider those 5 questions, I’m going to slip back into old patterns.

Think of people pleasing as an addiction where your driven by your needs for approval, attention, and affirmation. It becomes the burden of willingly carrying a monkey on your back. Lay down that burden, to be everything to everyone. Learn to say “No” by breaking through your fears of not being good enough.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Mt 10:29-31)

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon