Q: I am a 27 year old woman, who is often overlooked or treated like an imbecile, because I let people walk all over me. My parents praised me as a child because I was always polite and said things like “please” and “thank you”. I rarely misbehaved in public and even let others cut in line just so they wouldn’t be upset.
Well, that may have been cute as a child, but now as an adult, it’s just ridiculous. I have no friends, I guess, because I don’t have much of a personality. I’m always polite to people and try to “mind my manners” at all times. My own husband admits that when we were dating he sometimes took advantage of me because he knew he could get away with it. Ironically, today when my mother accused me of being self-centered because I wouldn’t attend a function with her, and I told her clearly that I was not going to feel guilty for something I hadn’t signed up for, she is not talking to me.
I’m beginning to wonder if my fearful/guilt-ridden/people-pleasing ways have something to do with my mother’s influence or desire to still control me. If so, how do I break away without feeling so guilty? As soon as I assert myself, I start thinking of all the money she has given my husband and me, and Iwant to apologize and say I was wrong for being rude to her. Please help me find the pathway out of this vicious cycle! Thanks.
A: I’d say you are already on your way out of the cycle because you are trying to act differently by sticking up for yourself and because you are asking for help. I would recommend the books Codependent No More and When I Say No, I Feel Guilty. You might also consider therapy or a codependency support group to help you change this lifelong pattern.
Just because someone helps you (like your mom), you don’t have to do everything they want. She chose to give you money and you chose not to go to this function. The two things are not related. You are an adult and have every right to turn down an activity. However, I often tell my clients that once you start making positive changes in your life, you may get some very negative feedback from everyone around you. They are used to the old you, the one they could manipulate. They may not be happy with your new found assertiveness and yes… you may even see some relationships end. But if they can’t support you while you are healthy, do you really want them in your life anyway? Bravo for trying to change. It’s never too late. Good luck.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Nov 2007
Counts, H. (2007). Please help me put an end to my people-pleasing ways once and for all.. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 11, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/11/25/please-help-me-put-an-end-to-my-people-pleasing-ways-once-and-for-all/