Q It seems that all my life I’ve been there for everybody else, family and friends, yet whenever I need some help and support no-one’s there for me. They all know me as being strong and standing up for others when they need it, but what they don’t see is that I could do with some back up myself sometimes.
I feel drained by everyone else’s problems and needs and I feel like walking away.
My parents are dead now but they were both strong dominant people and I just kept the peace at home and tried to make them and my little sister happy. I’ve had enough, and I’m getting sick of not getting what I want in my life. I know that sounds selfish but it’s how I feel.
A It sounds as though your ‘inner child’ has been focusing upon being a good and helpful girl – and yet not been appreciated or rewarded for it.
As children, particularly in troubled homes, we soon learn that in order to be seen as OK we have to behave in a certain way. A way that might be at odds with how we’re really feeling.
If this is the case we have to then wear a ‘mask’ to convince others (and ourself) that this is the new and better version of ourselves – the one that the people around us prefer. We have become conditioned to behave and appear in a certain way.
These are also known as ‘conditions of worth’ – for example:-
I’m seen as worthy to be here as long as I…….
I will be accepted here but only on the condition that I………….
As adults we need to become aware of the messages about ourselves that we give out to others – and whether they are true or false.
Might you be saying (verbally or otherwise):-
Rely on me..I’ll always be there for you no matter what…never mind about me…you matter more than I do.
I’m not suggesting that you’re doing this in some kind of ‘martyr’ way, just that you mean well but this comes at a price. The cost is that your own needs are getting overlooked.
We can easily lose touch with who we are and what we want and need – especially if we’ve become used to looking after everyone else first.
Perhaps you could also ask yourself:-
What am I hoping people will think of me and how they’ll feel towards me based upon what I do for them?
Perhaps you are looking outside of yourself for ‘validation’ – that feeling that you are OK as a human being, as a woman, as a friend etc.
If so that puts you at a disadvantage. Robust validation comes from inside. It comes from knowing that ‘flaws and all’ you are a good person who deserves to be happy and loved for who you are, not for what you can do for someone else.
That inner validation starts with self love and care. No, not the up-yourself narcissistic type of ‘look how wonderful I am’ type of messages (which are fake anyway, and hide the opposite feelings); but more a ‘Yes, I have flaws like everyone else but I am worthy and deserving of love, respect, care and support.’
This time of self-reflection will also be a good time for you to look at your personal boundaries around time – and what you are and aren’t willing to do for someone else.
It’s vital that you ARE selfish – in a good way – and put your own needs first (unless a situation arises when a child’s needs must come first).
Rehearse saying ‘no’ assertively (something you perhaps couldn’t do in childhood). You can soften it with a ‘not at the moment…I’d prefer not to…I’ll let you know when I’ve made up my mind’ etc.
Take the time you need to evaluate what you need and whether or not you want to meet someone else’s request (assuming it is a request, and that you haven’t just jumped in to rescue someone who doesn’t need or want it!)
Take care of your own inner child – that deeper part of you whom you’re finally listening to and who is activating your present feelings with the message ‘What about Me!’
Write down the actual help and support you need and from whom.
List in the categories of – emotional, affectionate/physical, practical, financial, spiritual
What gets in the way of you getting these?
Do these people even know what you’d like from them?
You will need to make yourself clear.
Remember, they’re not obliged to provide it for you though. They too have their own boundaries!
The bottom line is that you were not born with this pattern of unrewarding behaviour.
You have been conditioned and programmed to behave in a compliant and people-pleasing way.
It can be ‘un-learned’ and you can instead become more self-validating, authentic (no-mask), assertive and able to maintain your boundaries against those who would try to knock them down (directly or with emotional manipulations).
Family are the hardest people to be different around – as they will no doubt prefer you to continue to be the overwhelmed and drained helper and peace-keeper.
You have a choice to make. Rescue and re-parent your inner child, or to carry on wiping yourself out in the service of other people.
If you want some help with the former you’ll find it at my website below.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com Where you will find FREE e-booklets and other free resources designed to help and inform you on your journey of self-knowledge and development