I knew my transformation was complete when I faced my biggest bully one night.
I listened as he took my inventory, listing all my inadequacies and failures. There was a time when he would have reduced me to a puddle of self-loathing tears with that conversation. But, not that night—and never again.
Seven little syllables held the key to my freedom. I’ll never forget the night I spoke those beautiful words. In one breath, my whole life changed. I realized how far I had come from the wreckage of my past.
I spoke those words from my soul, and I meant them sincerely. “I don’t need you to like me.” Then, the happy tears came. In that moment, I knew who I was—and finally, I loved that girl.
I had spent a lifetime starving for approval, acceptance, anything that resembled love. I came by my affliction honestly. I watched the pattern my whole life in the woman who raised me.
Abuse in my early years robbed me of my self-worth. I roamed around the world in my brokenness, believing that my scars were too awful for anyone to overlook. That’s how I became a people pleaser.
I didn’t know who I was. I couldn’t see past the terrible things that happened to me and the ways life had let me down. I thought that I was getting what I deserved—that I had some deep, inherent flaw that somehow made me inferior. I felt completely worthless.
Because I believed I was damaged, I thought I would have to work for anything good in life. Love was something I would have to earn. Friends would need some incentive to stick around. Teachers, bosses, anyone in authority would need a reason to treat me with kindness and respect.
I didn’t dare go against the flow, even if it meant not standing up for myself when I should have. I held onto relationships, jobs, beliefs, and all kinds of things that didn’t serve me. I couldn’t grow. I couldn’t enjoy my life. I couldn’t even see myself anymore. I saw only what I thought everyone wanted from me, and all the ways I would let them down.
I became a chameleon, blending in wherever I went. I adopted the interests, opinions, and values of others. I changed like the weather in search of somewhere, anywhere, to belong.
What this created for me was a whole life that felt like a lie.
Anxiety ruled me. I lived in constant fear of dropping one of the many plates I had to keep constantly spinning. Everything in my world depended upon that performance. It was a damn convincing show, too. It even fooled me for a while.
Eventually, I reached my breaking point. I realized that living to make everyone else happy was literally killing me. If I was ever going to be happy and healthy, I would have to let all my spinning plates fall and shatter around me. It was a terrifying choice to make. The show was everything I knew. If that went away, there would be nothing left.
The largest plate to break was my 13-year marriage—the biggest lie I was selling. I had known for several years that I was there for all the wrong reasons. Deep down, I’m sure he knew it, too. Our marriage was my security. Our family was the only family I’d ever felt a part of. The rest of my identity was built upon being his wife and the mother of his children. If I wasn’t that anymore, who was I? There was only one way to find out.
I had to drop the plates.
I let go and let them fall all around me. I didn’t bother picking up the pieces. None of them fit together anyway. I needed new pieces, a total redo.
Walking away from the lie I had built didn’t fix my people pleasing tendencies right away. I still fell into that pattern for a couple of years. To break that cycle once and for all, three things had to happen.
First, I needed to get to know myself again.
I spent time evaluating everything that brought me to that moment. I reconnected with people who knew me before I let life change me, and talked to them about the person I was in my younger years. I remembered the things that were once important to me that I had walked away from to please others. I remembered how strong and outspoken I once was. I discovered the gifts and talents I had previously neglected and discounted. I gave myself permission to embrace the little girl inside me who needed to be loved and supported. I promised to give her everything that had been denied to her in this life. I was the only one who could do that. It was my responsibility, and I would not let her down again.
Next, I had to learn how to listen to my intuition.
I had spent years ignoring my inner guidance. Whenever it disagreed with my choices, I felt it. It didn’t feel good. But, that was less important to me than the disapproval or disappointment of someone I had deemed more deserving of my time and energy than myself. I let the expectations—spoken or imagined—of others supersede my own voice for far too long. It was time to listen to that small, still voice inside, and rebuild my life with her wisdom instead of external pressures.
Finally, I had to learn to stand up for myself.
I had to give myself permission to express myself honestly, without fear of rejection, failure, or judgment. I had to be okay with people not understanding the growth and changes that followed. I had to fight against my lifelong habit of holding onto people who hurt me. I had to put myself first, and trust that the people who really loved me for me would still be there when the dust settled on my new life.
Soon, joy returned to my days. Anxiety faded away. I felt more in control. I let people see my bare soul, without the protection of the mask I had worn all those years to conceal my flaws. My intuition grew as I learned to listen to her, and together, we built new boundaries that support my well-being and fulfillment above everything else.
“This above all, to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
This phrase became my touchstone.
It helped me see that when we put the demands of others above our own needs, we can only hurt ourselves. When we do not know, love and honor ourselves first, our relationships with others reflect that back to us. Truly, the only way to create a healthy relationship with another person is to first know and love the person you are without them.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman