For many years, I thought that saying yes to everyone and everything was a character trait.
I was kind, empathetic, and deeply understanding, so not wanting to hurt other people with my no made sense.
It took me many years to realize that constantly saying yes isn’t a character trait; it isn’t even a character flaw. It’s a trauma response…and it’s called “people pleasing.”
What exactly is a trauma response? It’s how we cope with trauma and react to it long after its occurrence. This coping mechanism is so powerful that it slowly becomes an innate part of ourselves. When something triggers it, we might not even recognize that we’re coping, defending, or even “surviving.”
The worst part is that we might not even know that we’re triggered; that’s why we identify many of our behaviors as character traits. Well, they’re not. Most of our “strange” behaviors are trauma responses in disguise. If we don’t recognize them, we might continue to inflict pain on ourselves and others.
I know how challenging it is to acknowledge when we’re in a trauma response state. It’s hard to separate a character trait from a behavior that’s coming from a past hurt. But learning more about ourselves, our childhood, and our flaws might help us make a distinction.
In my opinion, there are five major behaviors that could be trauma responses:
1. People pleasing. Pleasing someone is not the same as being kind to them (I learned this the hard way). Not having the courage to say no is deeply rooted in having a low self-esteem. If we don’t trust or love ourselves, we might be inclined to endlessly and unconditionally please other people in order to fill the void within us. When we satisfy others, we receive tons of validation—and validation is perfect for someone who might think they’re worthless. Saying no to others might jeopardize this opportunity and let us sink even deeper into the pit of unworthiness.
2. Blame. I’m not sure what exactly triggers blame, but I do know for sure that it’s a trauma response. People who blame others usually find it difficult to accept responsibility over their emotions and choices. I’m not excusing bad or harmful behavior, but I find it strange that some of us are willing to keep blaming people, life, God, and actually everything instead of changing our situation, making different choices, or accepting responsibility. When we focus on blame, we gradually move away from gratitude and the things that make our life easier.
3. Anger. Many people think that being tense or feeling on edge is a normal state of being. I think it’s a trauma response. Tension or aggression in our bodies might be due to some past events that haven’t been resolved, understood, or validated. When a problem or mishap gets stuck in our subconscious mind, it usually manifests as anger and we might find it difficult to remain calm during tough or upsetting situations.
4. Victim mentality. Playing the victim is a coping mechanism that usually begins in childhood. Maybe we were raised in a toxic environment where we were neglected, abandoned, bullied, or abused. As a result, we create a negative view of life and believe that we don’t have control over our problems. So we blame everything and everyone, thinking that it’s their fault—never ours.
5. Defensiveness. For those of us who get defensive, we might feel attacked or threatened. And what happens when we’re attacked? We immediately pull our shields of protection to guard ourselves from any disagreement, bullying, manipulation, criticism, or (god forbid) being wrong. Furthermore, if we haven’t learned how to properly communicate our emotions, especially during conflicts, we might resort to defensiveness instead.