I have always known exactly what to say and do to make sure people like me. Any kid with abandonment issues knows how this survival skill works. It is like some freakish superpower--every conversation I have, I know how to endear myself to the person I am talking to. Within a few seconds I can read what they need to hear from me. Agreement? An ego-stroking? Do they need me to say that their horrible child is filled with angelic sweetness? Do they need me to agree that yes, your boss HAS to be the problem for sure--of course it isn't your fault! Do they need me to be a Christian? (Liberal or Conservative; Evangelical or Mainline; Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant???) Before I even realize it, I am giving them exactly what they want to hear, regardless of my actual feelings, beliefs or opinions.
It has taken me years to figure out that I do this. It never occurred to me that I was not being honest--in fact I remember telling a needy friend (after I had been avoiding her for several weeks, and she called me to find out what was going on 'with us') that no--there wasn't any issue between us--I just had some other personal stuff going on--that was why I hadn't been around. You never have to worry, Friend, I said. I will be honest with you if that were the case. Those were the words that came out of my mouth before I even thought about it. The truth is, I WANTED that to be the case--wanted to be the kind of person that could be honest with someone when they were sucking the life energy out of me and I needed some space to re-evaluate the healthy-ness of our friendship. But instead, I just worked harder at avoiding her after that.
This way of living--telling the world what they want to hear so that they will love me and never leave me--it isn't something that at age 42, I have to do anymore. I know that I'm not seven-year-old Shelley desperate for her mom to move back into the house. I don't have to be afraid that I won't be able to take care of myself. My body has been trying to tell me for years that speaking out of fear of abandonment instead of out of my authentic truth does not serve me anymore: depression, panic attacks, headaches, obsessions.
Telling the truth of my experience is easy in this setting. But I have this uncomfortable feeling--a prickly nudging--that I will eventually have let go of my fear of being misunderstood by my own real-life, in-person community where I live and work, and trust that I will be ok even if nobody 'gets me' ever. My creative work (writing and working in my art journal) gives me a little more courage every day to believe that I am enough--and it continues to kindly and gently point the way to Myself.
My name is Shelley. I write about stuff that happens to me so you won't feel so alone. Email me at email@example.com.