In Licking Our Trauma Wounds, I spoke about some of my residual damage from experiencing sexual abuse. I also mentioned that much of it is subconscious until jolted by a triggering event. One of the things that became exacerbated by my sexual abuse was my bent for people pleasing. I know this may come as a surprise to some since many think I have always boldly skipped to my own beat. While I do have this tendency, I have also been burdened (albeit self-inflicted) with the desire to please others.
Recently, I experienced a break-up. There were obvious components of this I knew I needed to process and heal from. And then there were some subconscious things at play I was completely unaware of—until a few days ago. Prior to last week, I thought I’d taken adequate time to navigate through all of the things that needed to be addressed within me. And I had some incredible break-throughs as a result.
Yayyy! Time passed, and I knew for sure I was good. Yeah, not so much!
Two weeks ago, there were three instances where my desire to please others resulted in me compromising my values. Feeling the guilt of this and knowing that, at this point in my life, it wasn’t characteristic of me to oblige someone for fear of them rejecting me; there grew an incredible sense of urgency for me to get to the bottom of what was going on. Much to my surprise (or chagrin, shall I say), I realized my people pleasing tendencies had flared up post break-up. This was something I’d dealt with (or so I thought) years ago. Welp…I totally neglected to take into account that a trigger for people pleasing is what I perceive to be rejection (or even the threat of it).
So while I worked hard to resolve my people pleasing years ago and knew enough to draw the connection between this and my fear of rejection, I couldn’t fathom this would be something I would still need to be aware of and work at for the rest of my life. As I dug into what I was feeling and why, it was interesting for me to learn that even though I was the one who initiated the break-up, I still ended up feeling rejected. I subconsciously felt I wasn’t good enough since I wasn’t worth this person being who I needed them to be.
“If he really saw who I was and what I wanted to be to him, he would have been the person I needed him to be. But since this didn’t happen, it means I wasn’t good enough.”
I internalized this as rejection without even realizing this was something I was contending with subconsciously. And so needless to say, post break-up I proceeded without caution. Thus landing me in a place where I found myself vulnerable to my desperate need to have approval and then compromising my values.
I thought through my fear and feelings of rejection, and reflected on other times in my life when I’d felt this way. In peeling back the layers, I realized the course for my people pleasing was set in adolescence and cemented by my sexual abuse. My bent to please others was birthed as a result of the dynamic between my mother and I. The older and more independent I became, the more it seemed we struggled. It would appear she grew resentful of me not needing her anymore. This was followed by a stark shift in her response to me. Whenever she was upset or disappointed, her default punishment was to withdraw attention and affection. Initially, my instinct was to do whatever I could to win her over again. But this cycle was exhausting, and the emotional pain insufferable. I eventually gave up. I became hardened and accepted that I was inherently not good enough.
The sexual abuse I experienced only confirmed this for me. I subconsciously believed, “It was because I wasn’t good enough that I was raped.” I felt thrown away and rejected. And so, in a desperate attempt to gain control, I developed an incessant desire and pattern of behavior to prove to people I am good enough. Obviously, me not being good enough is a lie and a trick from the enemy to keep me in a place mentally and emotionally where I am ineffective. The fact of the matter is, I am good enough! This is the reason Jesus died for me on the cross. He found me worthy enough (Romans 5:8) to willingly die such a publically humiliating and gruesome death.
In working through this recently, I saw that my self-sufficiency blinded me to the danger I’d fallen into. Because my fear of rejection wasn’t something I was constantly handing over to God. I ended up (wrongfully) thinking I could manage it on my own. Not knowing it, this fear along with my people pleasing were spreading like a disease to every part of my life (family and friend interactions, cowering to others’ views and feelings at work, compromising values in dating life, etc.). It’s crazy to think back just a couple of weeks ago to see the way my thought processes were so incredibly compromised. There’s no way I should have trusted myself to make sound decisions and yet because I hadn’t allowed God into my vulnerable (and hurting) places, I continued to spiral.
The lesson that was reiterated here for me was to pay special attention to my motives for doing things. If there’s any evidence of wanting to please others based on fear of being rejected—I need to stop and take a step back. It’s likely I experienced a triggering event I neglected to process, and I am struggling to trust God’s approval of me to be sufficient. I am seeing now that there will inevitably be times in my life where I am battling with a fear of being rejected. And that’s tough because this is so something I want to be done with but it is one of those things—similar to Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9), that will always reveal my desperate need for a sovereign and faithful God.