When I was a little girl, my uncle gave me two kittens. I was and am a cat lover. I loved everything about cats. I loved them when they were kittens, and I loved them when they were bigger. It seems like we always had kittens around back then because people didn’t get animals spayed and neutered like they do now. I LOVED these two kittens, and I was playing with them out in the yard. For some reason I put them inside an ice chest. Who knows what imaginary game I was playing? Maybe it was a ship that was sailing on the high seas, and, I put them in there to catch mice. At any rate, I put them in there, and I got distracted.
A day or so later, or maybe it was hours, I couldn’t find my kittens. I looked and looked and then remembered where I’d put them. I went over to the ice chest and lifted the lid…. and they were dead. I tell you this story because I remember it today like it was yesterday. I’m crying about it right now while I re-tell it. My forgetfulness as a four year old or five year old killed two little kittens that depended on me. It was the most horrible memory I have of my childhood. I have talked about it in therapy, and I’ve discussed it with my friends when we’re talking about regrets, failures and mistakes we’ve made. It haunts me, and it has all of my life.
The emotion it brings up for me is shame … I am ashamed because I let those babies down. I hate that kind of shame. And that same horrible, sinking, heavy feeling has caused me to “people-please” all of my life. I struggle with it at work with authority figures because I always want to be whatever it is they want me to be. I struggle with it in all my relationships because I try to read minds and anticipate who I should be in order to keep them around. I even struggle with it when I’m writing this blog. Hell, this stuff is on the internet. And, I’ve been putting myself out there, warts and all. A friend asked me if I ever had that dream where you’re in a room full of people, and you realize you’re naked. Yes…. why, yes, I have. And, I know exactly what it is about.
I’ve really worked on showing up as who I am…. on showing up as me – not who others want me to be or who I think they want me to be. But, boy is it hard sometimes. Last Saturday at the 5K in my hometown, I walked off from an interaction with an old friend, and when I returned, they were making fun of me. I felt like a knife was sticking in my side. I wanted to say something and explain myself and correct their impression they had of me because, dammit, I want them to like me. But I gently told myself that not everyone is going to understand me or like me, and that’s okay. Who knows – I may not like them either.
The first task I had to do was to find out who I was. That’s the big trick in being who you are. I spent so many years trying to be what I was supposed to be that I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted out of life. That took awhile to explore. And, I’m still figuring it out. I remember those baby steps of saying no the first few times. I kept waiting for the world to end or someone to get mad, but most of the time they didn’t. That was shocking to me. In fact, they seemed to RESPECT me more. Their response was a real eye-opener. And people compromised with me. All of those fears I’d had all my life about what would happen if people weren’t pleased with me were only fears – False Evidence Appearing Real. They had absolutely no basis in reality. The more I stepped out in faith, and I saw the results were favorable, the more comfortable I became in these situations.
I lost some friends. Some of my relationships ended. And, I felt a lot of shame over that. I was conditioned to not let people down, and I was letting people down by not being who they wanted me to be. I would make people uncomfortable by speaking up, making waves, having fun when they thought we should be serious, taking care of me instead of their feelings and going against the status quo. When I started writing this blog, I had a noticeable exodus of friends that I used to hang with. It hurt. But, I also knew that I found something that really lit my fire, and I had to follow it wherever it was going to take me. It’s my life. I had to live it regardless of what happened.
What happened next really surprised me. I had new friends that were attracted to me. They related to who I was because they were like me. And, these were the people I really liked. I hated being around people who were always trying to anticipate what other people wanted and limiting themselves in the process. It made me anxious. It made me self-conscious. I couldn’t depend on them because they were trying to please everybody or be what they thought they should be, and they were wishy-washy. I didn’t really know them anyway because they didn’t know themselves. These people that are attracted to me now that I’m “being who I am” are people that are attracted to ME ….. not an act. Like attracts like. We are more compatible.
I had to learn to trust. It didn’t seem like people-pleasing had anything to do with my trust issues, but it did. I didn’t trust that I was okay the way I was. I didn’t trust that God created me in a way that was special and was worthy of love. I didn’t trust that being imperfect was acceptable. So, every time I risked being who I was, I was stepping out in trust. Now I trust that when I do something, I’ll be okay. I trust that I will have support in the way I need it no matter what I do. I may not do everything right, and I screw it up all the time, but I trust that any wrong can be forgiven. And, if it’s not, I trust that I can start over again with a new outlook.
I still feel sad over those kittens. They trusted me. And, I let them down. In fact, I let them down in a really big way. But, I was a little girl. I didn’t mean to harm them. I have to trust that somewhere in the kitty universe, they know that, and they forgive me. Who knows, maybe my kitties that I have now are spiritual descendents of those babies, and I’m making up for my shortcomings by giving them a great life. Wouldn’t it be great if things worked out that way?