I had a nightmare Friday night. When I think of nightmares, I imagine those dreams that include violence, abuse and terror. I wake up in fear.. heart pounding …. relieved that it was just a dream. My emotions and reactions to my emotions are escalated as if the events of this dream really happened. It takes awhile to relax and get back to sleep. I’m grateful that I don’t have nightmares very often. I had a lover who had nightmares every night. He described his dreams, and they were always about groups of people chasing him with knives or guns and often he was killed in a bloody battle. He grew up in a very abusive environment, and I’ve always believed his nightmares were a symbolic reliving of the torture that he endured. He would describe those dreams as if they were normal, and I would be absolutely horrified at having dreams like that every night. His inner world terrified me. He was numb to it.
My nightmare didn’t involve blood. It had no violence. By many people’s measure of nightmares, it would have been silly. What I know about dreams is they are our subconscious trying to work something out, and, for me, my dreams usually mirror something that I’m grappling with emotionally. That’s what makes dreams so real and scary when they come in the form of nightmares. Some deep-seated fear that I have is being tapped in real life, and I’m either pushing it down or have not dealt with it. The nightmare brings it home in shocking images. I’ve learned to look at my dreams’ messages. The sooner I actually process the real life drama, the sooner I can sleep peacefully.
My nightmare was about not being liked… about being left out … being excluded. I dreamed that I showed up at my college, and all of my college friends were there. I could see their faces plain as day. When I showed up, I was shocked into the realization that there was this big party going on, and I had not been invited. I walked up to talk with them, and they looked at me as if I had three heads. They would hardly speak. I would ask questions, and they’d give me short answers and turn away. I was so hurt and confused and I was in enormous pain. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t they invite me to the party? Why don’t they LIKE me? I woke up in a sweat … crying …. my heart was racing, and I had this deep throbbing pain in my heart. For a moment, it didn’t even relieve me that it was a dream. I just knew it was real. I just knew that some life was going on without me, and I was intentionally being excluded.
I’ve grappled with people-pleasing … the desire to be liked … to be someone that people approved of … all my life. Recovering addicts say that it’s a part of an addictive personality to have this feeling that we somehow don’t fit. I’ve actually found that many people who are not addicts feel the same way. I would almost argue it’s a very normal part of the human condition to think we don’t fit. We see our insides. We see everyone else’s outsides. There are very few people – if any – that we ever come to know in a transparent way. What I love about 12 step programs is that we share very intimately in meetings. It helps me to see that other people have these same inner demons that I do, and they are okay. They are likable. They have lives which have meaning. And, yet… they struggle with many of the same fears I do.
For me, the most difficult time I ever had with self-image and the fear that I wasn’t liked was in high school and college. However, there has always been an underlying desire to be liked and to fit myself to what others thought I should be. It’s been interesting to be back here in Louisiana where my worst people-pleasing fears were fertilized. The same faces and places automatically bring me back to those paralyzing fears that I was somehow a misfit. With many, I’m getting a chance to work it out and realize I wasn’t a misfit at all. Back then I had a drinking problem, and I’ve had to deal with the remorse and embarrassment of that, and I’ve learned that most of them really didn’t even notice. They had their own stuff going on. For so many years, my actions associated with my black-out drinking haunted me, and I’m sure it was one of the reasons I wanted to stay away. I was scared my early behavior had somehow made me a pariah.
The other day I was overwhelmed with a fear of not being liked. I don’t even remember what event brought it on, but I’m sure it was also related to my feeling a bit depressed. Depression always overlays that filter that says I’m not lovable. I was walking my dog, and I was going over the list of people in my mind that didn’t like me, and I was trying to determine how I needed to BE in order for them to like me. All of a sudden, this angry voice rose up inside of me that said, “Why the hell do you care if they LIKE you?” I don’t know if it was God (yes, I believe God curses on occasion) or my inner wisdom, but it really jerked me back to reality. Why do I care if they like me? I know the deep-seated reasons I care. I’m afraid that if I’m not liked, I will be abandoned. It’s an early belief that in order to be cared for, loved and safe, I need to be good. Otherwise I will die….because children depend on others for their very life. I carried that belief into adulthood, and it doesn’t work for adults. I should have shed that belief much sooner than I did, but I used addictions to numb me out. It kept me from learning life skills at an appropriate age. So be it … that was my path… that was my real-life nightmare … this obsession with people-pleasing. And it haunts me still at certain times. It paralyzes me.
My nightmare was a short trip back to my core fear of not being lovable. It’s MY FEAR. It has nothing to do with reality. It’s an old shoe that doesn’t fit any more. I try it on for size every now and then because it’s comfortable. Sometimes it’s more comfortable than putting my real self out there and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s often more comfortable than developing my own talents and gifts and being who God made me to be. But, those shoes are ugly and full of holes, and they hurt me. They sit in a closet in the dark among other old lifeless shoes that are turning into dust among the cobwebs. I don’t need to go back there. There are new shoes to try, and I have to get out there and put them on. Some I will like, and some I won’t. I can try on dancing shoes … hiking shoes … comfortable shoes .. running shoes … sexy shoes .. and shoes that I’ve never even seen before that nobody else wants. They are just shoes. Who cares if anybody else likes them? They are my damn feet … and my damn walk! If you don’t like my shoes, go get your own! 🙂