Please. A Pleaser?

It wasn’t until I talked to my Aunt Mary that I fully understood how I’d become a pleaser, and I wasn’t really pleased about it.  Not that having a pleasing behavior is always a bad thing; it’s just that I’d never pieced together this aspect of myself in quite this way until I spoke with Aunt Mary.  Aunt Mary is my mom‘s only sister and since my mother’s death, seemed a ripe source of information about my accident.  Yet, the conversation was uncomfortable.  As we talked, it seemed to me that Aunt Mary was going out of her way to not blame my mother, since the accident did indeed occur on her watch.  As my mom ironed in the basement and my sister Susie played nearby, I snuck up to the kitchen to get some crackers, secreted away above the stove.  “Aunt Mary, the accident was my fault,” I told her.  “I knew what I was doing and remember doing it.  I have no one to blame but myself.”  Aunt Mary seemed taken aback and heartily disagreed.  “Annie,” she said with exasperation, “It was not your fault.  You were two years old.  How could it ever have been your fault.”  Her words hung in the air.   I thought about them for a long time. 

For the first time in my life, my perspective changed.  For the better part of my life, I felt guilty about the accident, believing that I had caused my own fate and was forever doomed to be responsible for it, which I must add, I always have been.  I rarely felt sorry for myself, fully rehabilitated myself and developed a persona of never letting other people down.  In my young mind, I reasoned that because no one talked about the accident, particularly my family, they knew what I had done and how stupid it had been.  I pledged to myself never to let my family down again…..and became a pleaser.  Straight A’s.  Editor of the school newspaper.  Athlete.  Generally good person.

Aunt Mary’s words had such power and made so much sense.  When I thought of my own children as two-year-olds, I’d marvel how the train was in motion, but the conductor was rarely home, which is to say, they didn’t know enough to be responsible for much.  Yet I didn’t give my small self the benefit of that doubt.  In fact, I’d never thought of it any other way than that it had been my fault.  In my mind’s eye, whether I’d created the memory from strands of conversation or whether I actually remembered it, I saw myself going up those basement stairs and heading for the stove.

The power of not talking about it meant that I had to give myself an answer however far-fetched it might be when I examined it as an adult.

How might my answer have changed if the event would have been processed this way as a child?  How might my behavior have changed?  These days my pleaser tendencies are not so noticeable and I like to think of myself squarely as a “B+”, hardly a type A anymore.  Age mellows me.  Exploration like this frees me.

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6 Comments

  1. Isn’t it amazing how something from the past can still affect us? Even at the tender age of 2, you knew something went wrong. You felt guilty, even though you were too young to know what you had done. You carried it with you for years—quietly. Pleasing everyone was a good release and it made you feel better. You hoped that maybe that would help you heal. But in the end you realized talking/writing about your accident was your healing process.

    The beauty of getting older is we also become wiser.

    You are amazing.

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  2. Great post! I highly doubt you would have been a slacker had the accident not happened though. 🙂 I think it put your pleasing personality into overdrive. Nobody did anything wrong. Your mom couldn’t watch you every second, you just wanted a cookie. At another time, you would have gotten your cookie and there wouldn’t have been an issue. You put a heavy burden on yourself, as did your mom. It’s good you’re letting it go.

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  3. I think it’s great that even though you put additional pressure on yourself, you have still made positives out of a tough situation in that the things that you list as bi-products of your experience are virtues. Even if they made life a little more difficult . . . It’s great to get to A+ status and have to back off. The reverse is more difficult.

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  4. You know as your younger brother I never blamed you for the accident even though I was not yet born. That is what it truely was, an accident. I know as I have had a few of them (swing, bikes, motorcycles, etc). The results of which you feel that you needed to be in more control of your life. Luckly, I was always at the receiving end of your generosity and being there for me. Gotta love you for that!!!

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  5. too lovely. yes i agree. age does free us from many things in manny good ways. even those bits of our temperament/personality/hard-wiring that we consider a liability can smooth down some. growing older isn’t all bad. keep on!

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  6. Anne: So you think by blaming yourself for something that you could not have know better on (at 2 years of age) has made you a people pleaser? Very interesting, I feel I am a people pleaser and feel it stems from my early family life of always being on the defense for someone being upset or yelling at me or another family member. I always wanted to keep the peace because peace was not the norm at home. People pleasers do reach their limits at some point and really let their feelings out, sometimes when too much has built up- i.e kitchen sink–Ha!

    Reply

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