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.