Some people write about love and happiness. About achieving dreams and inspiring moments. Others, like me, rarely write about it. I decided to make an exception, just this once. There are two kinds of love: (1) the unconditional kind – the kind without conditions; (2) the conditional kind – the kind with strings attached. The kind of love that stings. The kind of love that is painful. That leads to anxiousness, exhaustion, depression. The kind that causes harm to one’s self-worth. The kind that f****** with my mind.
Conditional love, unfortunately, comes naturally. It is intrinsically related to being human.
From birth, we are being raised with conditional love. Not surprisingly, unconditional love does not come naturally. But, the good news is, it can be learned, thus replacing conditional love. It sounds simple but it is not. It requires breaking habits and previously held beliefs. It requires change. And we all know that most people only change when the change is beneficial to them. And therein lies oftentimes the problem.
I was destined to become a people pleaser. From the moment I was born. Parents are expected to offer unconditional love. Not mine. Sure, I received plenty of love. The conditional kind that is. A tit-for-tat kind of love. A kind of love with devastating consequences. The kind that leads to the learned behavior of people pleasing. My defense mechanism, build up around the fear of never being enough, made me into a people pleaser extraordinaire. People-pleasing is often referred to as codependency in phycological terms. The only problem with that term is that it implies a neediness of the child. The child that feels excessive amounts of dependency on mother and/or father. I can however assure you that no emotionally smothered child would ever voluntarily choose this codependent relationship with a parent. The parent’s emotional neediness starts from birth and as such the child just absorbs what is expected from them, without a choice in the matter. By the time the child realizes what is happening it is already too late. This assumes that the child has the ability to see what is going on, which is not a given either.
For the one that gets pleased, there are no issues. There is only pleasure. For the pleaser, there is just pressure. Lots of it. Pressed to be friendly, nice, cheerful. Stressed to fulfill unreasonable expectations. Ensnared in my parent’s emotional neediness, subjected to a form of emotional abuse that was subtle and insidious, I became the people pleaser my parents so carefully cultivated. Losing my free-spirit in the process, I struggled to survive, searching for the self I lost. I became emotionally numb. Against all odds, I never lost my fighting spirit. I had this unbearable desire to break free, to escape, to get away as far as possible, never to return. I just didn’t know how to find the freedom I so desperately craved.
If the above sounds all a bit depressive, that’s because it is. I took me four years to find the
courage to leave home. A time marked by enormous feelings of guilt and disloyalty. My parents made their feelings of rejection quite clear. I consider myself lucky that I still had the will-power to leave for another continent. Far enough away from my parents’ orbit. Many children of smothering parents with narcissistic tendencies never find the courage to leave as they prefer safety over contemplated freedom. They have often lost their self-respect and confidence.
My journey has been long and difficult, littered with depression, self-hate, and sadness. Some
side effects unfortunately still remain. My fierce independence is not the most appealing I have been told. I find solace in loneliness. There is however hope for those like me. It took me a long time to realize that it is possible to break down my own defenses, to set boundaries, to say no, to get rid of toxic relationships. It has been liberating, exhilarating, not having to please anyone, to be able to make room for the real me, to diminish the role of the people pleaser while remaining generous and kind. It has been freeing to discover that I am enough. I am enough because I exist. Nothing more, nothing less. I was born to express – life. Nowadays my mind is more at ease and I’m more at peace. As for unconditional love, I have yet to find it. Maybe someday...
Thank you, Katja, for this thought-provoking article and for trusting me with this topic.
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