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  • Writer's pictureHilary McMeeking

Why do I always put other people first?

Updated: Sep 21, 2019

Do you ever wonder this? I know I have in the past. The trouble is you can spend so much energy on making sure everyone else is ok that you hardly notice yourself, all you know is that you are completely exhausted and perhaps a little resentful. And what do we do with this resentfulness? Get snappy at others? Sulk a bit? Maybe both? Then we feel guilty at snapping at our loved ones but still annoyed that they have taken us for granted, and so it goes on. Do we say anything to them? No, yet the cycle continues.

Do you recognise this cycle? Have you ever wondered if there is a solution?

Yes, there is, though it takes time and quite a bit of personal work, but it is possible to recover yourself and even learn to say 'no' without feeling guilty.

So the theory is that as children, though we may have had loving parents who did the best they could for us, they may not have met our emotional needs enough times for us to grow up feeling secure. Perhaps we have grown up in a single parent household with a mother or father who had to work a lot, they do that to keep a roof over our heads but they are often emotionally exhausted. They haven't been able to reflect back to us what we have needed; they are not able or available to respond to our emotional needs. For example, if we fall over and hurt ourselves we need a loving parent to comfort us. If our parent is busy doing a million other jobs when we need them we may have just got the response 'up you get, you're ok, don't cry!' and then we're sent on our way. We hurt. We know we hurt but our trusted adult has told us we don't. And this is where it starts, of course if it happens once or even a few time with a normally attentive parent, then no damage is done. However, if this sort of failure to notice our emotions happens all the time, and not just when we fall over, we learn to ignore or question our own feelings, we learn we are wrong. Ultimately we believe that we have a fatal flaw.

We carry this feeling through to adult hood. Our emotions are not validated as children and we then have difficulty knowing and trusting our own emotional selves. We have trouble understanding not just our own feelings but other peoples feelings and emotions too. This leads to feeling disconnected or empty and even 'wrong'. The big empty hole inside you calls to be filled.

This sort of emptiness leads us to overwork and become exhausted. It leads us to be 'people pleasers'. We do this in order to be liked. As children we may have learnt to do it try to be noticed and gain love or much needed emotional feedback, but now, as adults it has become a way of life that doesn't serve us or fill the gap that we feel inside.

Yet the harder we work the less time we have to notice the gap and the empty feeling so the busyness and the resulting exhaustion, becomes a vicious circle. If you say no you'll let people down and then no one will love you! Well that can be what it feels like. Don't forget that inside you have a little child who is still trying to get its emotional needs met. And because you still have that big empty feeling, even though you have worked so hard and put everyone first, you feel resentful that you still can't get what you need; connection and love. However it's not that you can't get it but more that you can't feel it. That lack of emotional feedback as a child has made it nearly impossible to recognise your emotions or accept the emotions of others. This is what drives you to 'people please' but, as you know, it never fills that gap.

However if you have got this far and you can recognise yourself then now you can start to do something about it. Start to take time to find your own feelings. Take a few moments every day to look inside of yourself and ask yourself 'how am I doing today? What am I feeling right now and where in my body can I feel it? Listen to your emotions and try to feel them. Some emotions are difficult to handle but they come and go, even the difficult ones drift in and out, they don't last forever.

If you have someone you trust you can start to share your emotions with them. This might be a loved one, a partner or a very good friend or it might be a therapist. It will feel difficult to do all this and it's really important to take it slowly and be kind to yourself along the way. I'm not saying this is an easy journey but it can lead to recovery. You can become reconnected to your own needs, feel confident that you know exactly how you feel and who you really are. Eventually you'll be able to share your needs and desires as well as say 'no', without the guilt, because you'll know it's the right thing to do for you.

If you'd like to discuss this more or get help with your journey towards recovery I'd be pleased to hear from you.

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