An excerpt from page 125 of my new book, Strong Girl, Brave Girl, available October 21, 2018:
After the first few weeks of counseling with Liz, I realized a recurring theme running through all of our conversations — I was bad at making decisions. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but during this season of intense choices and huge life-changes — divorce decisions and pregnancy decisions and baby decisions and boyfriend decisions — I was struggling to find myself in all of it and make choices based on what I needed.
I was in damage control for a lot of years, reacting to what was happening around me. I was gathering up pieces from a shattered marriage, and trying to carry it into my new relationship with Will. I was gathering up the bits of motherhood that I had imagined for myself, and trying to reconcile it with the way my motherhood actually looked. I was on the defense, rarely making a decision that felt proactive, and just for me.
It all came to a head after a few months in Nashville, as I wondered if I was forcing my life to work in a place where I wasn’t truly happy. My family and I made this decision to move together, but we moved with the acknowledgement that if it wasn’t working out, we could just move back. In retrospect, we all knew Edit > Undo was an option, but we never considered what would happen if just one of us took the shortcut home.
I was coming to a crossroads where I couldn’t please everyone. I wanted to be with my family, but this move was proving to be way harder than I expected. And with all the newness in my life that felt out of my control, where I lived was suddenly the only thing I could control. And any guilt about that looming decision was my own burden. Because feeling guilty implies that I’ve done something wrong. But I had done nothing wrong; I was just learning to make decisions for myself — hard decisions — and it honestly felt really selfish.
Liz talked about this spectrum that runs between selfishness (or even narcissism) and selflessness. On the selfish end, your decisions center around yourself without regard for others. On the other end, there’s selflessness, and those decisions can be solely based on the opinions of others. The middle is where you want to be — that’s where it’s healthy. But most of us lean one way or another depending on our personality. For me, the chronic people pleaser, I lean towards the selfless side, but not always in the warm fuzzy way. Selflessness can also look a lot like cowering or shrinking back to avoid conflict and not ruffle feathers. In the same way, selfishness can sound all bad, but in fact it can look a lot like independence, confidence, and even freedom.
The hard part about all this, and the reason Liz was sharing it with me, is that no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum, any movement in the opposite direction of your natural tendency can feel like a giant leap. In one small step from making decisions for other people towards making decisions for yourself, it can feel like you’re zooming to the other end of the spectrum at full speed. When in reality, it’s just a step. There’s tension, because the step is not in the direction you’re used to going, but it’s still just a step.
What I loved about Liz was that she would always direct the decision-making back to me — what do I feel and what do I think and what do I need. It felt selfish to want to move home, because that required leaving my family behind. Even knowing that it was what I needed, not just what I wanted. It felt like a giant leap towards selfishness, and I was convinced I was well on my way to full-on narcissism.
But it was just a step. A step towards independence, followed by confidence that I was making the right decision, and ultimately the freedom to step into the life that Poppy and I actually needed all along.
Are you a fellow chronic people-pleaser? Do you find it hard to make decisions just for yourself? Where do you find yourself on that spectrum between selfishness and selflessness?
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