Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making everybody's problems go away

I think this could have been the motto or the perfect description of the reason of my existence for as long as I can remember.

I still have the disease of "perfection" as one of my favorite bloggers calls it. I constantly feel the urge of "fixing" everyone's problems, lives, whatevers. Even when I have absolutely nothing to do with them.

It's so difficult to distinguish between "my problems" and "their problems" since I was never taught the difference. "Their problems" were always "my problems" in a very internal way. If anyone near me was sad, angry, frustrated, or felt any negative feelings besides utter bliss, it was instantly interpreted as my fault. Either because I caused it by not wearing what NM wanted me to, by not pretending to be happy enough to participate in an event I did not want to, or by not showing gratitude after months for a present that clearly showed how NM did not know me. Or, because there was another cause for the person's unhappiness, but nevertheless, I have become magically appointed as the only one who could fix it.

This way, I was suddenly responsible for being for NM a devoted, loving and accepting father and a mother whom she never had, a devoted, loving, passionate and supportive husband who was always on business trips, a cheerful, fun, loving and supportive friend, whom she never had, and all other people that she needed at the moment. And at the same time, providing this be-whom-I-want-you-to-be service to everyone else who happened to be around. Switching between alternate selves, if that was required.

I still don't know how to say no to other people's desires, even if we are not even really connected. When I somehow still have the strength to do so (and it takes a LOT of strength to deny someone something, at least for me), I feel desperate. I feel that I have failed the other person. That I, myself, willingly have caused pain. That I am now responsible for making it right.

The original recipe was getting an unrealistic request, saying yes and hoping that the other person will not realize that I was not doing the thing they asked. This, of course, never really worked, but it at least bought me some time.
If it was inevitable, the other method was saying no, then instantly regretting it, saying yes, then yes again a thousand times, and going out of my way to make amends for saying no in the first place. This is who I do not want to be anymore.

I am now in a situation, where I had to say no to a person, to whom I am not really close to, but whom I still like a lot, about a project we both really care about. I know it is reasonable and logical to say no, and that it would have caused me a lot of extra work, difficulties with no real benefits to say yes. I still feel very sad, and helpless. My instincts still tell me to say yes. I have almost failed to resist, but I'm still sticking to my decision.

I want to be able to differentiate between my problems and other people's problems. Dealing with mine, and letting them deal with theirs.

I hate being conditioned as a very eager and willing doormat. I want to be me, whoever that is. I want to get to know the real me.

I hope this will get easier in time. Now, it is really difficult.

I have not talked to NM for a week now. I'm getting more and more balanced again.


  1. It does get easier with time. I also practiced by going to places where I knew they would ask me to do more, some restaurants waiters are required to ask you about buying more. I say no to little things that don't have the emotional punch. One of the things my counselor taught me is if I say yes to the other person I am saying no to myself. I am a former door mat. I still enjoy helping other people but I do it on my terms and my standard. I am happier and I have friends that appreciate me. Yes I ended up changing friends. I limited contact with family that expected me to fix their problems. I learned to say yes to myself. Hugs.

  2. Former doormat here too! I learned a couple of things when I did my 4th Step inventory for AA.

    I'm a people pleaser, which is not surprising because I was responsible for the happiness and well being of everyone in my family. Instead of being loved and respected for my efforts I was treated like a doormat. Back in the day that just made me try harder to please. Outside the family, I was people pleaser too with similar results. In AA I learned that people pleasers turn into nasty little balls of resentment. Of course we are the authors of our own destruction because we never say NO!

    I'm a caretaker. Riding in on my white charger to sort out everyone's problems puts me in control and makes me feel important. Trouble is I "caretake" people who may not want to be "caretook". Then THEY resent ME! Caretaking can be a really good quality but I have learned to help out only when people ASK for my help and, unless it's an emergency, only when it isn't a burden on me.

    The most important thing I've learned from all this is that "NO" is a complete sentence. Not, "Sorry, no." and not, "No, because..." Just "NO" with no apology, excuse or explanation because those things invite the other person to try and change your mind.

    So there I go, caretaking YOU, Scatha!

  3. Hi Scatha, I have that problem too. Always wanting to smooth things out for everyone.
    I really like what MF says above about being the 'caretaker' even when not asked. I noticed that my NM and NMIL are like this (although obviously for much different reasons that Mulderfan. They do it to make people like them, to feel needed, to be in charge, to get something in return, i.e. love, gratitude, obligation, whatever). My NMIL is constantly rushing in to "help" often before she is needed or wanted and often without even knowing WHAT is needed. She does what she would want or need in the situation.
    Watching this made me realize how much I don't want to be that person. Because, even if my motives are pure (a desire to help), it is narcissistic of me to assume that I would know what they need without them asking. It's also a bit narcissistic of me to assume I have the ability to fix ALL of these problems.
    Not that I am (or you are) a narcissist, but turning it around in my head like this helped me to stop it. Stop rushing in, stop fixing things. I do not have the ability (or stamina or knowledge) to be the fixer all the time. And it is only a swelled ego (probably projected onto me by my NM) to assume I could or should.
    Maybe I'm way off base for how your feeling, but just my two cents.

  4. It's almost like we never got to go through that phase when you're little kid of saying "no" all the time. Hell, maybe really we didn't or it was punished out of us by N parents when we started. Either way, now that we're learning to say no as adults we have all this extra baggage about saying no that we're carrying around.


Comments are welcome!