People-pleasers and those with a “savior” mentality, please listen up. You cannot save other people, you can only love them. You cannot manage another person’s path, nor is it advisable to try. We all have plenty of work managing our own paths. There is nothing you can do to “make” another person happy. People are happy, or they are not. If you connect with a happy person, and you are also happy, that rocks, but you can’t do it for someone else for more than three months. When the hormones start to wear off a little, so will the magic happy potion.
The problem with trying to save anyone else is that you’re going to fail. If this is a part of your personality, a trait, a learned behavior, a dynamic that’s familiar, a way that helps you to feel safe because you’re needed, then you’re really going to need to hold it up to the light so it doesn’t own you. If you keep picking people who are in serious pain, and you keep failing to save them, you are going to start to feel like it’s you, like you’re not enough. Like you need to work harder or be different or bend over backwards a little more. Also, all your energy will be going toward other people, which conveniently lets you neglect your own well-being and it’s only a matter of time before you start to feel pretty badly about yourself.
When the constant voice inside your head is telling you you’re not enough, or you blew it again, or you said something stupid, or you have no idea what you’re doing, or you’re an idiot, you, my friend, are in a world of pain. If that voice is telling you no one likes you or you don’t ever say or do the right things, or you’re going to end up alone because you don’t know how to behave the way other people behave, it’s just a prison. You’re torturing yourself in a cell of your own making. If you’d reach out and touch the bars, you’d realize they’re made of your own pain. Of all those times in your life when you didn’t receive love. Not because you didn’t deserve it, but because the people around you didn’t understand how to give it. Those bars would crumble to the ground if you just faced that and acknowledged it. If you forgave them and forgave yourself for being confused for so long, and got on with the business of embracing yourself.
In general, people-pleasers come out of a war zone. Where else would you learn the skills? How can you know yourself, if all your energy is directed toward making other people happy? When is the right time to figure out what makes you happy? Is there ever a right time? Does it get to be your turn? I’ll tell you something. If it doesn’t get to be your turn, you’re not going to have much to offer anyone, because if you don’t know yourself and love yourself, there’s no way you’re going to uncover your gifts. If you don’t discover them, you’ll never share them. That’s the only real way you can help anyone. You figure out how to love yourself, and then you understand how to do it for someone else. It’s not about dancing like a monkey, I’ll tell you that. It’s not about bending over backwards or being perfect or living up to someone else’s idea of how you should be. It’s not about following in anybody’s footsteps, unless they absolutely feel like the footsteps you’d have taken on your own. Unless they lead you down a path that sets your heart on fire. You love people by radically accepting them. If you can’t do that because they’re in self-destruct mode, then you still accept them, but not their behavior, and you love them from afar. You love people in a way that makes them feel absolutely free to be who they are, or you let them go. But you don’t try to fix them or save them. Support them, root for them, try to get them help if they need it, of course. But manage or control or think you’re going to solve someone else’s suffering? That’s not love. You listen, deeply. You offer a hand in the dark. You show up. You honor and you cherish and you celebrate, but you have to do all those things for yourself, first.
If you don’t know how, I can offer you what worked for me. There are probably other ways, I just don’t have first-hand experience with them. You get on your yoga mat and you learn how to breathe consciously if you don’t know how to do that already. You get so involved in breathing, in each inhale and exhale, you don’t have time to think about what happened earlier, or what’s happening later. You just are. And you move. And when something challenges you, you see what comes up for you. What the committee in your head has to say. If it isn’t kind, loving or compassionate, you don’t feed it any energy. You just observe your thoughts and turn your attention back to your breath.
If you notice over and over again the voice in your head is harsh or shaming, you tell it to f&ck off, but you tell it calmly, with a little smile on your face. You could even say please, and then you feed a loving voice. Maybe you come up with a nickname for yourself. Something that you find funny, that helps you take yourself less seriously, like “Okay, Tiger, it’s not a big deal. You fell out of a pose. Keep breathing.” If you don’t like Tiger, pick something else. You do that six days a week for a very long time, and suddenly you’re doing it in your car. “Okay, Chief. You took a left when you needed to take a right. No big deal.” Then you do it when you screw up at work or at home, “Okay, Sport, you blew that one. You didn’t show up they way you wanted to. Let’s apologize and hope for forgiveness. If not, let’s practice some acceptance.” And so it goes. You stop stewing for days at a time when you make a mistake. Instead you stew for a day, then an afternoon, then an hour. You examine what went wrong, and you learn and you grow so you can do it differently next time.
You also find yourself a good therapist. Someone who will kindly hold up a mirror for you so you can take a look at yourself without shame or fear or judgment, so you can know yourself, and continue to heal, with someone in your corner. Someone who also helps you feed a loving voice, by sometimes reminding you that you “don’t have to believe everything you think”, as the saying goes. That your feelings aren’t facts. That actually, you are not an idiot. If you want to go really deeply into the land of knowing yourself, you sit your asana down and meditate. Then you’ll really get to look at your thoughts and become more interested in the quality of your thinking than the thoughts themselves. You keep a journal so you can look at where you’re at and how things are with you in black and white and you realize there’s also every color in between. And you mostly heal and suddenly, (twenty years later) the voice inside your head is pretty sweet. It’s kind and forgiving and compassionate, and it doesn’t expect you to be perfect or to be able to save anyone. It’s just full of love for you, and every other perfectly imperfect person you encounter. It’s not a magic bullet. I don’t believe there is one. It’s a daily practice. But you know what? It’s actually pretty fun. And the pay-off is on most days and in most moments, you get to spread love. There are still times I need to call myself Tiger, but they’re few and far-between.
Sending you love and a hug.