Recovery ISN’T about performing “wellness.”

Some people reading this have gotten the message from others that, if they are or were able to “get by,” if they were able to “perform” wellness, if they were resilient enough to survive…then that’s enough. 

You survived, they’ll say. So what are you complaining about? 

It can be a horribly depressing message to get, that this— survival, resilience— is all we can hope for, or all we should hope for. 

I completely understand why so many survivors become frustrated when others observe or compliment their “resilience.” 

Many of us don’t experience our resilience as triumphant. Many of us had no other choice— and the entire experience was painful. 

There are people who have experienced enormous pain and struggle in their lives, who actually feel embarrassed to describe what they’ve been through, because they’ve gotten the message that to acknowledge their pain and struggle is to be “ungrateful” or “whiny.” 

They try to express what they’ve gone through, or what they’re going through now, and they’re told, “but you’re so resilient! Why are you focused on all of that negativity?” 

In my experience, almost nobody focuses on “negativity” for the hell of it. 

If someone is describing a great deal of pain, it’s usually because they’re experiencing a great deal of pain— and it’s really hard to focus on much of anything else when you’re in that much pain. 

Nobody wants to be “stuck” on how much pain they’re experiencing. 

Nobody wants experiencing and expressing pain to be most of what they do all day. 

Pain has a way of hijacking our focus and our beliefs. We don’t “let” it happen— it happens.

What so many people don’t understand about depression, or trauma, or addictions, or eating disorders, is that we don’t choose them. Things that look like “choices” from the outside don’t FEEL like choices when we’re deep in them. 

Convincing ourselves that we DO have choices in how we respond to the symptoms, cravings, and triggers we experience is often an uphill battle. 

If we are going to recover, if we’re going to take back how we feel and function from those things that have felt so overwhelming for so long, we need to start out from a place of honesty— including honesty about how bad and helpless we feel. 

Feeling helpless isn’t the same as being helpless— but telling ourselves (or being told by others) to just suck it up when we feel helpless tends to only deepen our feelings of inadequacy and shame. 

Every recovery starts out with baby steps— baby steps we often take WHILE feeling helpless and hopeless in the moment. 

We don’t have to believe with complete certainty that we can recover to take that first baby step. 

Taking that first baby step doesn’t need to feel good. 

In fact, many of those early steps will FEEL pointless. 

If I have a thousand mile journey ahead of me, your brain will say, what’s the point of taking one step, or even ten steps? 

You’ll have those thoughts. I had those thoughts. Everybody who has ever made any progress in recovery has had those thoughts. 

Take the baby steps anyway. 

Regardless of what you’re thinking. Regardless of what you’re feeling. 

If all you can do is clean one square foot of your apartment, clean that one square foot. 

If all you can imagine is not using a substance for ten minutes, then don’t use that substance for these ten minutes. 

If all you can imagine is not self-harming for this half hour, then don’t self-harm for this half hour. 

If all you can imagine is not killing yourself today, then commit to staying alive today. 

We take what we can get. We take the baby step we feel able to take, right here, right now. 

We do not deny, disown, or disparage our pain. 

We treat every aspect of our experience as real and important— even if know that pain and trauma may be distorting certain aspects of our experience. 

We start where we are, with what we have. 

I don’t want you performing wellness. Not for me, not for anyone. 

I want you recovering— for you. 

“Nobody likes you,” trauma whispered.

When we’ve gone through life having to devote enormous amounts of energy to physical or psychological survival, we’re often not great at some of life’s social demands. 

Many trauma survivors get told that they’re no fun. 

They get told they can’t take a joke. 

They get told to “lighten up.” 

Often when we have painful or complicated pasts, relating to and working with other people isn’t the easiest thing int he world. 

Our attitudes toward cooperation and trust are formed early on. Some of the most important childhood lessons we learn are whether other people can be relied upon— or if trusting others is a recipe for pain and danger. 

What we don’t understand when we’re young is that the people in our lives at that age may not be representative of every person we’ll ever meet. 

Maybe not every relationship in our lives was painful— many of us remember one or two friends or adults in our lives growing up who was safe or friendly— but our nervous system often tries to keep us safe by erring on the side of assuming that almost EVERY interaction with EVERYONE has the potential for danger. 

As a result, we can grow up being prickly with other people. 

People who have been through trauma often develop an instinctively defensive way of dealing with the world and other people— not for nothing, because much of our lives has been spent playing defense against really painful stuff. 

We’re often prepared to hear attacks or mockery in things that other people say. 

We’re often ready to fight or flee (or freeze or fawn) when interacting with new people is necessary. 

The hypervigilance that so often keeps us on edge tends to consistently come out in social situations (including parasocial situations, such as interactions and relationships on social media). 

To some people, the defensive anxiety that survivors carry into social situations comes off as hostility or aloofness. 

Many survivors have gotten it in our heads that we are hard to be close to or difficult to love. 

Our struggles to like or love ourselves can be compounded by how complex and frustrating our interactions with other people can often be. 

One of the most vicious things trauma whispers in our ear an be, “Nobody likes you.” 

If you’re a trauma survivor who struggles with being close to other people, you need to know you’re not alone. 

You need to know that the beliefs and behaviors that, yes, may make it difficult to be close to other people at times, represent survival mechanisms that helped you get through things those other people don’t even know. 

You need to know that you are NOT less lovable— or less worthy of love— because you are anxious. 

The irony is that, while many survivors are labeled as “joyless” or “humorless” by people who don’t know what our deal is, the vast majority of trauma survivors I’ve met (and I’ve met a LOT) have actually been passionate, intense— and often hilarious— people. 

We CAN learn to manage our anxiety and relate to others with less pain and awkwardness, if that’s our goal. 

But whatever our goals in treatment and recovery, it’s EXTREMELY important we remember that we are NOT others’ perceptions of us. 

And if your trauma is whispering in your ear that nobody likes you, remember: trauma, like depression, tells lies. It spins. It tells stories to make us feel a certain kind of way. 

Plus, not for nothing: I may not know everybody who is reading this right now personally, but chances are, I’d like you. 

In fact chances are excellent that I like you and I’m on your side. 

Your secret weapon in recovery.

Music, right? 

Talk about a cheat code to our emotional core. 

Music can heal us— and it can trigger us. 

Music can take us to another time and place— or it can bring us back to the here and now. 

Music is just like any powerful tool— it can propel us forward in our recovery or it can set us back, depending on how it’s used. 

We have to respect music’s power to affect our nervous system. 

Music is more obviously impactful for some people than others— but almost nobody reading this has a completely neutral relationship with music. 

Entire theories and techniques of psychotherapy have been built around music. 

Finding a musical artist who puts words to your experience can be an overwhelmingly evocative experience. 

The right music at the right time has saved lives. No exaggeration. 

In almost every era, people have formed strong attachments to their music. 

Music is a language that transcends spoken or written language. 

Music associated with holidays can instantly transport us back decades— for better or worse. 

Music associated with specific people in our lives can reawaken feelings we thought we’d long forgotten or gotten over. 

Music can remind us of who we once were— and who we want to be. 

Music can distract us from pain. 

Music can immerse us in pain. 

Music can take the edge off of difficult emotional states— or it can turn the intensity up on difficult emotional states. 

Sometimes, paradoxically, listening to sad music is exactly what we need when we’re sad. 

Sometimes music is the only thing that can truly get through to us in periods of desperation or depression. 

Music can be our lifeline back to a place of calm and focus. 

Music can be our cue that we’re not dreaming— or that we are dreaming.

Music can help us find our way out of an emotional or sensory flashback. 

The key to using music effectively in our recovery is to be mindful and observant— to really pay attention to how music affects us when. 

Certain music in the morning can have a very different impact that the same music in the evening. 

Certain music at times of high emotion can have a very different impact than that same music on a daily basis. 

As with every tool at our disposal in recovery, we need to be curious and open about what works and doesn’t work for us when it comes to music. 

Sometimes we have to be willing to put limits on certain music if it doesn’t help us stay safe and stable. 

Especially when we’re struggling, we need to be smart and selective about how and when to use particular music. 

Any tool that packs the punch that music does needs to be treated respectfully. 

Music can be your secret weapon in recovery. 

The right playlist at the right time can get you through something that might otherwise be literally deadly. 

Get curious about your relationship with music. 

For most of us, our relationship with music goes back further than we can remember. 

You don’t have the luxury of being mean to yourself anymore.

Being kind to ourselves is not about “making excuses.” 

Being fair with ourselves is not about “coddling.” 

Nurturing a constructive relationship with ourselves isn’t even about feeling better (though it does feel better to have a constructive relationship with ourselves rather than a destructive one, all things considered). 

Being cool to ourselves is about FUNCTIONING better. 

If we are mean, unfair, and impatient with ourselves, we will not be able to get ourselves to do things— especially things that are hard. 

Are you motivated to do things for someone who is mean to you? Long term, that is? 

We’re mean to ourselves for lots of reasons. 


Sometimes we’re imitating the people we grew up around, who were also mean to us. 

Sometimes we’re enacting negative beliefs we have about ourselves. 

Sometimes we’re internalizing anger we don’t feel safe expressing at someone else— it has to go somewhere, so it gets directed right back at us. 

A lot of us have been raised to believe there’s virtue in “tough love.” 

We were raised to think that the way to get ourselves do something is to take a hard line. 

We were raised to think that acknowledging how we feel or what we need is self-indulgent. 

We were raised to believe “failure is not an option”— and that if we do fail, it must be because we didn’t try hard enough, possibly because we didn’t expect enough out of ourselves. 

Many of us truly believe that the only way to get results out of ourselves is to pressure and shame ourselves. 

Every single time I write about shame, I get someone in the comments defending shame as a necessary and effective behavior modifier. 

Shame does not motivate us to do anything in the long term except hide. 

Guilt has to do with behavior. Feeling bad about something we did is sometimes appropriate. We can change what we do. 

Shame has to do with us. Feeling bad about WHO WE ARE is a dead end. We can’t change who we are. And we don’t need to, because there is NOTHING WRONG WITH WHO WE ARE. 

You have as much right to self-kindness and self-respect as anyone on the planet, who has ever existed. 

In recovery, we are going to ask ourselves to do and tolerate some hard things. 

The ONLY way that’s going to work is if we trust ourselves. If we have the kind of relationship with ourselves where we’re WILLING to take risks and tolerate distress. 

We will NOT find our way out of depression while being harsh with ourselves. 

We will NOT find our way out of anxiety while mocking our fears. 

We will NOT find our way out of addiction while minimizing our pain. 

The ONLY way we have ANY hope of changing how we feel and function on a long term basis is by establishing a relationship with ourselves that is respectful, consistent, honest…and kind. 

We’re not going to shame our way out of this. 

We’re not going to “discipline” our way out of this. 

Our only option, if we are serious about recovery, is to love our way out of this. 

If we’re serious about recovery, having our own back isn’t optional. It’s the STARTING POINT. 

“The situation couldn’t have been THAT bad…”

There are people who will assume they know what is or isn’t happening in your life based on what they see of you. 

They’ll assume they know what your relationship is like based on what they see of it. 

They’ll assume they know how well you feel and function based on what they see of your life. 

The thing is: a lot of people’s life experiences are very different from what people see or assume. 

Your life experience may be very different than what people assume. 

The truth is, nobody can REALLY tell how healthy a relationship is by looking at it from the outside. 

Nobody can REALLY tell how you feel or how well you’re functioning based on how well you’re performing at work or school. 

Lots of people are REALLY good at masking what’s really going on with them. 

Especially when our lives are painful or complicated growing up, we can get really good at managing appearances so everything appears normal, or even good, from the outside. 

Sometimes, when we finally let on how much we’re hurting or how painful a relationship is, people are surprised, or even skeptical. 

Why, they ask, if things were that bad for that long, didn’t you say anything? 

The truth is, many— maybe even MOST— people DON’T say anything when they’re stuck in a painful or complicates situation. 

One of the most panful symptoms of depression is feeling stuck or hopeless. We might not say anything or reach out for help because we don’t believe that anything will change. 

When we’re in a painful relationship situation, we might be embarrassed or afraid to reach out. 

There are LOTS of circumstances in which the potential downside of even trying to reach out or make a change seems very real— and the potential upside seems not at all realistic. 

But many people who are not in our situation don’t understand that. 

They assume if THEY were in our situation, THEY would have put a stop to it. 

Other people might judge or disbelieve peoples’ accounts of their experiences with emotional pain or difficult relationships because they can’t imagine THEMSELVES in a similar position — and, in fairness, it’s often hard to imagine something until you actually experience it. 

All of that said: we need to be REALLY careful not to judge our own behavior when we’ve been down the rabbit hole of depression or stuck in a difficult relationship. 

We need to remember that it truly may not have been as easy as “just ask for help.” 

“Asking for help” is not at all straightforward when you’re struggling to keep your head above water emotionally or you’re fearing for your (or someone else’s) safety in a relationship. 

Decisions that may SEEM easy from the outside— often aren’t. 

Nobody knows your life experience but you. 

If you were in a painful situation for a long time, I’m always going to assume it was because you were UNABLE to get out of it right then, for whatever reason. 

We don’t need to judge our own ability or inability to change something. 

We’re not able to do what we’re not able to do— for whatever reason. 

We’re not talking about a lack of “bravery” or “willpower” here. People don’t stay in painful situations because they are “cowards”— although sometimes other people (or even our own Inner Critic) likes to tell us that. 

Don’t let others’ assumptions and judgments get in your head. 

They don’t know the inside scoop on what you were feeling and why you made the decisions you made. 

Judging yourself for not being able to reach out or make changes once upon a time won’t change the  fact that, for whatever reason, you just weren’t able to make those changes just then. 

The “you” of then deserves compassion and understanding. They were not having a good time. 

Just like the “you” of now deserves compassion and understanding. 

(Yes, you do. Don’t listen to your Inner Critic.) 

YOU are NOT your company’s or culture’s attitude about mental health.

Other people are going to TELL you you “should” prioritize your mental health…then turn around and shame you for, you know, prioritizing your mental health. 

That’s not you being crazy. It happens. 

Most people know that they’re “supposed” to tell others to prioritize mental health. 

We’ve all been told to “take the time we need” to handle a loss. 

We’ve all been told to engage in “self care.” 

We’ve all been told to “be kind to ourselves.” 

But many people reading this are very familiar with what often comes AFTER we’ve been told these things: we get pressure to pretend that whatever loss, stressor, or mental health issue that we were struggling with, is no longer affecting us. 

It’s as if some people expect a mental health issue to go away because they’ve said the right thing. 

Many people reading this have had the experience of their company or organization giving lip service to prioritizing mental health— but then, instead of taking concrete steps like adjusting employee workload, requiring their employees to complete “wellness trainings.” 

The “wellness training” that compensates for inadequate rest, recovery, and recreation time does not exist. 

Many people reading this have struggled with the contradictory messages sent by our culture about acknowledging or talking about mental health struggles. 

On the one hand, we are told over and over again that we MUST combat the “stigma” of mental health. 

On the other hand, when a tragedy happens that involves human on human violence, a subset of people IMMEDIATELY start talking about the “mental health” of the perpetrator. 

People who discuss their emotional and behavioral struggles publicly are never quite sure if they’re going to be validated for sharing their experience— or considered “damaged.” 

You are not crazy and you are not imagining the very mixed messages that are sent to those who struggle with mental and behavioral health issues every day. It’s real. 

And somehow, in the midst of all of this, we’re supposed to carve out a recovery for ourselves that is realistic and sustainable. 

We’re expected and told to ask for help if we need it— even though we KNOW that getting compassionate, relevant assistance with mental or behavioral health issues is VERY much not a given in our culture. 

It’s real important to know and remember that the attitudes and messages about mental and behavioral health that are swirling around out there have virtually nothing to do with YOU. 

People and organizations have ideas about the CONCEPT of mental and behavioral health and illness. 

But those CONCEPTS are abstract. They’re so abstract that they’re almost caricatures. 

Anyone who has sat through a corporate “wellness seminar” about mental or behavioral health issues knows that the content has almost nothing to do with real human beings who are actually struggling with mental or behavioral issues. 

Don’t mistake the conversations that happen in the culture about mental and behavioral wellness as having anything to do with your story, your recovery, or your needs. 

Your job remains the same: identify what’s on your plate and what you need today. 

Identify and do the next right thing. 

Stay as stable as you can with the tools and skills you have. Identify the obstacles you can see and strategize with your support system how to handle them. 

Don’t let the culture’s attitudes about mental and behavioral health get in YOUR head. 

You stay on target. 

Trauma, loss, grief, and mourning.

When our lives are shaped by traumatic events, we develop a particularly complex relationship with grief and mourning. 

It’s never quite as straightforward as we experience a loss; we mourn; we move on. 

Often times trauma survivors find themselves wrestling with grief in confusing ways, at unexpected times. 

A LOT of the process of trauma recovery involves coming to terms with losses we didn’t even register as losses at the time. 

Frequently, times of loss and grief activate or reactivate trauma symptoms and defenses we thought were dormant or healed. 

Grief and loss often knock trauma survivors out of the precarious patterns we’d established to get by in our everyday lives. 

Mourning for people and pets “out there” in the world often trigger a flood of feelings and memories inside us from a long time ago, which may not seem to have anything to do with the loss we’re “supposed” to be grieving. 

A huge part of trauma recovery is reconstructing a version of ourselves that can function AFTER painful things have happened in our lives— which is very similar to what we need to do in the process of grief and mourning. 

Recovery from trauma depends greatly on the extent to which we are able to acknowledge losses— and willing to give ourselves the emotional oxygen we need to process the meaning and implications of those losses. 

The loss of a person, a pet, a job, or a relationship can trigger feelings we have about earlier, more fundamental losses. 

Many trauma survivors don’t register that their loss of safety, loss of connection, or oss of innocence really ARE important losses— losses about which we can experience grief, and losses it is okay (important, even) to mourn. 

Many trauma survivors are used to feeling things more intensely than the people around them. 

Loss and grief are no different. 

One of the CENTRAL tasks of trauma recovery is to build a sense of safety WITHIN ourselves, and a supportive relationship WITH ourselves— partly because grieving requires us to extend a great deal of compassion and patience to ourselves. 

It’s really hard to grieve and mourn if you’re telling yourself to suck it up, that you have no right to feel what you feel, that you “should” be over it or not feel it as intensely as you do. 

It’s hard enough to experience loss. 

It’s much harder if we’re also wrestling with basic questions of our worthiness and durability as the result of a trauma history. 

The difficult work we do in recovery of forming a loving, supportive, realistic relationship with ourselves becomes really important when we get hit with grief and loss out there in the world.

You need to know that you’re not crazy: grief and loss really are harder for you if you have a complicated, painful history. 

You need to know that the skills and tools you’ve been working on to grow past your trauma history will be useful to you during times of grief and loss. 

You need to know that the more you work on being there for yourself, cultivating a supportive, consistent, compassionate relationship with yourself, the easier it will be for you to handle grief and loss— though nothing ever truly makes grieving “easy.” 

I know that nothing I can say here will ever truly soothe or heal the pain caused by grief and loss. 

But how you relate to yourself and your pain will make a BIG difference in how— and how fast— you feel differently. 

Be patient with you. 

Be there for you. 

We are NOT stuck with our early programming.

Once upon a time, as we were growing up, we had very little control over our programming— in fact, virtually none. 

We had very little control over what we watched. 

We had very little control over what was read to us. 

We had virtually no control over what was told to us. 

At the same time, we were learning what relationships and attachment were all about through our relationships at home and at school— and those relationships were shaping our beliefs about who we were and what we deserved. 

Some of us had relationship and attachment experiences that taught us we were basically good, basically competent, and able to adapt to and master situations. 

Unfortunately, many of us did not. 

Many of us had early relationship and attachment experiences that programmed us with the beliefs that we were basically undeserving. That we were essentially incompetent. That no matter what we tried to adapt to a situation, we’d feel “wrong.” 

Looking back, it’s staggering to realize how little control we had over our early programming— over those beliefs that became EXTREMELY important in how we viewed ourselves, the world, and the future. 

Fast forward several decades, and now we’re adults— but many of us are still operating on beliefs that we acquired when we were kids. 

Many of us still FEEL as undeserving as when we were kids. We FEEL incompetent. We FEEL unable to adapt. 

The thing is, our early programming may have had NOTHING to do with who we REALLY are or what we can REALLY do. 

Our early programming was very often a mishmash of the relationship styles and attachment issues of the people who raised us, taught us, and surrounded us. 

But many of us grew up thinking certain feelings were “right” because, over time, feeling those things felt familiar. 

We assumed we must BE undeserving, or incompetent, or maladaptive, because we were very USED to feeling those things. 

We were never taught that we could take charge of our OWN programming. 

We were never taught that our nervous system can change, even well into adulthood. 

We were never taught that we can change our beliefs about ourselves, the world, and the future— that we are NOT stuck with what the people around us believed or passed on. 

If you’re struggling to believe that you can feel and function differently, you’re not broken or hopeless— that’s a function of your programming. A lifetime of conditioning. 

It’s going to take time and consistency to feel and believe different things. 

I’m not just saying these things out of optimism or hopefulness. I’m just talking about how beliefs and characteristic patterns of feeling come to exist— and how they change. 

It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to believe in the possibility of change. It takes a basic knowledge of neuroscience— and an openness to the idea that you deserve the opportunity to feel and function differently. 

Nobody reading this is doomed to the patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving they established early in life. 

We are not stuck with our early programming. 

But reprogramming ourselves takes exactly as long as it takes, and it’s exactly as difficult as it is. 

You’re worth the hassle. You’re worth the effort. You’re worth the time. 

No matter what your early programing is trying to tell you right now. 

Recognizing emotional flashbacks and body memories.

Emotional flashbacks and body memories can be confusing and scary— because we often don’t realize what’s happening at first. 

In an emotional flasbhack, we’re suddenly feeling like we did once upon a time— often small, vulnerable, ashamed, unreasourceful. 

What’s happened is that our nervous system has gotten triggered, and plunged us back into emotional headspace from the past— but it may not have been accompanied by the immersive sensory phenomena was associate with a post traumatic “flashback.” 

In an emotional flashback, we’ve been plunged into headspace from “back there, back then”— often without even realizing it. 

Body, or “somatic,” memories are similar: our nervous system has been triggered by something external, and in response our muscles and organs are reexperiencing things they did once upon a time. 

Body memories can be painful or just strange; and they can impact a small area of your body, or they can overwhelm your entire physical being. 

Both emotional flashbacks and body memories are way more common than many people realize. 

Often we know something is wrong— we can feel a shift in either our feelings or our body— but we can’t quite put our finger on what’s happening. 

What we need to understand is, when we have a complicated, painful history— whether or not we remember all of it— our nervous system is frequently on alert all the time for warning signs that we’re about to be plunged BACK into those complicated, painful situations. 

When we get triggered, our nervous system has detected something that it’s interpreting as a danger signal— and it’s sounding the alarm bells. 

Very often, we may not know what exactly has triggered us. 

Sometimes a trigger won’t even seem to make sense— all we know is that, for whatever reason, it makes PERFECT sense to our sensitized nervous system. 

We can argue all day with our nervous system about whether it “should” react to a trigger or not— but whether a trigger “makes sense” to us or not, when we’re triggered, we’re triggered. 

We need to handle it. 

As we learn to recognize what emotional flashbacks and body memories feel like, we can start to formulate strategies for dealing with them when the occur. 

When we are triggered, we need to talk and visualize ourselves through it. 

Our nervous system— that scared, overwhelmed kid that exists within all of us— needs to be reassured that things are safe, DESPITE whatever it has detected as a potential threat. 

(Or, alternatively, if our nervous system HAS detected a legitimate threat, it needs to know that we’re actually DOING something to escape or otherwise deal with it.) 

Recognizing emotional flashbacks and body memories as trauma responses can be essential when it comes to calming ourselves down and making ourselves feel better. 

When we’re experiencing trauma responses, how we talk to ourselves and the resources we seek out really matter. 

Trying to deal with an emotional flashback like a simple “bad mood” isn’t going to work well. 

Trying to deal with a body memory like just a passing spike of physical pain isn’t going to work well. 

When we accurately perceive that our nervous system is making a specific request of us— that is, it need to know that we are safe, and that we are here-and-now, instead of back-there-back then— we can meet our own needs with clarity and precision. 

Lots of trauma responses SEEM to make no sense at the time— but when we take a step back, we realize that they actually do have at least a little rhyme and reason. 

It takes patience and self-compassion to SEE that rhyme and reason, though— and to respond accordingly. 

Ultimately all of this is part and parcel of learning to be on our own side. 

We can work WITH our nervous system as we deepen our understanding of our own pain and our own needs. 

We are, after all, all on the same side. 

We can’t people-please our way to safety.

Sometimes we’re going to have to do things to protect and care for ourselves that inconvenience others. 

And that’s okay. 

Just reading that probably made some people uncomfortable. 

Many of us HATE the very IDEA of inconveniencing others. 

For some of us, it goes even deeper: we’ve come to associate the idea of inconveniencing others as inviting pain.

That is to say: some of us have concluded, either consciously or not, that it’s not SAFE to inconvenience others. 

This idea is related to other ideas we get in our head about what reactions it may not be safe to elicit from other people— for example, MANY people truly believe that it isn’t safe to “make” other people angry. 

Their only experiences with people being angry with them are frightening and painful, so they develop the belief that “safety” involves NEVER “making” anyone angry. 

All of this gets wrapped up in a larger idea that “safety” can be created by accommodating other people at all times— and to NOT accommodate someone is to make yourself vulnerable to attack (either physically, or verbally, or emotionally). 

It’s a type of trauma response called “fawning.” 

People-pleasing is a form of fawning. Being reluctant to set boundaries because we don’t want others to be mad at us is another form of fawning. 

The common denominator of these fawning behaviors is that we have decided that our best chance at safety is in scrambling to never displease, inconvenience, or otherwise elicit a negative feeling or impression from somebody else. 

The thing is, we’re human beings and this is real life. 

We’re GOING to displease someone, sometime. 

There WILL be times when our needs— not just our wants, but our needs— WILL be incompatible with what someone else wants or needs just then. 

In those moments, when we have to choose between meeting our needs and caring for ourselves, OR minimizing our anxiety by putting our needs and self-care on the back burner so we don’t “make” somebody mad or inconvenience them…anxiety management frequently wins out. 

When we do this over and over again, over the course of years…our self-esteem takes a nasty hit. 

After all, it’s really hard to esteem ourselves when we’re constantly putting the comfort and convenience of others above our actual needs. 

And it’s nearly impossible to establish a sense of REAL emotional or physical safety when we don’t think we have the right to set boundaries. 

Recovery from people-pleasing involves us giving up the fantasy that safety can be found in someone else’s positive response to us. 

When we pin our only hope for safety on someone else’s positive feelings toward us, we’re setting ourselves up for a permanent state of anxiety. 

We will be CONSTANTLY checking and re-checking others’ responses for evidence that we have, or are about to, displease them. 

Eventually it becomes more than a preoccupation. It can become an obsession. 

Not to mention: that sense of safety isn’t real. 

We can’t ensure that someone will NEVER think negatively about us. 

We can’t ensure that we will ALWAYS make a positive impression. 

And there will ABSOLUTELY be times when we have to say or do something that WILL displease someone else in order to get our needs met. 

There WILL come a time when you have to prioritize your needs over someone else’s comfort. 

That doesn’t make you mean. It doesn’t make you “high maintenance.” It doesn’t make you entitled. 

Your needs are as important as anyone else’s needs. 

And your needs are almost always MORE important than others’ convenience.