When I was 12 years old, I entered and won a writing contest for the metro-area newspaper.
My winning entry was, “What is the one thing necessary for contentment?”
I find it quite humorous to get that insight from a 12-year-old, but, regardless, I spewed forth my wisdom:
“The one thing that is necessary for contentment is being happy with yourself first, and then, with others.”
Yeah. I know.
I expounded further wisdom, repeating clichés like turning my frown upside-down, ending self-pity, and thinking happy. In addition to those concepts, I was also heavily influenced by the “truth” that if you are nice to someone, they will be nice to you in return.
Uh-huh. But, I guess, the cynic was still in training. Perhaps, “cynic” is the wrong word to use here. Maybe, “realist” is a better choice of words.
Ah, yes, being realistic! How it can burst the fairytale bubbles we blow in our lives.
But, burst them, we must.
People pleasers, like yours truly here, do not enjoy hearing and heeding that approach. We want to keep working on our own personal world domination plans of getting everyone, and their pet ferret, to like us, to love us, to approve of us—revealing what our value is.
So, what could possibly go wrong there?
Years later, I’d like to think that I have significantly evolved from this childhood essay. I’d like to think I have a handle on the people-pleasing, on the seeking, and dependency on external validation. I’d like to think I have rock-solid self-esteem, unshakable, and constant.
(I hear you smirking, by the way.) Yeah, I know; it’s just not that simple or that easy.
To paraphrase Ledger’s quote, we ask the following question—constantly—of ourselves:
“Why won’t people show me the same love that I’ve shown them?”
I have been learning, even with my inner 12-year-old protesting at the education, that the answers go a little more like this instead:
They Don’t Like You.
Oh, man! The people-pleasing, codependent individuals we are really hate that. Many of us believe and tightly grip the assertion that people will like us and be as committed to seeking, developing, and maintaining a relationship with us as we work to accomplish those things with them.
And it doesn’t work that way.
No matter how hard we try to make it so, no matter how much we exhaust ourselves by being and doing what another person finds pleasing—it doesn’t work.
Some people just don’t like us, and nothing can change that.
Perhaps, it’s like being lactose intolerant or hating peanut butter. For some people, it is just a gigantic no in response to us. And that’s okay.
But, we, as people pleasers, don’t believe that’s acceptable; but, acceptance of this reality is critical.
Last year, I came across a beautiful sentiment:
“Make room for the people who want to love you.”
For each person who says “nope” to us, there is a person, several people, in fact, who do want to like us, love us, accept us, and go bowling with us. We need to focus on connecting with those people and leave the “nopers” to their decision about us.
Live and let live, like, or dislike.
They Don’t Love You.
How’s that for feeling warm and fuzzy?
In The Prophecy, a 1995 film starring Christopher Walken, one of its characters—Satan, himself—uttered to another character, “I don’t love you.” He was trying to show how mercy, understanding, and love were not innate in him for any person.
And, sometimes, that’s how it goes with certain individuals relating to us.
Hard and cold—they don’t love us.
Lack of love can display itself in myriad ways: hostility, envy, resentment, neglect, screaming, verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, and financial abuse. Sometimes, it is an intentional, all-out hit on us. Sometimes, it is thoughtlessness.
Whatever the case may be, a lot of us—people pleasers and codependents—seem to prioritize, expect, strive for, and believe that love from a person, any person, exists for us, somehow, someway; we just need to do whatever it takes to tap into it. We can assume all the responsibility and burden for being loved while refusing to accept another person’s free will decision to choose not to love us.
Perhaps, because many of us find it inconceivable to be unloving, so, we project that onto others. And some people are quite hunky-dory about not being loving toward us, or to anyone else, for that matter.
I know. We, who are big balls of fuzzy, gooey unicorn love, cannot accept or understand that perspective. Why would anyone choose not to love? Why would anyone choose to do that?
Answer: because some people do.
For reasons that are and are not valid. And, quite frankly, those reasons are none of our business. Stings, doesn’t it?
And again, while we’re all stung from that reality, let’s examine this next perspective in the love/expectation department.
They Don’t Think About You.
Inconsideration, a lack of loyalty, and carelessness can all run rampant when we encounter other individual’s reactions to us. Sometimes, we are nowhere to be found in their thoughts.
Years ago, when a family member died, no one contacted me; no one thought to contact me. Why not? I don’t know. But it hurt and angered me.
No common courtesy?
No basic respect?
No love for me, a fellow family member who lost a blood relative?
Nope. At least, there wasn’t strong enough evidence to support those concepts. And, again, I’ll never know the why behind it all; despite my efforts to communicate, it was not reciprocated.
And sometimes, that’s just how it goes.
You and I are just not on their minds. Period. And it hurts. It’s not fair, It’s not humane, perhaps. It doesn’t feel like the decent thing to do. We wouldn’t do such a thing, we assert.
But, different people make different decisions. Sometimes, they are thoughtless. Sometimes, someone else deems us as not worthy of their thought.
Regardless, our inherent value does not change.
And, yes, we are worthy of good, loving, caring treatment; that doesn’t mean we will always get it.
It’s Not Personal.
It’s not personal. We have all heard that phrase; sometimes, the wound and the slight are unintentional.
Intention may be one thing; impact is quite a different matter though, isn’t it?
There’s a theory that states that the opposite of love is not hate—it’s indifference.
Let’s face it, fellow codependent, fellow people pleaser, fellow lovey unicorn: people can often hold a greater, stronger meaning to us than they have for, or concerning us. We can sink a much larger investment into someone when, the entire time, that individual could take or leave us.
They may be under the belief we are just acquaintances. They may choose to not like and respect us, even as we have declared our eternal devotion, mowed their lawns, shelled out money, doodled their names with heart symbols in our journals and notepads.
We make things personal, while the other party doesn’t.
And that other party is perfectly okay with that impersonal touch. They sleep well at night; they don’t include us in their prayers. They don’t register us as important in our lives.
And, that is completely within their free will and right to do so. No permission required. Does that make it feel right? Or fair? Or loving?
But, it’s there. And while it is there, we are still lovable, valuable, wonderful people who deserve good treatment in life—nothing can change that.
Don’t believe the lie that someone else’s thoughts—or lack thereof—can change our worth.
Is it Being Reciprocated?
As with most things in life, it comes down to energy. What is invested and spent? On what? On whom?
It’s like continuing with a bad stock that provides diminishing returns. Would you consider that a good investment? Would you keep sinking everything you have in your life into that stock? Or, would you reconsider and find another stock more suitable for meeting your wants, needs, and expectations?
Reciprocity is a reasonable relationship dynamic. It’s not about keeping score—it’s about the evident reality of give and take. Family. Spouses. Life partners. Friends. Co-workers. People that we encounter in this human existence have the ability and the choice to reflect reciprocity.
If they show themselves to be unable or unwilling to do that for you and me, that informs us of everything we really need to know in order to lead the life we deserve.
Dare I say it, reciprocity, in my opinion, should be a deal-breaker.
We cannot control how others treat us. However, we can control how we treat ourselves; let’s stop making the mistake to have it continue to be shabby treatment. We are worth much more than that.
We can generate our own self-respect and self-love.
Let’s choose to nurture and feed ourselves, beyond any one person, no matter how important we deem them to be.
We are important enough in our own right!