How would life be different if I was able to let go of the need to control things? If I let go of the need to please and be liked by others? These are the shackles that keep me tied to anxiety. My head never rests foolishly trying to control things it was never meant or able to control in the first place. I’ve been paying close attention to my thoughts lately. I’ve been observing all the crazy things that cross my mind on a daily basis and I was surprised at how preoccupied I am with trying to control things that are out of my power.
I’ll start with my need to please others. There are so many things that I think I should be simply because it was ingrained in my head at some point in my life that it is what is seen well in other’s eyes and therefor what I should aim to be. I was, like many of us, taught to crave the approval of others. In school, I wanted the sticker that let others know I did an awesome job. At work, I wanted to hear the recognition from my boss letting me know I’ve done a good job. I know I am definitely one that has fallen into the pleasing trap. I have given the job of evaluating my self worth over to everyone else but me. It sounds like a bad idea any way you want to look at it and yet it is so hard to trust myself with that job for some reason.
In the summer of 2006, I was able to take that job back into my own hands and it felt absolutely amazing. I was able to let go of my need to please others the summer I turned seventeen. I had just finished the busiest year I had ever had so far. I graduated a year early from high school with honors, had just finished taking 11 classes my senior year in high school, worked part time at a department store, and completed a 10-week internship for a government job. I was completely exhausted and in need of a break. I got a call one day that my grandpa had gotten sick and my mom was flying out to Mexico to visit him the next day. I decided I would go with my her for support, even though I was dreading the thought of being in the company of a couple of very critical relatives that always seemed to reinforce my belief that I was in serious need of improvement. I was petrified but it I decided I was not going to let my fear keep me from going.
On the day we got on the plane to leave, I decided I would try something. As the plane began to take off, I began to imagine with all the will I had that I was letting go, one by one, of all the fears I had about what some of the critical relatives would think and say about me. I would let the fears come up, observe them and then decide to to let them go. I would imagine the fear leaving my body and then getting left behind by the plane. The flight was a little over four hours and I did this for a good three hours. Some fears took me a long time to let go and others actually made me nauseated as I thought of them. The more fears I let go, the more empowered I felt and the easier I felt my breathing was getting. After the flight I was emotionally drained but felt an inner peace I had not felt before.
To make a long story short, I have never spent a better summer in my life. I went in with the mentality that I was not going to care what others thought of me. I had decided in the plane that whenever someone did something that started to make me feel bad I would remind myself of all the work I did on the plane and decide not to care. I was there to support my mom, my grandpa, and to give myself a much needed break, that was it. I was not there to try and impress, please, or be liked by anyone. That was not longer in my agenda and it felt amazingly liberating. I was free to do what I wanted.
I would get up at nine not caring if people thought I was lazy, clean the house and spend the early afternoon reading a book or writing in my grandpa’s beautiful backyard porch where it was filled with different kinds of plants. I was often delighted to get the chance to get to sit out there and watch a storm pass by. I could spend hours there doing what ever I wanted, not caring who came by. I had great conversations with my grandpa and was able to help my grandma out around the house, which I really enjoyed.
The funny thing is that with the mentality I had I was a lot more relaxed around people than I usually am which I guess made me more enjoyable to be around. I was not trying to be liked or accepted, and yet by not trying and letting go of that need I drew people to me. My cousins actually seeked me out and wanted to be around me. Company I actually enjoyed because I was able to let go and enjoy the moment instead of being preoccupied and uptight thinking about what they might or might not be thinking of me.
I voiced my opinions, I was myself around people, I was relaxed. I truly enjoyed myself that summer and I could tell that other people did too. The critical people did not go away, but it was easier for me to brush it off after a couple of minutes of thinking about it and centering back on the agreement I made with myself on the plane. My feeling were hurt a couple of times by things that were said but I was able to eventually let go of it and get back to enjoying myself and that felt extremely empowering.
That summer I was able to achieve something I have struggled with my whole life. I was able to let go of my need to please and be liked by others, which as a result freed me. It made me feel so connected and at peace with myself. I concerned myself with what I wanted and I thought. It was an amazing break from the exhaustion that comes from constantly trying to live your life for the approval of others. After I came back that summer I began working full time and going to college full time. I quickly sunk back into my old habits without even noticing. And yet that summer still left an amazing glimmer of hope engrained in my memory. It left behind proof of what I am capable of doing. It left behind proof of how happy and free I can be if only I work diligently on letting go of my need to please others. Proof which I will use to guide me back to that wonderful place I was able to reach that summer by taking a deep look at my fears and letting go of them one by one, repeating the process as many times as necessary until it becomes second nature.