Last night, I ended up having what I’ll call an “identity crisis breakdown” after a tumultuous week of soul-searching and analyzing the past time of my life spent with our ex-stepdad. Boy, that was rough. It was like I did something to rip the plug off my emotions, and there were many terrified, aching tears to be shed.

To summarize, I had a massive “Oh” moment this past Thursday when I compared the survival techniques I developed to endure being around him as being in a perpetual “customer service mode”. That is to say, I became a “pleaser” who did everything I could to appease him, in order to avoid rocking the boat in an already tense living environment. I desperately wanted to avoid doing or saying anything that would lead to me being the next target of his verbal, emotional abuse.

Even after he left our family in 2015, my “pleaser” persona has lingered on 6 years later. I’ve spent focused me-time in the last 12 months (an odd boon of the pandemic, I suppose) zeroing in on the coping mechanisms that I want to let go of. My friends, this is likely the deepest of them all.

Ah, and when I woke up this morning, look at what popped up on my Facebook newsfeed!

May be an image of text that says 'HIGH FUNCTIONING ANXIETY WHAT YOU SEE WHAT THEY' EXPERIENCING Detail oriented Outgoing Overthinking Active People pleasing Super helpful VS Inability to slow down Hardworking Trouble saying no Fear of failure Performs well under pressure Loyalty Procrastinating overplanning Poor boundaries THE PEARL Celebrating Supporting'

Geez. Talk about hitting the nail on the head!

See, this entire image sums up the “pleaser” mask I’ve been known to wear. I felt this in my soul. Ugh, especially the part about having poor boundaries. I used to have a bad habit of always wanting to do overtime, and thus violating my work/life balance.

You see, this all mirrors how I danced around my ex-stepdad back then. In order to avoid any verbal, emotional backlash, I would always go above and beyond in whatever demands he set out so that I could please him. I cringe remembering all of that.

I also cringe remembering that the one time I didn’t go that far, he made it clear he was disappointed with me. Maybe I slacked off a bit, or maybe I was exhausted. Either way, it stuck with me. The one time I refused to follow an obscene standard, this is what I got.

This past week at work also helped drag this to the forefront of my mind. Something went wrong from Monday on. The pressure to get things done was far more extreme than it’s ever been, and we all felt it. The stress was so bad that it had our hearts racing, and one of our co-workers had a panic attack.

For this next part, I need to be very careful how I word this, because of the need for privacy. One of our co-workers was demonized this week just for having to call off sick a couple of times. My friend is arguably the pillar that’s kept our store going through rough transitional times the last few months, so it was deeply upsetting for me to hear that we have people in our company who think it’s ok to shame her regardless of that.

When the hardest-working member of our team can be scorned for having basic human needs, it sets a dangerous, morale-destroying precedent. If all it takes is needing to stay home sick during a $&*@ing global pandemic to be disrespected, why bother going above and beyond anymore?

The parallel between my past and future situations hasn’t been lost on me. Hearing about how my friend was treated triggered nasty, relevant memories of my ex-stepdad. He was the same way. He had no qualms talking to those around him like they were a problem if they did anything that displeased him. He had no issue reducing my Mom to tears on the morning of her birthday one year, if that’s any indicator of how little he cared.

May be an image of text that says 'Don't kneecap your sentences. It's hard to not use the little modifiers women are expected to use when speaking. words like "just," "maybe," and "sort of". That sort of makes me uncomfortable. Maybe You should leave. I'm just trying to help. These modifiers intentionally soften anything we say, and it undermines us. It's part of the same performance that includes smiling all the time and always being the first to move out of the way when someone could easily go around you.'

I also saw this in my newsfeed earlier this week. It’s another part of my “pleaser” persona that I’ve tried to end. You see, I’ve spent the last 6 years trying to avoid feeling like I could get on somebody’s bad side if I word things the wrong way.

No more. Look, I’m not a mean-spirited person, and I’m really tired of constantly worrying about how people react. Unless I’m deliberately wording things in an inflammatory manner, I’m never responsible for how people choose to respond. If they can’t handle basic honesty, that’s their problem, not mine. Besides, most people aren’t like our ex-stepdad, who refused to hear out anybody who threatened to contradict his worldviews.

The trick is balance. There are two extremes when it comes to how we speak to others: one is choosing to be vindictive and nasty, while the other is skirting around the edge completely. As I now understand, the fine medium is simply being straightforward and honest. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Even then, I know that I’m allowed to be brutally honest if I need to be, like Miss Rose Nylund, supposedly the most docile of the Golden Girls.

That is, until somebody tells her they hate her! Oh well. Rose has her limits, as do I. And I hit mine this week, pretty hard.

An odd phenomenon I dealt with on top of everything else this week was the bizarrely beneficial benefit of the migraines I’ve had at work. They prevent me from putting on a false front, and end up forcing me to bring my true feelings to the surface. For better or worse, I silently revealed to the rest of my team just how burnt out I am after trying so long to hide my feelings. And at this point, there’s no going back.

I don’t know if I have “High-Functioning Anxiety” like I’ve read online lately. What I do know is that I dealt last night with the existential terror of an identity crisis and a vital question that I’ve been struggling with. Who am I, once I permanently discard this mask of mine?

Well, I do know. I’ve always been, and always will be:

  • Kind
  • Trustworthy
  • Hard-working
  • Honest
  • Loyal

And I don’t need a masking persona for these things. If who I genuinely am isn’t enough for somebody, then quite frankly, they’re not my problem. I have no patience for people who have unfair expectations for others, like we’ve been dealing with at work lately.

God’s Uplifting Humor

God and I have a humorous prayer bond at times. After having a sincerely worrying thought that I would lose my…”cuteness” if I let go of my past persona, I goofily asked Him, “God, am I still pretty?”

Well folks, it took me about 5 times to even say that fully, because His palpable mirth made me start cackling like a hyena! The notion that I made God guffaw was both immensely humorous and incredibly soothing.

Yes indeed, I’m still quite pretty. So at least we have that!

I’m grateful for the survival tactic I had back then, but it’s long time to retire it. I know that who I truly am is genuine and wholesome.

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