I don’t like to admit this, but I used to be a serious people-pleaser.

I anticipated needs, gave others what they wanted, and tried to be the person they expected me to be. I was an extreme giver, and was addicted to the approval of others.

I remember making dinner by myself for the first time when I was about 11, and how good it felt when I was complimented for the meal. The more I feigned modesty and laid on harsh self-criticism, the more praise I received. I was hooked.

The train carrying my need for external approval left the station and picked up speed from there. My opinion of myself wasn’t as important as the opinion of others.

Over the years I increasingly gave away my power as I sought for external approval. I tried so hard to figure out what other people wanted and then give it to them in exchange for praise that I completely stopped listening to myself.

I did things (MAJOR THINGS) I knew weren’t right for me, all in the pursuit to please others.

The Perils of Extreme Caretaking

In early married life I learned that in addition to receiving the praise I craved, I could get others to do what I wanted through extreme caretaking. This practice quickly got out of control. I was giving and my ex-husband was taking.

I was frustrated that my results were inconsistent and while I tried to get him to do, feel, and act as I wanted, he was actually controlling me. I assumed the roll of both victim and martyr, giving and forgiving until it became utterly painful.

By trying to walk his path, I missed my own path. I could never do enough or be enough, so I felt like I wasn’t enough. I wanted others to be impressed and amazed by my decisions, my determination, my work, my tenacity and my devotion, but all it did was wear me out and prevent me from being me.

I worried that if anyone knew the real me they would reject me. I was alone in my shame, and disconnected myself from the rest of the world.

“What Fills You Up?”

In 2006 I started seeing a therapist. One visit she asked me what filled me up. I didn’t know what she meant, so she explained that she wanted to know what I liked to do, what were my interests and passions.

I honestly had no idea. I was so busy trying to anticipate and guess what others liked, that I didn’t have my own interests; my things were other people’s things.

She suggested I read Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, and that book was precisely the awakening I needed. I’d no idea that the kind of behaviors and feelings I felt were experienced by others, and that what I was doing was even a thing. I wasn’t ready to slap on the codependent label, but what I read gave me courage and hope.

Beattie’s definition of codependency fit me like a glove:

A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. 

The subtle art of trying to control another person in a relationship (any kind of relationship – not just marriage) is a dance that’s participated in by more than just one person. I might’ve given to the point of losing myself, but the recipients took and used that power as it was handed to them. They expected my level of giving and wanted it more and more.

When I finally stopped trying to control and set some boundaries, it was sort of like putting on a new record. The old dance ended for both giver and receiver and we all had to learn some new dance moves.

Fast forward to today and I’m a completely different person. I practice self-acceptance daily because I know I can slip back into that old cycle of codependency if I’m not careful.

I vigilantly protect myself through meditation and positive self-talk to stay far away from slipping into my old patterns. I’m happy with who I am, and I can finally answer that question my therapist asked me many years ago about what fills me up.

You can absolutely build a strong relationship with yourself.

The Five Top Tools to Move to a Place of Self-Love and Acceptance:

1. Meditation

When we practice meditation, we’re able to cut loose that part of us that craves external approval, also called “the ego.”

We focus on the present moment, not on the judgment of ourselves or others.  We experience a few minutes of peace and prepare ourselves to find more of that peaceful feeling throughout the rest of the day.

2. Let Go

We can let go of the idea that we have to be perfect to be loved and accepted.

We’re amazing and we’re exactly as we should be right at this moment. We can release self-judgment and let things be just as they are.

3. Positive Self-talk

What we say to ourselves matters.

We can replace the mean things we say to ourselves with statements like, “I’ve got this,” “I’m stronger than I think I am,” or “I’m enough.”

4. Boundaries

Setting limits on what we will/won’t do’s critical in moving from a place of extreme giving, to one of self-care.

Our preparation and willingness to follow-through on the consequences, when someone crosses our boundaries, is equally important as the boundary itself.

5. Acting “as If”

Let’s start from where we are right now and act as if we already feel love and acceptance for ourselves.

The power of belief’s strong and it builds up energy as we reinforce the positive direction we’re moving toward by acting as if it’s already a reality.

What I learned through my transformation to self-acceptance is that the relationship I have with myself’s the keystone to everything I do, including my ability to have healthy relationships with others.