People pleasing and codependency as forms of emotional unavailability
I’ve always thought of myself as an emotionally available person. I care about other people’s feelings, I’m a good listener, and I’m a loyal friend and partner. And I’ve always been a romantic. I constantly fantasized about finding a partner who understood me, really saw me for who I was, someone who really loved me and whom I loved in return.
I see now that despite believing I was emotionally available, I was actually just hiding behind an emotionally available exterior. I was a really, really great listener. I was also good at seeing other people’s strengths, and incredibly accepting and forgiving of any faults. I never asked for anything in return, which I thought was me being selfless and giving, but was really me being terrified of a true and reciprocal emotional exchange.
The idea of someone actually seeing me was horrifying, and quite frankly, not something I was interested in. I was much more comfortable playing the all-loving caregiver role. It allowed me to control the interaction and minimize vulnerability and risk taking on my part.
Mistaking mind games for “chemistry”
I remember going on dates with certain people in my 20’s who repulsed me. They were usually genuinely kind people who wanted to get to know me. They were authentic and willing to be appropriately vulnerable, which to me felt boring and deeply uncomfortable. I wasn’t attracted to them, and some of them even kind of grossed me out. I had no idea why I didn’t find them attractive, I just knew I didn’t.
So who did I find attractive?
The people who were willing to play games, which I thought of as “flirting.” I wanted to play a role, and I wanted the other person to play along with me. I wanted to be actively and blatantly pursued. I wanted to act coy and evasive. I wanted there to be immediate “sexual tension” and “chemistry” (immediate being the keyword here).
If there wasn’t—if someone treated me like a fellow human being that they were interested in getting to know, as opposed to a sexual conquest—I immediately wrote the person off. I had somehow learned to equate games of power and control with… love?
These games based on power and control ultimately kept me safe from having to feel any true vulnerability. Getting to know another person is emotionally vulnerable. It's a risk. It requires trust. Those things were too scary for me. The idea of even being seen or known at all was too vulnerable. What if I said the wrong thing? Had the wrong opinion? Thought the wrong thing was cool? So I hid behind people pleasing and found self-centered partners that required me to orbit them and ask nothing in return.
From insecure attachment to earned secure attachment
Today, having healed my attachment wounds, I’m in a different place. I also have deep compassion and love for that person I used to be.
She had spent so much of her life basing her sense of self on what she could provide for others, that she had no idea who she truly was.
She was 100% focused and invested in receiving external validation and being liked at all costs. She believed her goodness, her ok-ness, her enough-ness, relied on it.
She was scared to have her own needs and opinions, because she had learned that to assert herself and take up space of any kind was to be an inconvenience, and being an inconvenience makes people leave.
Deep down she didn’t believe that she was worthy of being known at all, especially by the people who respected her enough to actually want to know her.
A few things to remember when starting a new relationship:
- “Chemistry” often isn’t an immediate thing. In fact, if there’s too much chemistry, too much physical and emotional attraction too fast, if there's a sense of frenetic urgency, this is a red flag. It’s obviously ok to feel attracted to someone, but in healthy situations the attraction feels different. It feels more grounded and calm. Take your time to act on your feelings. Many abusive relationships start in a whirlwind fashion.
- Playing emotional/mind games is addictive. So, if this is the way you’ve always started relationships, healthier, more stable relationships might feel boring AT FIRST. When your brain is used to the “highs” of emotional intensity, uncertainty, and instability, a good thing will naturally feel lackluster in comparison—your brain isn’t getting the “hit.” You might have to use your thinking brain to remind yourself of this and override your immediate impulse to write people off. If you give it a chance, you might be surprised at how exciting stability and true intimacy can actually be.
- It’s ok to feel scared. Allowing yourself to be seen in your true authenticity is incredibly vulnerable. It’s ok to take baby steps. It’s ok to go slow. It’s ok to be very picky about who you choose to let in. Going slow is never a bad thing. When in doubt, go slow. If the person is worth your time, they will stick around.
- Once you see the games, you can’t unsee them. Self-awareness is incredibly powerful. Once you realize you’ve been playing games instead of truly connecting with others, the realization itself will begin to shift your experience. Get curious about it! Invite it in for tea. What purpose do these games serve for you? Where did the pattern come from?
- Clarity is your friend. Get clear on what kind of relationship you ultimately want. If you want a long-term committed partnership based on mutual trust and true intimacy, that’s going to look very different than a one night stand or friends with benefits. Be real with yourself and go after what it is you actually want. Don’t rationalize settling for less.
Looking for an online therapist in Kansas?
Do you recognize yourself in my story? Want to dig deep and get clearer on your relationship patterns and how to heal your own attachment wounds? My Lawrence, Kansas counseling practice specializes in providing therapy for codependency, therapy for anxiety, therapy for self-esteem, therapy for Highly Sensitive People, and grief and bereavement counseling. I help people overcome shame and the fear of being their true selves. Breaking the cycles of people pleasing and self-abandonment is possible, and I'm here to help.
I offer online counseling throughout Kansas. Reach out today to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation. I'd love to hear from you!
Other Services Offered by Maggie
In addition to providing online therapy anywhere in Kansas, I’m also a professional astrologer, and offer Birth Chart Readings anywhere in the United States, as well as abroad.
Astrology is a powerful tool for gaining self-awareness, finding meaning in and understanding of our difficult experiences, and for receiving validation regarding our own unique life path. All of which supports our mental health in a positive way!
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