I had therapy this morning. Yes. I start my week with a therapy session. It lets me recount my weekend and then try to approach the week with better self-awareness. Unfortunately, sometimes it is also exhausting and makes Monday a little more difficult. Today was one of those days.
We did an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) session. During EMDR, we target a traumatic memory that continues to cause me anxiety decades after it occurred. I focus on that memory while watching light travel across a bar from left to right and back again repeatedly. I start by thinking about the negative memory and with each passing, short session of eye movement, my brain travels through the emotions of the memory guiding me to experience it again in a different way. I often cycle through sadness and anger before my brain at last hits on the reality behind the memory, diffusing it for me. It sounds hokey, but its ability to allow me to reconstruct my thoughts about myself and my difficult past are no joke.
Today we did some work to reduce my anxiety around other people’s expectations. I am a people pleaser. Not because I particularly care about pleasing people but because I was raised to believe that no one would or could tolerate me unless I behaved according to their expectations and wishes. This learned behavior, attempting to ensure others are happy even while I am making myself anxious and miserable, is debilitating. I am constantly watching other people’s expressions and actions, wondering what negative thing I did to cause them and then panicking about how to fix them so the person will accept me again. If a friend asks me to meet her for coffee to talk, my initial reaction is to wonder what I have done wrong rather than to consider she might just want to talk about something in her life and not some slight I have concocted. I end nearly every therapy session by apologizing to my therapist for rambling on and thanking her for listening to me. It’s absolute madness how my mind catastrophizes how other people view me. This type of anxiety is one thing I continue to work on.
At any rate, today I came up with a strategy that might assist me. I understand that I am not solely responsible for someone else’s discomfort or disappointment. Some of it is not a me problem at all. So I have decided that when I begin to feel that anxiety rising, when I start to feel the urge to bend myself into a pretzel to make someone else comfortable rather than letting them sit with their discomfort and placing myself as a priority, I need to put on my imaginary Wonder Woman golden wrist wraps, cross my arms in front of my chest, and deflect their expectations. I am not responsible for making everyone else happy at the expense of my own schedule, personal wishes, or sanity. I am allowed to expect others to be mature enough to handle their disappointment, frustration, confusion, sadness, or whatever. It’s okay for me to cross my arms and send their energy back to them to deal with on their own. It’s not selfish. It’s adulting. And I can also use the wrist wraps to stop myself from spiraling out of control when a friend says they need to speak to me over coffee. I can block the crazy talk in my head and recognize it as part of an old thought pattern that no longer serves me.
I know I am not the only woman who suffers from this affliction. Women are often conditioned from an early age to be pliable, amiable, and selfless. If we weren’t, why would the world constantly be telling us to smile more often? I would like to see more women, including myself, take a different approach, a healthier one. I would like to see us putting ourselves first more often, deflecting the expectations of others in favor of more self-serving pursuits. So, friends, let’s see if we can pull on our wrist wraps and protect ourselves, and each other, a bit better. We deserve the peace that derives from choosing our own way rather than caving to what is expected of us by others. I’d say we should act more like men, but the truth is we can do better. We can act like the wonder women we are and were always meant to be.