Offending Those I Love

Along with yesterday’s post about Boundary Setting, I also had to learn to take people at their word.  I’d learned my lesson early to always put everyone’s needs over and above my own.  Once I was free from Bubba, I started to learn (thanks in large part to Liz, my therapist) that my needs were important and I was worthy of having my needs made known and asking for others to help meet those needs.

Slowly, I was learning how to say, “No.”  I remember one day that Arcadia called and asked me to watch her girls.  I’d had a particularly horrendous day and was just exhausted.  I very timidly said to her, “I’d love to but I am very tired and don’t feel up to it.”  I waited for her to angry or to try to guilt me into doing it anyway.  This is the type of response I was completely used to.  She simply said, “Ok.  I’ll ask the next person on my list.”  I asked if she was sure it was ok that I didn’t feel up to watching them.  She said of course it was ok.  I asked if she was upset with me.  At this point, I think she started getting exasperated with me.

I often found this was the case.  The more I started standing up for my needs, the more afraid I was that my friends were going to be upset or angry with me.  I was wrung out from just starting the divorce process and from the intense counseling sessions with Liz.  I was working so hard to break the chains of the abuse that I didn’t have any energy for much beyond taking care of myself and the kids.  I was learning how to say, “No,” but I still wasn’t good at it and it gave me a lot of anxiety when I actually said it.

Most of the time, I was at war with myself.  I truly enjoy helping my friends, especially with watching their children.  I love all of my friends’ children and really did enjoy spending time with them.  There were simply days that I just didn’t feel up to having more than my three children around.  Part of me really hated the days that I had to say that I couldn’t help.  It went against my nature to decline to help when I could, both because I truly do enjoy helping and because it was wired into me from a young age that it was unacceptable to turn down anyone for any reason.  The martyr complex was strong in me because I was such a excellent student of my mother’s.

Each and every time I would say, “No,” I would do what I did with Arcadia and question repeatedly whether it was ok that I said, “No.”  I tried to gauge whether the person was upset or mad at me.  I always waited for the guilt trips to start.  They never did.  I did have one friend put me in my place one time though.  I wish I could remember which friend it was who set me straight but it was a hectic time and I just can’t remember.  She said, “Hope, you need to just accept that when I said that it is ok, it truly is ok.  I’m not upset or mad.  I understand that you have a lot going on in your life and it is ok for you to tell me that you can’t help.  It is really starting to bother me that you don’t believe me.”

I felt horrible.  How could I call my friend’s words into question?  How could I doubt that my friends would tell me anything but the truth?  They’d all proved over and over that they were truthful and meant the things they said.  I was really start to offend my friends with my inability to just believe them.

I had to adopt a new mantra.  When I would start questioning my friends’ words, I would stop myself and repeat, “Just shut up.  She said it was ok.  Believe her.  Just shut up.  She said it was ok.  Believe her.”  Again, it took a few months of this self-talk before I realized that I’d started automatically believing my friends when they said something to me.  I guess it was a sort of deprogramming.  I had to get all the old, unhealthy scripts out of my head and replace them with new, healthy ones.

I didn’t want to do anything to upset or offend the people who’d become family to me.  I loved these people with everything I was and I knew that my inner dialogue had to change or I would start pushing people away.  I worked with Liz on rearranging my thinking and believing people when they said things to me.  It wasn’t easy.  It took months to rewire my thinking.  I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that they were ok with my decisions and weren’t going to punish me for them. I think taking people at their word was a really difficult thing for me to do, thus the mantra. I could doubt in my head and be ready to duck and cover but I learned to keep my mouth closed about my doubts. Eventually, as people proved they meant what they said, it became easier to believe them the first time.

Even now, I still have moments where the old scripts try to play in my head.  I fight them tooth and nail and I win against that garbage. I have surrounded myself with people who are true to their words and don’t use guilt and manipulation to get what they want.  I’ve fought hard to learn how to trust people.

I’m so thankful that I have amazing friends who are ever patient with me as I walk this road.



  1. This can be a hard thing to learn. I’ve lived with my husband’s anger so long and not knowing what will set it off. I have a friend that it took me a long time to realize things I would say were not going to cause an anger response. My daughter and I are still trying to learn to stand up more for ourselves and not be such people pleasers. It’s ok to want others happy and I still want that, but I’m learning it’s ok to speak up for my needs too.

    • We work so hard to be the Guardian of Everyone’s Happiness because of the abuse that we have trouble relating to healthy people. I was raised to be the ultimate people pleaser and it was difficult to break out of that. I’m much happier now that I know that I’m worthy of happiness too. I’m finding that I still want to make people happy (by making things for them, helping them when I can, etc) because it gives me great pleasure to see my friends’ eyes light up when I surprise them with something. My mother’s lessons fell on very fertile soil because I’m a natural born people pleaser. I’ve had to learn to distinguish between my natural tendencies and the abuse that causes me to always put others before self.

      You are important and worthy of making yourself happy too!

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