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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

How About An On and Off Switch?

De-program or re-program?

One of the most common conversations I have with other women is the challenge to say "no". We are the "yes" half of the population, often to our own detriment. We have this need to say "yes." It's programmed into us. How?

Let's start with genetics. We are the ones who give birth. We have and usually are tasked with the raising of the children. Doing that requires a huge "yes." In return, for many of us but not all, we say yes to having children and unconsciously say no to time for ourselves, time for our careers, the condition of our bodies, and I have even read studies that women lose brain cells to their children in vitro. Motherhood is a giant yes.

Fatherhood, for those who are truly all in, hands on, intentional every day - they also say this giant yes which leaves the unconscious no here and there. Just like the mothers, they don't see the effects until years later.

Hopefully, the benefits outweigh the losses. They did for me. I was a stay at home mom for many years, and I don't regret it. However, I was not able to return to my dream career due to health issues that developed. Even though I am happy I stayed home, there was a huge loss.

It isn't just parenting. Mostly women, but men too can fall into this, are programmed to say "yes" to things we don't want to. Volunteer positions we don't really have the time for (and often should be paid positions with benefits because they are so demanding), overtime or extra projects at work, keeping up with the Joneses who do everything perfectly, and the need to reach some impossible highest ideals in work, family, health, and social status.

A lot of these "yeses" started sooner than adulthood. Most of us have baby boomer parents who made comments like, "Because I'm your mother, that's why." We had no choice. We had to do what was necessary to say yes, or else. That "or else" had a lot of potential ouch.

Orders to smile when not happy, to eat when not hungry, or to be quiet when there is something to share. The pressure to be the perfect homemaker, sex symbol, parent, and CEO, all at the same time.

We get programmed. Those "yeses" are people-pleasing programs that slowly drill themselves into our minds until "no" becomes a foreign language. (I was once told that the word "no" is tantamount to verbal abuse. Seriously?)

These programs are so insidious in our culture, we inadvertently continue to program it into our children. How? For example, tickling. My daughter-in-law is very good at recognizing this problem and has taught her children how to deliver a strident "no." We tickle our children. They laugh. Because they laugh, we continue to tickle even though they are saying "no" or "stop."

Are they enjoying it? Probably. Not always. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Or, sometimes they need a break. Sometimes is crosses a huge internal line and falls into abuse.

When appropriate, it is fun to do. The deep belly laugh is healthy. However, respecting their "no" is programming them that their "no" has value. They can use that programming to prevent themselves from being people pleasers.

What about the rest of us deeply programmed people pleasers? What can we do?

We can de-program ourselves. It can be done. I have seen it happen. I have improved in this area myself in a lot of ways.

At first, the use of the word "no" can feel like betrayal. By not doing what the other wants us to do, we are betraying their trust or confidence in us. We are denying them what they need.

Hold on. Are we? Ask that question honestly. Maybe we are. Maybe we aren't. Circumstances determine that, not our feelings.

We can't rely on our feelings to determine if a "yes" or a "no" is appropriate because feelings can lie. They change. (They do?) All the time. That is a blog post for another day.

Circumstances have to determine the appropriateness of a "yes" or "no." Not just the circumstances of the person asking, but our own circumstances as well. Maybe, we are betraying ourselves with that "yes."

Betray ourselves? We do it all the time. If we sacrifice our time to others so much that we have none left for ourselves. That's how we are betraying ourselves.

I go to this example a lot, but it is basic truth. Consider the oxygen mask on an airplane. If you do not put on your mask first, you risk passing out. If you pass out, you cannot help the person next to you. What if the person next to you is your own child? The problem is the same. If you pass out and die, so does your child. Your mask first. Then, help out. This is true for time, money, and energy. When is this not true? Agape love. Another topic for another blog someday.

It happens. Our kids grow up and move away, and we don't know who we are anymore. We look in the mirror and see a drained stranger, or we look at our spouse and can't see the person we married. Now what?

When we put voice to these feelings of loss, we are told we are people-pleasing complainers. Co-dependent. That label doesn't help.

We are guided to shut off that people-pleasing trait and focus on nurturing ourselves. But it's frustrating. That de-programming is doable, but painful. It leaves us at risk of swinging all the way to the other side and becoming selfish. That isn't any good either. We have a lot of people in need of help and support. People-pleasing can be volunteering, generous gifting, service to others, etc.

Maybe that's where the solution lies. Maybe it isn't de-programming we need. Maybe it's program adjusting. Re-programming.

People-pleasing traits do have benefits. If we didn't have them, who would care for the children? How would we show love or gratitude to others? How would families develop and grow? How would people in need find paths to fulfill their needs without the care and help of others? (Pulling up the boot straps only works to a point.)

I no longer believe shutting off people-pleasing traits is the answer. I think it lies in re-programming. Not DE-program. RE-program. What if we adjusted who and how?

What if we took our people-pleasing traits and turned them inward? If a believer, turned them God-ward? What if we re-programmed ourselves not to turn them off, but to re-direct them into healthy pathways? What if we added an on and off switch? Or a joystick for changing course like a sailboat adjusts its sails?

How are you at re-programming your people-pleasing tendencies?

Thanks for reading!

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Humor In Chaos


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