Original acrylic on canvas painting
I used to spend a lot of time trying to make everyone around me happy. I figured that, if all my friends and family were happy, I too could be happy. I also felt like it was my job to make people happy. I'd feel deeply crippled if I had somehow failed to light up someone's day.
It's all very well and good to go about life as a people pleaser. It gives one the sense of being noble, kind and selfless - but there is a flaw with the system. How we feel is ultimately our decision. There is no guarantee that a person is going to be happy and if I failed, which I often did, to improve the mood and outlook of someone close to me, I felt that failure twice as hard because I'd hinged my own happiness on that of those around me.
Rather than see this as a flaw and perhaps a sign that I needed a different approach, I spent years trying to perfect the ability to sway the moods of those around me in a positive way. I fought tooth and nail to make people smile by finding opportunities, encouraging them to take chances and giving them forums for personal expression. The more I fought the more I struggled with a growing anxiety problem. Every success I had was overshadowed by the multitude of failures. I was, quite simply, trying to please all of the people all of the time.
This is impossible. No one can do it and when you try to the result can be quite disastrous. In my case it eventually led to a full mental breakdown. I was unable to cope because the responsibility I'd given myself was impossible, and yet I still felt the need to make it happen.
My mental breakdown was just one of many life changing experiences. It led me to ask for help - something I'd always refrained from doing as I didn't want to appear weak or incompetent. This was the first step but it wasn't until several months later that I would begin grasping the idea of putting myself first.
I had built up quite a lot of expectations of what I should be able to do. My mental breakdown led me to start looking at my anxiety, but I still had an awful lot of ideas I was holding onto quite tightly which kept me from seeing that I was still trying to fix myself by fixing those around me. The next life changing event I experienced came in the form of heartbreak and this one gave me a whole new perspective.
I had built up quite the idea of what my life was about and where it was leading. When my partner of three years suddenly ended our relationship it was as if someone had pulled the rug out from under me. I was free falling and had no idea how far or fast. It was terrifying at first but it did something incredible for me.
Initially the failure of the relationship was like anything else in my life - a sign of my inability to make someone happy. But as I went into free fall it also meant I began to look at myself first and foremost. I tried replacing the lost partner with best friends and family members, anyone to try and 'fix' so I could try to 'fix' myself. But something was happening naturally which I was eventually unable to ignore.
I began to pay attention to myself first. As I listened to what my anxiety and other emotions were telling me, as I focused on my wants, dreams and desires, my life began to change quite rapidly. My anxiety lessened. It wasn't so acute. I remembered what things motivated me. What my dreams were. What my passions were. I started to write again, to paint, to sculpt, to explore the world. I was travelling again, meeting new people, learning to let go of old stagnant or harmful relationships.
I gradually noticed that the people in my life all seemed to be happy, content and full of joy most of the time.
What had changed? I wasn't trying to fix anyone. I wasn't working myself into a frenzy trying to make a partner or friend see their incredible potential. And yet, the people in my life seemed to be quite positive and uplifted.
It's been proven that positive energy, just like negative energy, can be shared. I'd found myself again and as a result I was feeling better about my life. I was able to say 'No' to harmful people and 'Yes' to those who were willing to help themselves. The quality of my relationships improved because the quality of my relationship with myself had improved. Because I was paying attention to my wants and needs I was able to see more clearly when a relationship was unhealthy. I could appreciate when someone needed to be let go. I was also doing things which mattered to me, feeding my soul with writing and art, and therefore improving my energy levels and mood.
Was I being selfish? Certainly, in that I was looking out for my own interests and needs, but not because of a lack of consideration for those around me. I just had developed a profound level of consideration for myself.
When I decided to become a life coach my motivation came out of the knowledge I have of the inherent ability I have to help people. I have learned that the way I tried to do it before was harmful because my expectations were impossible to meet and I let people blame me for their own inaction. As a life coach my focus is still on bringing out the best in people but I've called it 'Me First' because my coaching method is about finding ways to get you to be your own best friend. It's about embracing the strengths you have at your disposal and learning to put yourself first in your own life.
When we come first in our lives we are more able to help those around us.
Visit: www.CreativeLifeCoachLondon.com for more information.