I use the phrase ‘People Pleaser’ when really the phrase I want to use is ‘Push Over’. Or the sentence which more aptly describes me is ‘Someone who would much rather displease herself so that she can please others, who would bite her tongue when she feels insulted than confront the offensive person, and who would bend over backwards, sideways and might wrap herself into a ball and roll down a dusty hill in the cold harmattan morning because she is afraid to make others uncomfortable.’
That is a grim picture. But that was me. And I didn’t realise just how low I had sunk till the tail end of 2014.I was in a situation where I cried for 4 hours over skype to a close friend over a new friend who had a habit of talking down to me, putting me down or finding faults in what I did. At first, because I was afraid of confrontation, I refused to see it. I thought I was being sensitive. However, this continued and soon it became undeniable; she made the word ‘doting’ sound negative to me; ‘You are too doting. It is too much’. And she often exaggerated my clumsiness and messiness, in front of others; ‘oh she is so messy, I have to clean up after her sometimes when I come to her room!’ I cannot possibly begin to explain how much of a big fat lie that was. Every thing I failed understand or every academic difference of opinion we had was sure to be premised and concluded on the fact that ‘You havent gone to law school yet. You would have understood’. One evening, I had gotten particularly aggravated by her again. I returned home and cried for 4 hours while relaying the different events to my close friend. He assured me that I wasn’t being overly sensitive and I needed to set things straight with this friend. I saw this friend the next day and smiled and pretended everything was alright; like I hadnt stayed up all night crying because of her. Like the migraine making dull hammer-like aches in the left side of my head and furiously twitching my left eye-lid was not attributable to 4 hours of crying because of her.
The second instance was in a situation where I wasnt being insulted. I was actually being mightily complimented. I was being told how nice I was, how kind I was, how much this person could not survive without me. But all this person wanted to do was to use me; he asked me for my completed essay, he wouldnt copy it but he would ‘model his around it’. I didnt know how to say ‘no’ so I gave away an essay I had stayed up nights in advance preparing for, studying, burning a lot of late night candles and oil, just to write. I felt sorry for him because he was trying to complete an LLM in a language which was not his mother tongue and which he struggled to speak.(In hind sight, I was a real mumu!) I guess the day the scales fell off my eyes was the day I was helping him edit an essay, I tried to explain why the sentence he had written was wrong and he is like ‘OMA, I dont care, just correct it’. I insisted on explaining and he insisted he didnt care about the essay. Then he went on to tell me he didnt care about the degree because as an established bankruptcy judge he didnt need this degree in Maritime law. According to him the degree doesnt affect his job in any way, doesnt affect his promotion or anything professional. He was here to do the bare minimum. ‘Moreover, no body fails in this school’ he insisted. ‘They try to make everyone pass.’
That day, just like Paul (formerly Saul in the Bible), I too had the scales dropping from my eyes like rain in thunderstorm. I too received my sight! I realised I wasnt helping a person who cared but a person who was using me to do the bare minimum. A person who had his life made and was passing time, while I am just 21, never had a job and this degree represents absolutely everything to my professional life. I had stayed up till wee hours of the morning helping this person, sometimes till 2am. I guess my heart absolutely shattered into a million pieces and then the wires in my snapped when I turned around while correcting his essay and saw him having a pretty little snooze in my chair at 12am while I was up, working on an essay that wasnt mine. I finished the essay to the best of my ability, said good night and cried myself to sleep. I cant exactly say wht I cried, may be because I still couldnt tell him to get out of my room if he didnt care so much or because I had spent all my time helping someone who needed no help.
I think the important thing to state at this point is that I care deeply about my friendships with these people, especially the first girl. I also honestly do not believe she means to be demeaning and rude as she comes across but unfortunately she is. And it offends me. I guess because for the past 3 months I have lived in a rather secluded island with these people and this happened almost simultaneously that I began to see how much of a people pleaser I was. How I had for so many days made myself unhappy to make others comfortable. How I had neglected my spiritual, emotional and mental health so that others could go around saying and doing what they liked. I guess sitting with a group of girls, having a wonderful dinner and talking about the past 3 months opened my eyes to just how unsustainable that life is.
I am sometimes very aggressive and fiery when I get confrontational, but the problem is that I let things pile up,like the issue with this girl, and with this judge till the day,my head explodes like a volcano and the anger pours out of me like lava. Those days are ugly, not classy and often regrettable because it completely severs friendships. I realised how hypocritical it was that I could have 10 hours of academic debate, or banter with anyone or even spend hours advocating redress for someone else’s hurt but I am unable to speak up for myself when something cut straight to my heart.
While I sat at dinner during the closing hours of 31st of December, 2014, it occurred to me just how much hurt I was carrying in me without even realising it, or rather without me wanting to admit or deal with it. I also realised it was time to change that! So I added a 4th New Year Resolution to my previous 3:
‘I will not when offended keep quiet! Neither will I see every offending action or comment as an opportunity to pick a fight (there will be plenty of time for that in legal practice!!) What I will however do is to speak frankly to the friend about exactly how I feel when offended.’
Much as I enjoy being cynical about some issues in life, I honestly do not believe that true friends intend to hurt us in their actions. So I plan to speak my mind to them and watch some friendships develop and mature into more mutually nurturing relationships while others unfortunately (and fortunately!) will disintegrate like the Biblical proverbial house built on sand. Either way, I am sure I will be better for it.
The message is to fight for what you care about, to fight for what you believe in. This year 2015- it is the year of OMA. I have taken up my first official client! Her name is OMA. Therefore in the issues of OMA against be world (OMA v. The World ), I will be kicking ass!
Have a wonderfully blessed 2015!