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A Story about Bagel Toppings and People Pleasing

Throughout my life, one of my go-to strategies for dealing with my anxiety is through people-pleasing. My Monger tells me, that if everyone around me was happy, I will feel less anxiety. As part of this belief, I convince myself that everyone else’s needs are more important because if their needs are met, they won’t notice how incompetent I am.

Recently I was making a bagel for breakfast.  I couldn’t decide if I wanted butter or cream cheese, so I decided to have both. As I pulled both the butter and the cream cheese out of the fridge and started spreading the combo on my bagel, my husband looked at me like I was crazy and asked where I had learned to do that combo. I explained to him that it was all thanks to my college roommate; almost every morning of our sophomore year, I brought her a bagel with cream cheese and butter from the dining hall.

As a young girl, I learned that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, so being the good girl I was, no matter how early my first class was, I made sure to start my day off right with breakfast. My roommate, however, would rather sleep in. As I remember it, I just randomly grabbed her a bagel one day, and she was SO appreciative that it became a thing.  So I always grabbed her a bagel with cream cheese and butter. The reason this stands out in my mind is not just the odd topping combo but my obsession with getting her breakfast, making sure it was right, and always having a fear that I would get it wrong and she would be mad at me.

Looking back on that college ritual, I can see that my Monger was running the show, convincing me that my roommate was WAY cooler than me and if I wanted to keep her as a friend, I needed to make her happy. In essence, my Monger said the only way I would have friends was if I bribed them. Of course, there were days I didn’t want to get her bagel because I was resentful for being forced to get her a bagel. So my BFF voice demonized her for being lazy and not wanting to get out of bed and get her own damn bagel. My Monger told me I was a loser who needed to bribe my friend, and when that got too much, my BFF would step in to blame her for being lazy. In my roommate’s mind, she was just happy to have food. She probably didn’t understand why I was so consistent in bringing her a bagel, but she just thought it was a nice thing I did. My roommate didn’t demand it or expect it. But I demanded it of myself. It was a hell of my own making.

I can see this dynamic in my marriage. When my anxiety is high, I will bend over backward to predict my husband’s needs and try to make him happy. Like watching his favorite show when I don’t want to (even if he doesn’t care) or picking up the house (even when he doesn’t notice), or making sure I tiptoe around him and give him lots of space (even though he didn’t ask for it).

To be clear, my husband is one of the most laid back people least demanding people I know, so this is dynamic is all in my head. My Monger will convince me that if I don’t do for my husband, he will stop loving me. If he is in a bad mood, my Monger will convince me it is because of something I did, so I had better over-perform and please him. When he doesn’t appreciate all my sacrifices, my BFF steps in to demonize him and tell me how much he doesn’t appreciate me and all my hard work. My Monger and my anxiety convince me I can control EVERYTHING from how someone else feels to whether they will like me. And when I can’t control it or get tired of trying, my BFF comes to blame the other person. Again a hell of my own making.

The good news is these dynamics do change. I notice this pattern WAY earlier than I used to. I can see that my anxiety is spiking, my Monger is getting loud, so I start to people-please. I can catch myself people-pleasing, overperforming, all in a quest to quiet my Monger.  And I can bring in my Biggest Fan, that voice of self-loyalty. When I notice my husband is in a bad mood, I ask him if he needs anything. And if my Monger is still chiming that it is all my fault, I will share that with him. I will check in to see if I caused his lousy mood, and 99% of the time, I had nothing to do with his bad mood. Awareness, kindness, and communication are the keys.

Who would have thought bagel toppings could have so much meaning!  But as I sat down to eat my bagel that morning, I was reminded of my college years, my college roommate (who I adore to this day!), and how grateful I am that bending over backward to make someone like me is no longer a driving force in my life.