Most people would describe Audrey as intimidating, controlling and bossy. Her children saw her as excessively involved, angry, hysterical and a victim. None of these observations are very positive or pleasant. Yet, ironically, they’re all accurate. The sad fact is that to judge her on these outward behaviors is not to know her at all.
In reality, Audrey grew up with a mother who criticized everything she did. No matter how much Audrey achieved, she heard, “If you had studied harder or hadn’t slacked off, you could have done better. You look good, but if you wore the other blouse you would have looked better.” It’s no surprise then that, despite the fact that she was intelligent, attractive and articulate, her self perception was, “I’m not good enough.”
As a result, every relationship Audrey developed, whether with her husband, her children or friends, started out in an excessively positive fashion. In every instance, she over-indulged others, hoping it would get her the acceptance she desperately needed. But it was never fully reciprocated. Even if it had been, it probably would never have been enough to fill the hole inside her. Meanwhile, the lack of reciprocation served to reinforce her notion that she wasn’t good enough. Consequently, she tried harder, to the point that she felt the martyred victim, i.e., the good, kind person who was used by others. Her reaction to her own assumption was to become vitriolic, accusatory and hostile.
Audrey’s overindulgent behavior is easy to understand. It was her way of compensating for the treatment she received as a child. There was no way she could afford to be the fault-finding individual her mother was. She was unaware, however, that the opposite ends of a continuum are the same. Both behaviors, though overtly different, are typically demonstrated by individuals who feel insufficient and unlovable. Without realizing it, she actualized her greatest fear. She became her mother’s daughter and recreated the “loving” relationship she had with her mother with everyone she cared for.
Years later, she found herself estranged from those she loved and had overindulged. She felt angry and resentful for the way they treated her. What she failed to recognize was that her situation was of her own making. By virtue of her initial coping behavior, she allowed and even taught others to take advantage of her, to have expectations of her and to see no need to return the involvement she displayed. Then when out of the blue, her behavior shifted to the vindictive, demanding person she could become, they rejected her because they felt controlled by her generosity, demeaned by her anger and sure that she’d be back, trying to purchase their love and desperately wanting them to care again.
The question that arises is, can she change? The answer is, most definitely, yes. But only if she comes to value herself. Only if she realizes that she is the one who has to alter her behavior. She also has to learn to set limits and boundaries, because there’s no way to value self when people run over you, threaten you or abuse you. Similarly, she has to govern her own reactions. She has to recognize she can’t control, intimidate or force people to love her. Her goal has to be to have her actions reflect that she sufficiently values herself to warrant others valuing her, as well.
I know that many of you feel and behave in a manner similar to Audrey. You see yourself the victim, experience depression and view yourself rejected by individuals you love, cherish and tried to give to all your life. I’m also aware that you hurt and feel justified regarding your resentment over their lack of reciprocation. But you can learn from Audrey’s story by taking two specific steps that may alter your present position. One: ask yourself this question every time you’re about to do something you’re uncertain of, or that causes other people to become uneasy or edgy, “Am I saying, doing or acting this way because I’m trying to buy someone’s love, because I’m angry with them because they don’t love me, or because I want to get even?” This will take a great deal of honest introspection, but I promise you it’s the only way to dig yourself out of the emotional trap you’ve created for yourself. Two, don’t do anything for anyone else unless you acknowledge you’re doing it out of selfishness, i.e., a rational form of self interest. If you’re doing it to impress, to prove you’re good enough, or to buy someone’s affection, stop. This is an even more difficult task. Why? Because you’re apt to lie to yourself and see you as doing things out of the goodness of your heart, because you’re a good person who cares for others who aren’t half as caring as you. This thought will sound good and feel good and you’ll want to believe it. But, please, honestly look beneath your surface. Then, only act with regard to your own self interest. When you do, you eliminate any justification for being angry because what you did was “selfishly” motivated. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if others appreciate, applaud or respond. It’s a positive approach, although it won’t feel that way at first because, when you take responsibility for your decisions, you give up your right to complain.
Hear me. I want you to be a person who thinks they’re worthy of love and I promise you, you’ll get the love you feel you’re worthy of. Let me reiterate, however , real love can’t be bought, purchased or gained through intimidation or threat. It only comes about when you have something inside of you, such as your own happiness, good humor and positive emotions to share with others. Those feelings are only evident in individuals who have a capacity to face reality, act honestly and set limits on both their own reactive behaviors and the way they allow others to treat them. That capability adds an inner sense of worth and self respect that enables them to share love without expecting anything in return. It follows that angry, victimized or inadequate-feeling people who have a limited sense of self worth have little real love to give.
If this article fits you or someone you know, it won’t feel comfortable or be easily accepted. Nevertheless, I ask you to think about it, because it can help to make your interpersonal relations loving and meaningful, as opposed to ridden with conflict and depression.