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Somewhere along the way, I’m realizing, I have sacrificed self for the happiness of others. Somewhere along the way I have substituted the happiness of others for my own happiness. Somewhere along the way it became more important to take care of the feelings and needs of others than to take care of self.

I have been reading a book, recommended by two friends, (People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil*) that examines the disguise, the lie of people who practice insensitivity to others, who justify their insensitive behaviors and transfer the blame and consequences that result from their behaviors onto those they victimize with said behaviors.

I recognize, in this book, a number of people from my life, though the author clearly doesn’t know them personally, they are clearly and precisely illustrated within his writing, the sharing of case studies from his professional practice.

I also recognize how my own behaviors are in extreme opposition to the behaviors he’s discussing. I’m sure that both extremes are unhealthy, unhealthy for all parties involved.

I was more or less taught, through physical, verbal and emotional abuse, that expressing my feelings wasn’t acceptable. Having feelings, being emotional wasn’t acceptable. If I were disappointed, sad, angry, frightened, etc., I was to keep it to myself. What did I expect, by sharing my feelings? Did I expect someone else to make things better? Did I expect someone else to take responsibility for my feelings? Was I blaming other people for the way I felt? These are the questions I would be faced with as a result of sharing my feelings.

I was fed a steady diet of guilt, via my mother’s routine complaints that she sacrificed everything for her children, that she did without much of what she wanted because her children wanted or needed things. She was, after all, putting a roof over our heads, feeding us, clothing us and trying to get us the things we wanted and needed, apparently at the cost of her own happiness.

Somehow, all this apparently registered, in my mind, as expressing one’s feelings is irresponsible and asking others to ‘fix’ or ‘resolve’ those feelings and that self sacrifice was what responsible adults did for the people they love.

My adult life has been spent, largely, in the service of others. I have taken on the problems, disappointments, hurdles of others, trying to ‘rescue’ the people I love, in some cases, from themselves.

When people come to me and share their woes and struggles, I hear, “Help me!” I immediately jump in, thinking they shouldn’t be feeling this way, shouldn’t be expressing these things, thus they need to be rectified as quickly as possible, they are ‘irresponsible’, need someone to take responsibility and as someone who loves them, it’s up to me to make them a priority, to sacrifice my own needs to help them regain their happiness.

I do realize now, after years of psychotherapy, that I have a ‘rescuer’ personality type. I do know that I’ve been conditioned to react the way I do, that is why I put myself in the position of being the ‘rescuer’. In reflection, after jumping in, when the person I’ve helped demonstrates ‘resentment’ toward my help, I realize they may not have really wanted ‘help’ at all, they may have just wanted to vent, express their feelings.

I tend to stuff my feelings, feeling as if sharing them would be equivalent to ‘burdening’ others, but I leave myself open to taking on the feelings of everyone around me, which overwhelms me. I’m what is referred to as a ‘highly sensitive’ person. I feel everything, if you are sad, your sadness becomes my sadness, if you are angry, your anger becomes mine. My childhood abuser unloaded all their negative emotions and feelings on me, telling me it was my responsibility, as their only ‘confidante’ to listen and since we were ‘in this together’ (meaning, after the divorce of my parents I was expected to take on more responsibility within the family unit), whatever concerned or upset them, should concern and upset me. I was expected, as a child, to understand and be ’empathetic’ to my parent’s struggles… something a teenager can’t truly do, having not had the life experiences of their parent.

Every once in a while, I become so overwhelmed that I have to vent. I have a handful of willing listeners, who allow me to share my feelings and though they are willing and gracious about letting me share my concerns, thoughts, experiences and fears, I always feel as though I am a burden to them. I find myself apologizing for unloading my ‘baggage’ on others.

I tend to sacrifice myself, my needs, emotions, feelings, so that others don’t have to hurt. I feel their pain, but deny my own.

I’m tired of this pattern, of thinking about others first and sacrificing myself, because there are precious few people who actually consider my feelings, there are many more who think because I shoulder the burdens of others I’m strong, don’t need to be supported, don’t need to be heard.

I do need to be heard, I have a lot to say, I have feelings, emotions that are worthy of expression. I have value, I am not here to be used and disposed of, to be dismissed. I need to stand up for myself and I think it’s long past time for me to do that, for me to identify myself as worthy, valuable and fragile.

*People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck, M.D.   © 1983