I read an article recently that began: “Everyone wants to be liked and accepted, but many of us spend too much time and energy worrying about what other people think. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but these kinds of mental gymnastics …(make) us feel unworthy…”
If I would have read that article even six months ago, I would have strongly denied that it applied to me. I knew that I worried too much about what people thought of me….but NOT because I was concerned about them liking me!
When I took the Enneagram in early 2014, my highest scoring “type” was Type 3, or Achiever, as some sources label it. In reading the descriptions of this type, there was a lot that seemed to fit with what I had been experiencing in my life. For example, Type 3s are not known as feeling people; they are people of action and achievement. This was true for me. I’ve been long known as an achiever, as one who can get stuff done. For most of my life, I’ve shoved my feelings into a box so they didn’t get in the way of my performance.
Although I resonated with much of what I read about Type 3, I could not get past the underlying motivation of the type: to feel worthwhile, accepted, and desirable. In Type 3, the Ego needs to hear, “You are good or okay as long as you are successful and others think well of you.”
When I read this, all I could think was: “Not true!”
But last month in the midst of some deep reflective exploration and soul searching, I realized that for most of my life, I have indeed been carrying around a core belief that I didn’t even know I had: People don’t like me or love me for who I am.
And this awareness came about as a result of synchronicity: the right series of events and people at just the right time.
Related: Our Flaws Do Not Define Who We Are
While at a conference in February, I became familiar with The Work of Byron Katie. While researching her website, I found upcoming classes offered by others certified to do The Work and signed up for one. In the class, we were assigned homework buddies and during my very first conversation with my buddy, she shared something about her life that planted a seed in me about my own. I started tosee examples of how I’ve wanted people to like me, and how this desire influenced decisions I made in my childhood, my teenage years, and as an adult.
Because I wanted to be liked, I covered up more and more of my true self, who I wasn’t sure if people would like, and built up a false persona that I thought people would like better.
That’s the key of my belief – it wasn’t that I thought no one liked me or loved me – at all. It was that people didn’t like me or love me – for who I am – the REAL, unfiltered me.
With this new awareness, I saw the various ways that this belief has impacted my relationships over the years. Because I didn’t think people would like me or love me for me, I hid the real me from almost everyone, including myself. I lost touch with my real self and I acted in ways that were all about trying to get other people to think well of me. Sometimes I created distance from my loved ones by closing off behind a huge wall of self-protection. Other times, I proved my value by staying busy and productive – so much so that I didn’t have time for true connection with people. And in some cases, I would actively try to sabotage relationships with the people closest to me by creating stress and chaos where it didn’t need to be.
During this reflective work, I heard a voice inside of me say, “hey, this reminds me of Enneagram Type 3!” So I pulled my favorite Enneagram book off the shelf and reread that section with a whole new perspective. And this time, there was no getting around it – Type 3 is my Type.
The Ennegram is one of my personal favorite tools for self-discovery because it’s not about the labels. Yes, it assigns labels to each of the types, but with the Enneagram, it’s not about attaching your identity to the label; it goes deeper – much, much deeper.
Our type tells us a great deal about “how we view the world, the kinds of choices we are likely to make, the values we hold, what motivates us, how we react to people, how we respond to stress,” and more (Riso and Hudson, 1999). We start from where we are, right now, and the Enneagram invites us to deeply explore our identity, initiating “a process of inquiry that can lead us to a more profound truth about ourselves and our place in the world,” helping us see the “spiritual heights that we are capable of attaining.”
The Enneagram doesn’t try to keep us in our box. It shows us how we tend to react to various situations. With the Enneagram, we see how those reactions are different in times of stress when we react in “unhealthy” ways from when we can respond from a “healthier” view. The Enneagram helps us find the way out of our box.
My journey is taking me down the path of stretching outside of my box. For example, I’m learning how to:
- Add value to others’ lives by simply being me and being with people, rather than having to manufacture value by how much perfect stuff I can produce
- Open my heart to myself and to others, making real connections from a heart-centered place rather than closing off my heart and keeping connections superficial (I’m more present with people than I’ve ever been, I’m a better listener, and I’m learning to respond more effectively when other people feel emotions – instead of trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible!)
- Follow my own heart rather then focusing on what I need to do to get approval from others (I’m letting go of the need to please people and I’m worrying a bit less about what other people think about my path or the goals I set or how I spend my time each day)
This awareness and the positive changes I’m making are having an impact on my own level of happiness. I’m feeling happier much more frequently. I feel less tension and stress throughout my day. I feel like I’m finally starting to come into my own skin….at age 41!
My relationships are also benefiting in big ways. I’ve stopped carrying grudges against other people because I’ve realized that at least half – if not more – of the challenges I have had in some of my relationships stemmed from this core belief and the corresponding behavior to sabotage the relationship. I’m starting to pretend less with other people and learning how to speak my truth.
Related: The Three Truths About Personal Growth
My relationship with myself is also improving. In order to speak my truth, I need to be paying attention to what I really want. I’m getting back to meditating and journaling and working to create white space in my calendar so I have time alone to hear what I want. I’m reflecting on where I’m still hiding out and playing it safe and I’m taking steps to “show up” more fully in my life.
I’m redefining what it means to make a mistake and to fail, and I’m forgiving myself much more quickly when I do. I’m getting better at honoring time for myself and with my family. I’m learning (slowly) to play again.
To me, life is about the quality of the relationships we have with the people in our lives and the quality of the experiences we have: alone and with others.
I’m learning to fully embrace life; to live and love more fully.
“You were put on this Earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it fearlessly.” (Steve Maraboli)
We all have fears; it’s normal. What matters is that we don’t let our fears overcome us and cause us to hide out. We acknowledge that we are afraid and we make the courageous decision to move forward anyway. To me, that’s fearlessness!
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