The floor boards creek under my weight. I walk as carefully as I can, choosing the floorboards that creek the least. Our house is old and I am small, still a child, but the floorboards creek anyway. I feel her before I see her, she’s like an ice fog drifting in from the darkened living room, a sort of gauzy uncomfortable energy that warns there’s a bear in there, step back slowly. Pray it is asleep. But she’s awake and I have been spotted.
“What are you doing up?”
“I just need water.” I fill a glass and drink it down too quickly, fear from being spotted and the jolt of cold water hit me stomach in the same moment, making me nauseated. “Do you want a light on? Can I get you anything?” I go into people pleaser mode because the energy I’m reading is angry, brooding and needs a victim and I’m the one out of bed.
“Stop trying to butter me up.” It’s her usual phrase for when she has caught me trying to make things ok. I have done nothing wrong but I can feel I’m in trouble. So, I stand and wait, wondering if I will be up all night or sent back to bed. I feel her eyes on me and my need to fix the situation is so huge that I’m almost shaking.
“Let me get you a blanket.”
“I have one. Your father is snoring, I can’t sleep. Never get married.” She is talking so I sit quietly beside her on the couch and prepare for a long night of listening.
I was a two-years-old when I first began serving my mother. I brought her water and snacks from the kitchen and wet wash rags for her forehead because being pregnant with my sibling made her too sick to care for me so I was parentified and cared for her. I was such a good little girl. She told everyone how helpful I was. I didn’t know then that she was menacing, frightening, and mentally ill. She was my mother and I both feared and loved her.
It was the fear the taught me to read a room before I entered it, to see if she was in a safe mood or a dangerous one. Of course, her moods could flip in a moment and there was no reading when that would happen. As a teenager I enjoyed triggering her and fighting her. It was a sort of sick revenge, but by then I had learned to hate her for all the years of fear and punishment I had endured at her hands.
An empath and a people pleaser are both made through fear. One feels for what they are about to face and the other prepares a litany of appeasing acts, words, and gestures to help calm and sooth the situation. I learned early on that if I baked a pie my parents would eat and stop fighting. Empaths and people pleasers are not weak big hearted love bugs who just can’t help being kind. We are survivalists who will go to any lengths to ensure that the one who holds the power is happy. If they’re happy we can creep off and find somewhere safe to live, some corner in our dangerous households where we can pretend that we are okay.
One morning when I was about 18 my sibling ran into my room and jumped into my bed. We sat frozen and listening. Mother was moving through the house, her loud foot falls sounding a warning.
“You can always tell which mother we will have to deal with by the way she walks,” My sibling said. In that moment I realized that I was not the only one who found mother to be incredibly terrifying.
If you are dating a people pleaser the kindest thing you can do is not let them do anything, just help them feel safe and protected. After a while they will settle in and begin to relax. Empaths and people pleasers make wonderful partners and parents. And please notice when they set boundaries, and respect the fact that they have. When your PP or Empath partner sets a boundary and holds firm to it, that means they are well on the road to recovery. There are no boundaries in abusive homes. A home with boundaries and respect is a home where healing and happiness is possible.
I love you. We’re evolving. Create your Eden wherever you are.