Shifting the Narrative

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“Daddy, can I pleeease, pleeease go to her house? Pleeease!?” The desperation in my voice was extreme but not for the reason you would think. Internally, I was screaming through slightly crazed eyes ‘I really don’t want to go. Please don’t make me!’

I remember Dad studying my face intently and a being little perplexed as he hesitantly replied: “No, I don’t think so, girls, not this time. Sorry.” I feigned excessive disappointment until the friend disappeared, then collapsed into Dad’s surprised arms. “Thanks so much, Dad!” Clearly not the response he had been expecting.

When Mum came outside to join us under the covered portico, she chastised Dad for not letting me go to the playdate. Dad explained in a slightly confused voice: “Well, it turned out that Emma didn’t want to go to her house anyway!”

“Bye Emma.” I turned around to find my friend waiting to farewell me. My face burned as I sheepishly returned her hug. Had she heard what Dad had said? Had my charade been completely exposed? I persecuted myself for hours afterwards – not for failing to communicate my true feelings, but for the possibility that I had failed to cover them up sufficiently.

She was a mentor and a fun-loving youth leader.

Mum had decided that I needed some good examples to learn from so she had set up ‘dates’ for us to go on. It was a little awkward at first, but eventually became more fun as I got to know her better. We went to movies or out for milkshakes and probably talked about meaningful things, though I have little recollection of that part.

The difficulty came at the end.

Somehow a tradition started around hugging each other goodbye and the goal was to squeeze as tightly as possible. I knew it was coming and I knew that I would inevitably leave the experience raggedly struggling for breath, but was unable to muster the confidence to tell her that I didn’t want to continue the ritual. So, I kept doing it… counting down the seconds until I could be released.

These exchanges are burned into my memory. They reveal something about myself that I struggle to reconcile. Why do I feel the need to veil my true emotions and please people so?

Until sitting down to write this post I had assumed that I was just a ‘people pleaser’. That it was enough for someone to want me to act a certain way for me to capitulate and satisfy their desires accordingly. But I have since realised that actually isn’t true.

There are moments for sure that involve me cloaking my true feelings – particularly ones of judgement or blame if someone has disappointed me – but it turns out that this is in accordance with a higher ideal: preservation of relationship.

Part of this is simply my personality. I have high standards of perfection for myself, and often will squash down feelings or reactions because they do not align with what I feel like I should do. The Enneagram has been so helpful in exposing the hidden motivations that guide my behaviour and allowing me to consciously work against the weaknesses that go along with my Type.

There are other strongly guiding frames of reference that inform my actions – in parenting, for instance, I am more than happy to be the ‘bad guy’ to my kids if it means holding to a standard of behaviour that I see as important for long term character development.

When we shared living space with close friends I tried to ignore petty differences of opinion or clashing standards in housekeeping, thinking that the ideal of peace was more important than expressing my growing frustration. Unfortunately, we all soon learned the hard way that clear communication about expectations is far more successful in preserving peace and friendship and that suppressing annoyance only leads to large explosions of emotion later on. As in a marriage situation, if you fail to talk to each other about things that are important to you, unfortunately the issues don’t magically fade away.

In my university years, I was more than happy to be champion for non-bias in politics – often being one of the lone conservative figures amongst a crowd of socialists. I delivered fierce feedback in classroom surveys, even approaching a lecturer in person once to reproach him for his mocking treatment of Prime Minister John Howard during a politics class.

Another vivid moment comes to mind: that day after class when my passionate faith took me to boldly offer to pray for a fellow atheist student’s broken leg. It didn’t heal, but at the time I felt as if the momentary embarrassment was worth the possibility for his eternal change in mindset. (And yes. It was a little bit awkward.)

It is tempting to write off these instances as youthful passion. To think that I’ve grown out of my impulsiveness and zeal, settling down into the measured perspective of an adult. But I don’t think this is entirely satisfactory. Which narrative do I choose to embrace? Is there a story that envelops the entire complex reality that makes me ‘me’?

I’m not sure of the whole answer yet, but for now these moments speak to a wider picture that I hadn’t considered: maybe I’m not just a ‘people pleaser’ after all.

What about you? Is there something about yourself you had assumed as the ‘truth’ for a long time but have come to realise that it isn’t the whole story? Have you used the Enneagram to understand yourself better? I’d love to hear your experience!

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3 comments

    1. That is such a great list (though I should come clean and admit that they are my friend’s chickens, not mine – though we do have plans to run a coop down the side of our house soon!)… But I love that words have so much power to connect us – my life is so much the richer for your beautiful friendship xx

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