This section is from the beginning of the first chapter on co-dependency. In this chapter, I talk about how my co-dependency started and how it increased over the years. The point I want to get across is that I had a problem of feeling like an outsider and everything I did to fix it just made things worse. Let me know what y’all think.
I was not what you would call athletic as a kid. I’ll put that differently; I was really overweight. In the last couple years of college, I started to take my weight problem seriously and started to lose weight. That change didn’t happen until I hit 330 lbs though and I had been up above that 300 lb marker for a few years. My problem with obesity started around kindergarden and basically continued until my junior year of college. This issue did not help my social life as a kid. Sports play a big part of a kids social life and my obesity combined with some other physical impairments kept me from playing any of them.
Unfortunately that was not the only thing going against me and my social life. I did not come into this world with the knowledge of how to ‘play it cool’. This remains a problem even today. I’ve basically had two speeds since I was a kid; zero and sixty. Growing up, I had no idea how to smoothly transition between those two speeds or find a happy medium between them. That meant I was either the really quiet kid who just followed people around or I was the super dramatic kid who made a big deal out of something small. It’s something I can laugh about now, but back in the day it did not help me make any friends.
The combination of my obesity and zero to sixty approach to life made me kind of an outsider. I had a few friends but the key word in that sentence is few. I came up with a brilliant solution to this though; I decided to become a people pleaser. Okay, so I didn’t sit down as a 7 year old and decide to become a people pleaser, but that gradual transformation definitely started to happen in elementary school. While I lacked athletic ability and the ability to play it cool, I did know how to read people. I’ve been able to read people’s body language and discern the meaning behind their words since a kid. I took that knowledge and tried to fix my problem of being an outsider.
That fix also wrecked my life, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
I took my ability to read people and used that to figure out what people wanted. When I figured that out, I did what I could to provide that for them in order to make them like me. I basically tried to create relational capital or value by offering people what they wanted. This played out in many different ways. If someone was having a bad day, I would try to cheer them up. When someone complained about something, I would do my best to do the opposite. I really trained myself by learning to perform for my teachers because they were such easy targets.
Teachers make it pretty clear to kids what they want from them and I was happy to oblige them. This made the teachers like me and that gave me a little boost in self-confidence. I told myself that even if the other kids didn’t like me at least the teacher thought I was great. Yeah, I was that kid. I tried to to employ this strategy among my peers and it didn’t work nearly as much with them. I’ve found that smarter people are easier to manipulate and all my teachers were smarter than my fellow elementary school kids. Back to my point, the kids were harder to please but eventually I realized that being a class clown worked well enough. I also saw that being the guy who was always in good spirits made some of the kids like me.
The combination of class clown and general cheeriness eventually shaped my first facade. I tried to be the guy who could joke about the subject at hand or make fun of myself. Poking fun at myself was one of my first tricks and it remained one of my favorite assets over the years. This facade didn’t bring me all the friends that I wanted and though. I still felt like an outsider and that made me kind of frustrated because I put in a good amount of work to be what people wanted. This is the point where things started to become chaotic and stressful because I worked harder at performing but didn’t see any results.
Looking back I can see that I was trying way too hard and that was probably off putting to all of the kids around me; but trying too hard is a tricky thing to understand when you’re seven. Many of my school days as a kid were kind of like an exercise in frustration because I did all that I could to make people like me and it never got me all the friends that I wanted. I would always have a couple friends but I didn’t enjoy the social life that I really wanted.
Eventually I decided that I just needed to work harder and figure out the secret to making people like me. That led to overthinking and overanalyzing most of my schooldays. I can tell you beyond the shadow of a doubt that analyzing the behavior of a elementary or middle school kid will exhaust you mentally; they’re incredible at resisting attempts to manipulate them. This is possibly because they’re used to their parents manipulating them, but that’s besides the point. The point is that I ended up running around in circles from Monday to Friday. That made life a little stressful and chaotic but I made it worse by raising the stakes.
Back in the day, I falsely assumed that I didn’t have any value because I wasn’t athletic or naturally cool. The lack of friends felt like a confirmation of that value. So when I came up with my plan to perform for people I thought that I had figured out how to create value. Now it’s not a great emotional move to assume your value comes from anything besides God’s love for you. It’s a really bad move to assume that your value comes from your ability to earn the acceptance and love of elementary or middle school kids. This seemed like a great idea at the time because I felt confident in my ability to read people and figure out what they wanted. I was actually signing my heart up for a couple decades of pain, heartbreak, and dysfunction.
Image Copyright: Steven Depoloby