People Pleasing and the Art of Losing Oneself

This week I met up with a friend for a social distancing lunch. As we got to talking, the topic of college admissions was brought up. Her daughter, a high school senior, is about to embark on her college admission applications. What is unique this year, is due to covid-19, apparently SAT testing has been waived from most college requirements for the admission applications. My first thought was, it is about time! Good ridden to those standardize test that do not demonstrate one’s intelligence. I remember when I took the SAT and GRE, and I’ll be frank with you, I did not do well, in fact if someone where to judge me based on my scores, they would have concluded that I would have been uneducated. But the truth is those scores do not make me who I am – I am a brilliant and talented woman – a test is not representative of that.

As the conversation continued, my friend asked how does her daughter stand out amongst other applicants with covid-19 looming over our heads and putting a stop to “traditional” ways to highlight oneself in a college application – things like SATs and extracurricular activities. Of course, I put my two cents into the mix with suggestions, but what this conversation made me think more about is the creation of identity of oneself to please others – ultimately challenging the true essence of who we are to make us stand out or be accepted by others.

For those who are unaware, my research focuses on food and identity formation. So, over the past two years I have been researching how salt aids in identity formation for oneself and one’s community focusing on two communities: Maroons and Rastafarians. I thought this entire time it was about salt itself, but in reality, it was about culture, the community, and the value that was placed on an object – salt was just the medium that I used to understand how one creates identity within a community, based on a value system. The object itself can be change, but it’s the value placed on that object that drives an individual and community to develop a culture around it – resulting in a form of identity. For example, the value of having a relationship, there are things we do to create a culture around relationships that are derived by values that influence our identity – when someone is married, their identity is “taken” and there is prestige status that goes along with that – that is because the culture of a relationship has a value. And it is that value that drives our identity.

As I pondered this, I began to challenge myself and my values with my own identity asking – who am I really and what are MY values? This being the result of my singleness and treading this new found journey without a partner. Now I’ll admit, this week I was in the phase of my healing where I was like fuck men, my identity is I am an independent single, strong, and brilliant woman. I even feared that my heart was becoming jaded toward men as my anger was fueled realizing how I lost who I was in my past relationship – I lost my identity – I am happy to say this is just a phase and I do think men are beautiful and my heart will always be open for love.

Ladies (and men), I know we have all been there, this frustrating feeling of trying to figure out what makes up our identity. If you are like me, a people pleaser, you will become a chameleon and blend into your current environment – leaving your values and beliefs behind as if it was yesterday’s trash.

In my research I use salt as the focal point for what drives identity. Beliefs and ideas around salt in the two communities I work with, have similar, yet different ideas about the use and consumption of salt. Some omit salt for the practicality of health consciousness, while others for the spirituality. It fascinates me that this one little item can influence someone’s identity. Taking this concept and applying it to relationships, I began to realize that a relationship was my salt – relationships influenced my identity. I would become that chameleon and change aspects about who I am in order to be accepted or liked by the other person – I became a people pleaser because I was in fear of losing the person as it went against my need to identity as a person in a relationship. But what I should have been fearful of is losing myself and my identity in the relationship, not the person who clearly was not right for me.

How many of you get into a relationship and begin to experience things you do not agree with but shrug it off because you feel it is better to be in a relationship than be alone? We romanticize the relationship by saying things will change or we ask ourselves if we are being overly sensitive, or worst are told we are. This idea of being “overly sensitive” is used often because we live in a culture where if a woman reacts to something that challenges the status quo, the common phrases “you are just being too sensitive” is continually used to submiss a woman’s feelings. We have taken this belief about women who speak up as a form of being too sensitive as part of our identity, when in fact we were standing up for our identity but it was met with resistance and categorized as being “too sensitive”. By shrugging off experiences or actions that do not settle right with our identity is a form of disrespect toward ourselves. I knew of a woman who was in her late 30s in a relationship with a man who was still married, even though he claimed they were “separated” (I’m totally rolling my eyes as I’ve heard that before). This man did not tell her until almost 9 months into the relationship. She was so desperate to have a relationship, even though it did not feel right, that she was willing to stay with the man. Now I am someone who tries hard to not judge, but when I heard this all I could say is run, run fast! You do not deserve this and do not let the identity of needing to be married by a certain age influence your choice in a man – ironically, I should have taken my own advice that night as I too was remaining in a relationship for the fear of being single. This, my friend, is not self-love – creating an identity that is harmful to oneself is not healthy – it is not radical self-love. Therefore, this week I declared that I was no longer going to loose my identity in a relationship because of my fear of losing someone – you should NEVER fear loosing someone or something if you are true to yourself, and if you are you should ask yourself why?

Now I know I am not perfect, and I have my rap sheet of changing my identity to keep a man. Let me tell you some stories about things I did when I liked a guy to help you see I too am learning – and remember that is key, “you are learning”.

There was this one guy who was OBSESSED with Bigfoot – for those who do not know Bigfoot or Sasquatch is a folklore (or in some people’s mind real) creature that lives in the Pacific Northwest of North America. Now, I do love Bigfoot and I do (hope) he is real. But when I met this guy, I amplified my liking for Bigfoot to the point people began to think of me as the Bigfoot lady – to be honest, I am not that person – I love Bigfoot and I have this incredible cool mug my friend got me that I absolutely LOVE – but it is not part of my core identity.

Now here is the sad part, I did the same thing with another man I was interested in; this time it was Hell boy. I had never seen or heard of Hell boy, but this guy was OBSESSED, so what did I do? I became obsessed as well, which let’s face it, I enjoyed the movies but since that guy and I no longer talk my connection to Hell boy has disappear.

Now here is another one that will even make you question what was I thinking! So, something about me is I LOVE burgers. Now, my most recent ex did not like burgers, and at one point in our relationship he even told me that I was not allowed to have burgers because they were “unhealthy”. I was so afraid of losing him I stopped eating one of my favorite foods, or if I did eat a burger, I would hide it from him. Ok, y’all do you see a pattern here? I changed my identity by either adding or removing things so that I could make myself more compatible with a man I was so desperately wanting to keep in my life – I never had to do that for my cat who loves being around me, so why did I have to change for these men – the answer is I did not have too, but I did because of my lack of self-love and knowledge of my own worth. From this point forward, I want to become unapologetically me.

But what does it mean to be unapologetically me when clearly, I allow outside influences to dictate my identity? Right now, I am questioning everything I like by asking myself is this a part of my identity because someone else thought it should or is it because I want to have it. Now, I know outside factors will always contribute to identity formation – take growing up, your parents and even cultural belief systems are ingrained into you which becomes the foundation of your identity. But over the years, you begin to ask yourself if you want to hold on to those building blocks or let it go and replace them with something you feel aligns more with your beliefs. We have the power to allow which outside influences we want to dictate our identity.  

Identity if a funny thing because it is not static, it evolves and changes over time, but yet we are convinced that this is not case as ideas about us are supposed to remain with us forever. But it is this idea that identity is static that creates a feeling of lostness – when we fight for our identity, we fight for our limitations to grow creating turmoil inside us – we resist our change as it feels uncomfortable going against what we once thought who we were. Identity ebbs and flows between the past and the present with holding on to existing ideas about who you are but can also challenge them. Take food for example, in your younger years you might have dislike vegetables, but as you grew up you later became a vegan – your younger self did not have an identity that aligned with veggie eating, but now does as an adult. Your identity will continually change as you grow and learn. But the question remains what are the foundational block that make you, you?

These foundational blocks are your self-love, they are the essences that makes you the person you are, while all the other “add-ons” like favorite animals and colors can come and go. Foundational blocks will look different for each person. For example, for me one of my foundational blocks is I am a social introvert – I enjoy being with people (especially my close friends and family), but I enjoy being alone at the same time. When I am in a relationship, I begin to not only see my “add-on” identity factors get influence, but my core foundational blocks take a hit. When I began to notice this, I realized it was not because I was not strong, it was because I did not love and value myself and did not see myself as worthy to uphold my identity. My identity of who I was attached itself to me being in a relationship, that was the end all, be all in my book. Everything else that made me who I am, faded away. That is not ok. No one should ever loose who they are in a relationship – there might have to be compromise at some point, but it is a balance, but an overhaul of one’s whole identity.

I know this week I normally include a historical woman figure into my blog, but I chose not too because this week it is about all of us women. We all need to acknowledge our strength and courage, but to understand what fuels our identity. I encourage each and everyone of you lovelies this week to ask yourself, am I suppressing who I am to please another? If so, why? What are you fearful of? For me, it was to be single and alone and not meet the cultural mile stone of marriage before the age of 30 (well that did not– I felt like a failure when I hit 30 and was not married. But I now know that my identity and my value do not identify with my relationship status, that is an add-on, not a foundational block. As you begin to ask yourself who you are, extend compassion and do not blame yourself if you find something that you do not identity as you. You are learning and growing and remember your identity will continue to change as you grow and learn more. You might always have those constants – like me, I love sharks (FYI, it is shark week!). So this week explore, take the time to reconnect with you and do not be afraid because you are beautiful no matter what!

When I went swimming with Leopard Sharks
Leopard Sharks

For now, my warriors – be loved, be kind, and know you are loved!

Until next time…

-Alyssa, the salt woman   

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Published by Alyssa - the salt woman

Alyssa Sperry is a classically trained Pastry Chef, certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Community Herbalist. After receiving her B.A. from Washington State University, where she studied anthropology and history, she began her graduate career in 2018 at the University of Oregon. She continues to pursue commodity research, focusing on food and foodways. Current research involves the history of salt production on the island of Jamaica.

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