Please Love Me, The Syndrome

Dave and I at my sister, Brenda's wedding, October, 1999.
Dave and I at my sister, Brenda’s wedding, October, 1999. (I was 8 months pregnant.)

Note: I am not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on tv. Keep in mind that my dad is a psychologist. Enjoy.

I am stealing that phrase from Dr. Gabor Maté. After posting about being “all in” yesterday, my friend nailed it and suggested I watch his Youtube Video titled, “When The Body Says No: Mind/Body Unity and the Stress-Disease Connection.”  Seeing as how I have the attention span of a fly, in bits and pieces I have been watching Dr Maté’s talk since then. The concept of the Please-Love-Me syndrome is sticking with me most.  The Please Love Me Syndrome is apparently an adaptive result of say some sort of stressor, like a rage-ful dad (his words). Consequently, because we want to please our (rageful) parent and because we crave their love, we learn to adapt, inevitably hiding our authentic selves. To a child this literally translate to the following coping mechanism:

“I will do whatever it takes for you to love me, or better, I will suppress who I am so you will love me and attach.”

My adult translation: “At all costs, I will take your shit.”

Pushing his please-love-me theory further, Dr. Maté suggests that when we repress our authentic self, we also stress our physical selves out, which he asserts leads to disease. Again my translation is the following: So to gain your asshole — that is to say, rage-ful — dad’s acceptance (love)  we learn to suppress who we are, and then we get sick. Eventually all that adaptive, stress-based self-suppression makes us sick. Weird I had a lot of stomach aches as a child. I have indigestion just thinking about my past. And now I have Celiac disease. Does correlation equal causation? Hmmmm. Obviously the correlation here is that we suppress ourselves because we fear making our mean dad mad (fear rejection). Eventually our adaptive please-love-me behavior becomes so reflexive that it transfers to our other relationships and literally becomes who we are. I am living proof.

Minneapolis, MN: My sister, Brenda's, wedding, October, 1999
Minneapolis, MN: My sister, Brenda’s, wedding, October, 1999

Consequently, as I search for meaning and search for Beth, Dr. Maté’s words resonate. The need to please has literally informed everything. For instance, I have a knack for being attracted to smart, creative,  funny, dynamic, super intense, unpredictable, and oh, very cruel, self-obsessed humans (all characteristics I would use to describe my dad). Often I am lucky and I find friends (and spouses) who share most of the traits (minus the douchebag ones).  At times I have wondered if my please-love-me behavior has morphed into some sort of crazy addiction. Meaning, I get a buzz off of your approval as much as your disapproval. In fact your disapproval only makes me try harder. Further, when I do attract a rageful beast, my please-love-me behavior becomes all-consuming, often spinning out of control. I never get it. Rageful beasts are never satisfied and simply feed off of rejecting all the please-love-me fools caught in their net.

Pushing the mean dad analogy further, I found it interesting that Dr. Maté used a rageful dad as an example. I kind of get it. Do we all have mean dads? No. In fact, Dave is the opposite of mean. He is kind, invested, esteem-promoting and knows his boys. Sadly, in contrast to Dave, my dad was anything but esteem-promoting. What I remember about my dad, which is not much, is that he always seemed disappointed, more specifically, disappointed in me. When it was my weekend to go to his house (yes, my parents were divorced), I never saw my dad. My brother had my dad’s attention, and I was pawned off to my stepmother, his second wife, and yes, they are divorced now too. When I was not with my stepmom, I spent my time far away in the basement where I was asked to remain.  Ergo, (because I have been dying to use this transitional word), in my dad’s basement, I slept, watched television and entertained myself. I always loved when my brother came downstairs. Eventually I stopped going to my dad’s. It would make sense (at least to me) that my brother would continue his weekend visits. He did. My brother also tells me that things were not much better for him. I do not disagree.

My awesome sister, Brenda, and I at her wedding, October, 1999, Minneapolis, MN.
My awesome sister, Brenda, and I at her wedding, October, 1999, Minneapolis, MN. (Yes. I am super duper pregnant in this photo. My sister is gorgeous!)

My relationship with my dad came down to the following conversation he had with my mom. I think it was a gift.  My dad firmly stated that he only wanted my three children, and that I was unwanted. Yes, I heard him say these words. Remember land lines?  Well, I was on one phone while my mom was on the other. My guess is my dad had no clue I was listening. I was. My mom had no idea he would say what he did. I know her heart dropped when she heard him say,

“I don’t want Beth.”

I know she wanted to grab the phone away from my ear. I was in another part of the house. Instead, I continued to quietly listen.

Here it is. I am the youngest child. I could never figure out my dad’s beef with me. In truth, I know his beef was with my mom. With her not present, I became the puppy he could kick. I always felt his rejection. I still feel his rejection. It is cruel and it is abrupt. The only way I could survive him (the beast) is if I let go and shut the door. I did. Ok. Sure, it took me several years to get the clue that my dad did not want me. Again I think it was a phone call. He called my therapist at the time a “shrink,” and since my dad was, ironically, in the mental health profession himself, his choice of that particular condescending term was deliberate. And as Eli most humorously conveys,

“Hey mom, condescending means ‘to talk down to.’”

My dad talked down to me and I was done. I did what I do to most beasts. I scream. I short-circuit. I swear and then I hang up, lock myself in my room, or go for a very long walk. And if we are really being truthful and I am, please know that  I will always, always hope for the beast’s  approval, LOVE, forgiveness, acceptance, and (for what I don’t know, but I still want it). For now, I have  learned to live without it.

My dad is now seventy-five. My last memory of seeing him in the flesh was nearly seventeen years ago and after the phone call when I hung up on him. He flew to Minnesota (so did I) for my sister Brenda’s wedding. I was approximately eight months pregnant with Kyle, and at the point where I should not be flying. I flew anyway.

After the ceremony, my dad walked over to me. He and I said very few words to each other, yet I felt joyous, as if we were long lost friends. As he spoke, he placed his hand on my large, pregnant belly. I stood there and his hand remained, firmly on my stomach. I was consumed with his hand placement and wondered,

“Will he like who I have turned out to be?”

In that moment, I adapted.

Duality is interesting. In a flash I also saw how his behavior as my parent had informed all of my decisions as an adult.  I knew I did not want to be him, but I really wanted him to like and accept me. I found his hand repellant, wanted it off of my belly and away from my unborn son, yet I felt elated while I basked in his approving touch. Because I did not feel comfortable asking him to take it off, his hand remained. Standing there I felt forced to think about us. I thought about him as a father. I was not him. I am not him. In those seconds it was clear. I knew I wanted to be different. I wanted to be a part of my child’s life. I also felt proud and peaceful. I take my marriage seriously. I did not marry because it was the next step in a religious expectation. Instead I married someone I liked, loved and felt really good about marrying (I love Dave). I resolved to have kids when I wanted to have them. I resolved to not blame my kids, but to take responsibility as the parent. I resolved to  be patient and remember that I am the teacher. I resolved to take responsibility and I resolved to apologize when I screw up. And when I had Kyle and Eli, I resolved never ever to reject them. I never will. Those boys are my heart and soul. Each day with them serves as a reminder of what my dad has missed – his choice, not mine.

He took his hand away and we have not spoken since.

Dave and baby Kyle, Salt Lake City, Utah early 2000.
Dave and baby Kyle, Salt Lake City, Utah early 2000.

Kyle and I at my friend, Melanie’s wedding, Atlanta, Georgia, May, 2000

As I wind this post down I keep thinking,

“If only all my problems, including my please-love-me affliction, were because of my bad relationship with my father. If only…”

Unfortunately life is not that simple. I get that. So for me being “all in” also means facing all of me.  Here is how I picture myself. I am mummy wrapped in layers (years-worth) of gauze. Now I think my life’s journey is about ripping off that gauze. Honestly, I am a little overwhelmed. I am wrapped in so much gauze that I look like a big, fluffy mummy.  I am certain (because I already have) that as I peel away that I will find scars, pain, scabs, blood and unhealed wounds. Most days I would much rather remain a fluffy, protected, gauze-y creature (fence-bound). I also know that my desperate please-love-me behavior wants to remain hidden. Yet when I muster the courage, I must admit that gauze removing rocks. It is always those times when I start to unwrap when I am reminded of the love and support and strength that envelops my world!

Eli and I, Banff National Park, Canada, July 2004
Eli and I, Banff National Park, Canada, July 2004
The boys and I, Banff National Park, Canada, July 2004
The boys and I, Banff National Park, Canada, July 2004

And all exposed I feel grateful. I am grateful I get to be Kyle and Eli’s mom. And I am grateful I have a partner who does not freak out if I tell you we had a fight. I am also grateful Dave supports my quest, or maybe he simply prefers human Beths to gauze-wrapped mummies.

Kyle and I at the Oregon Coast Summer 2003
Kyle and I at the Oregon Coast Summer 2004

PS. The best part of being a wife and a mom is that I get to be a part of Dave, Kyle and Eli’s amazing journey. I would not trade this gift for anything.