I found this photograph of me yesterday. Going by the date on the photo, I was 24 years old. This is the only photo I have of myself in my 20s. The photographer, a pal, had just purchased a costly camera and wanted to try it out. It was snapped in Kano, Nigeria.
As I write this, I marvel. I marvel at my youth. I marvel at how little self-confidence I had in my 20s and 30s. Absence of self-confidence showed up mostly in my relationships.Mostly, relationships with men. I had no boundaries and had no audacity to say No.
I lacked these crucial womanly skills because I was a nice Yoruba girl. I was a Yoruba girl encouraged by her culture and family to be lovely. Plus, I was taught from a very young age how to say Yes to the demands of others. I was told, nice girls never say No. Well, except when a boy wants to get his way with her.
The photo was taken three months before I left Nigeria for England. I thought England was going to be a fresh start but It wasn’t since I carried on being the nice Yoruba girl who automatically wanted to please other people. My destructive people pleasing behaviour carried on even after getting married and having children.
Then, I turned 40 and everything changed.
My once rounded bottom and breasts started to shift downwards. The hair on my head started turning grey and fine hair grew on my chin. I could not change what my body was doing. And truthfully, my drooping bottom and breasts did not trouble me that much. I knew the resolution to these physical imperfections my body was going through could be found in the lingerie department of any T K Maxx.
What I needed and wanted was a mental shift that would transform me into a strong woman. Not a superwoman but a woman who has the audacity to say No to the demands of others.
So, I made a decision and my decision saved me. It healed me from the sickness caused my nice and lovely behaviour. Two of my obvious symptoms were anger and bitterness. I had become angry and bitter for all of my acts of charity to others. My false acts of charity.
The people I automatically pleased did not know how I was feeling so they kept on asking more of me. They saw me as a very willing woman who was ready to help at any time. I was their superwoman but to me,I was a sad and angry woman.
Now that I am no longer sick because I have freed myself from the demands of others, I am showing my daughters by example how not to fall into the trap of lovely. To me and for me, it was a curse.
From my daily chat with other women, I see them carrying this curse. The curse of people pleasing. The curse that should and must be stopped. But, how do we stop it? I don’t know. Do you?
My mother had the curse, she passed it on to me but I have refused to pass it on to my daughters.