Unshackling from people-pleasing and codependency

On March 10th, 2023, I hit a critical threshold in my recovery from people-pleasing and codependent tendencies. Knowing my beliefs and values weren’t going to be universally accepted among my colleagues during professional development at work, I still stepped into my power and spoke my truth in a very direct, public way.

Something in my body knew nothing would be the same after that conversation. Prior to my chance to speak, my leg shook like crazy. My heart beat rapidly. I couldn’t focus.

I excused myself to take deep breaths and watch the snow fall through the school entrance. I channeled my “Rebecca-from-Ted-Lasso” energy and made myself ferocious in the bathroom, silently roaring at myself in the mirror.

I quit shrinking; I made myself big to advocate for the change our students need and deserve. And for the first time in almost a decade at my job, I didn’t know where I stood with every person in the room. 

Immediately afterwards, I felt shell-shocked. My mind didn’t know what to tell my body to feel. I went to debrief with my soul sister work wife and ended up sobbing hysterically. The breakdown was about so much more than humane, equitable grading practices – it was knowing I lost my most coveted survival mechanism at work, and that I could never go back to shrinking myself to prioritize the comfort of other adults.

After carrying me through the most intense stretch of my breakdown, she shepherded me to another beloved colleague who helped me unravel and re-ravel the chaos in my brain and body. She listened non-judgmentally and helped me recognize the feeling that came up: anger triggered by a feeling of urgency.

Anger? That feeling I never let myself feel for long before slapping a happy face sticker on it and sweeping it under a rug? What was it doing at work? 

I’ve always been triggered by others’ showy anger and couldn’t believe that mine had made some of my colleagues that I love, respect, and admire uncomfortable. I couldn’t shove it back in the box though. She’d been freed from her shackles, and I knew we would be walking side-by-side for a long time.

Wiping tears away, I asked my colleague where she puts her anger when it becomes too much. She simply opened her palms wide and simply said, “In God’s hands.”

I stopped crying and set down my lovingly prepared cup of calm tea. Nothing ever resonated so deeply in my soul before. 

Since that conversation, that’s what I’ve done. When my anger takes over, I cry. I find a quiet place, get on my knees, and beg God to carry it for me before we burn up together. And it works.

I’ve found myself shattered and on my knees more times than I can count since reaching that critical recovery threshold, but I love the me that’s rising from the ashes on the other side.

She’s empowered, strong, and activated. She feels her feels and calls out injustice every single time, not just when it’s safe and convenient.

I trust her. I trust us. I trust me.

We are done “should”ing

I inherited many beliefs about what makes a woman “good.”

I learned that a good girl should be compliant at home and school. She should be ambitious but not too ambitious. A good woman goes to college and gets a steady, practical job to support herself and her future family.

More important than work and education, though, a good woman should dedicate herself to attracting a financially stable partner with “would be such a good dad” potential. She should change her body, her words, her identity to attract someone who checks all the boxes. She says “I do.”

Then comes motherhood, where a good woman should be fulfilled by her family alone. Infertility is the ultimate shame because good women procreate. Of course, they would never, ever choose childlessness. That would be selfish, and a good woman is never selfish. 

A good woman shrinks. She does not want. She does not need. She gives.

A good woman disappears. 

I absorbed these lessons. I got the husband, the house, the kids, the job. I performed and pleased my way to this so-called American ideal, only to look back in a moment of breaking and wonder if I ever wanted any of that in the first place.

I felt confused. I had it all. I should be happier. Why was I so unsatisfied?

Earnestly, desperately, I asked myself: Do I even want to be married? To have kids? To teach? What else have I been “should”ing? These roles I’ve built my entire identity around – do I actually even want them? 


A good woman shouldn’t ask herself these questions, I thought.

But maybe I’m done being a good woman. 

I want to be married. But I want to be whole – not another half.

I want my children. But my dreams don’t belong permanently on the back burner.

I want to teach. But with boundaries.

I want to be a good woman. But not under its current functioning definition.

Sisters, daughters, mothers, friends – we must dismantle the narrative of what makes a woman good. These cages are getting cramped. 

Let’s forgive ourselves for “should”ing and pursue our joy shamelessly. We are done settling for being liked – we demand belonging, as our needy, imperfect selves. 

Women with the audacity to ask themselves what they want and the courage to answer honestly are the changemakers, the patriarchy shakers, the cycle breakers.

We are here. Change is coming.

Anxious. Excited. anxiousexcited

My body reacts predictably every single time I have a lot of attention on me. My pulse quickens, my foot jiggles, my chest tightens, and I get increasingly sweaty. Like, even behind my knees. I would rather be anywhere but in my own skin and try to retreat into my brain, but the situation there is just as dire. This unavoidable pattern happens every single time I feel scrutiny.

I never over thought it before because inevitably, I could always force myself to armor up, get started, find a rhythm, and brown the whole thing out. 

Yeah, I said brown out. Like, not a full blackout because bits and pieces are still there. They laughed at something I said! I can’t REMEMBER what I said, but I remember the laugh!

The physical sensations that come along with the attention honestly suck. Nobody likes sweating their face off right before going in front of an audience. I hate the mental loop. “What do they think? Do they like what I’m doing? I just stumbled on my words. Did they notice?”

I perform a LOT.

I’ve always auditioned for the play, went for the solo, given the speech. A large audience isn’t a prerequisite to prompt the performing. Even something as simple as meeting someone new brings up those same uncomfortable physical sensations. My body gets hijacked, my extrovert self takes center stage, we “fake it till we make it,” and… showtime

I tried something different the last time I was in the spotlight. This time, I took a deep breath, cast aside my toxic “fake it till you make it” armor, and started talking about my real feelings. I admitted to 100+ of my colleagues that every time I stand in front of them, I feel anxious.

I then shared how anxiety presents itself in my body and disclosed some game changing information I read from Dr. Brené Brown’s newest book Atlas of the Heart. Those uncomfortable symptoms that anxiety hijacks our bodies with? Those are the same sensations in our bodies when we experience excitement. 

Read that again. Anxiety and excitement feel exactly the same in our bodies. The difference is mindset and how we interpret those feelings. 

According to Dr. Brown, when we label these sensations as anxiety, we are more likely to have negative experiences. If we flip our mindset and reframe it as excitement, a positive overall experience is more likely to follow. 

I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m going to be saddled with sweaty pits and a skyrocketing heart rate, I might as well try to get excited about whatever is coming next. I have zero control over my sweat glands, but I CAN disrupt old thought patterns and control my mindset. 

I shared Dr. Brown’s emotions research with my colleagues and communicated that I was doing my best to reframe my anxiety as excitement. I’m no expert, but the accompanying nods of “me too, same” were reassuring. I made it through the presentation without faking it, and sat down afterward feeling damn good.

I want to keep showing up for myself and people in my life this way. I want to recognize the early stages of this bodily response coming on, stop that downward spiral, and pause…

 “Does this have to be anxiety? Or can I self talk my way into getting excited about this instead?”

And even if I only succeed some of the time, hopefully the people around me are picking up a little more excitement from me and a little less anxiety.