I know so many people who are afraid to ask for anything. They don’t want to appear needy. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to inconvenience anyone. They don’t feel worthy. They’re afraid of what might happen.
Here’s what might happen: the person you ask might say no. But that person might just as easily say yes. Until you ask, you’ll never know. And if you don’t ask, I guarantee that you’ll never get to that yes. Ever.
I tend to speak up, at least when it occurs to me. And I admit that the no’s come at me like boulders in a mudslide, but every once in a while there’s a wonderful, exciting, delightful yes. And that yes makes it all worth it.
I genuinely believe that there are no self-made Men. There are simply those who have learned how to ask for help. They will always get much farther ahead than those who never do.
I once stayed in a 16-year relationship because I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. Like most women, I’ve been trained since childhood to put everyone ahead of myself. And I’m good at it. Too good.
Some things never change. I came across this article about a school in Utah where the little girls have been instructed that when boys ask them to dance at a school function, they cannot say no. (We wouldn’t want to hurt little boys’ feelings, now would we? Even if it makes the girls uncomfortable in the process.)
I had a visceral reaction to this story. Girls need to learn to say no. They need to know it’s okay to say no. They need to trust their gut instincts. And boys need to learn that no means no.
Without these lessons, you wind up with 53-year-old women like me, who prize integrity above all else, but still tend to sacrifice it to smooth things over. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruffle feathers. Keep your opinions to yourself.
It’s really kind of funny. I’m always told I have a strong personality. (Like that’s an insult—and one that’s never directed at men.) People have absolutely no idea what an inner struggle accompanies my ability to speak up.
Speaking up does not come naturally to me. Not at all. When something is bothering me, I generally have to agonize over it for days on end before I can take action. And during that whole process, my stomach is in knots. I lose sleep. I grind my teeth. I rehearse what I want to say over and over again in my head. It’s not a pleasant experience. But I’ve found over the years that not speaking up is even worse.
I’ve been working really hard on standing in my integrity lately. Speaking up more promptly. Agonizing less. Saying, “No, that’s not okay.” Figuring out why doing what feels right to me is such a torturous undertaking.
Integrity should be the place where I reside all the time. It shouldn’t be some thought balloon that I pull along behind me. It should be my natural habitat. And the fact that I was ever trained otherwise is outrageous. That there are still girls in this day and age that are being spoon-fed this crap is disgusting.
I tend to think of relationships as solid, especially the long-lasting ones. But here lately I’ve been working on my boundaries quite a bit, and that has tested quite a few friendships. It’s scary and it’s lonely and I keep doubting myself. Just in time for the holidays. Woo hoo.
I have always had boundary issues, probably because none were ever established for me as a child. I tend to be a wide open, laissez-faire kind of person, which is fine when things are going well, but not so hot when things go pear-shaped. While I’m quick to stand up for others, I’m not one to stand up for myself.
Saying, “What you are doing is not okay with me” is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It takes effort. It causes me a great deal of stress. That probably stems from the fact that I constantly second-guess myself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I being rational? Is it okay that I’m not okay with what you’re doing? Bleh. It’s all so exhausting.
So here I am, practicing boundaries. Here’s what’s been going on in just the past few weeks:
I’ve had to tell one distant friend from high school that I’m not comfortable with him popping up out of the blue after 35 years and sending me about a dozen (ignored) hug gifs and expecting me to do so in return. We never even hugged in high school. He didn’t get the message, and I had to un-friend him on Facebook.
Another friend used my blog to try to right a wrong, but when the post got the attention of “real” reporters, he refused to follow through. This undermines my integrity as a writer. It also gives me the impression that he doesn’t take my blog very seriously, and was just hoping to clear his conscience and not actually get results. I had to explain why, and just how much, I didn’t appreciate this behavior. I haven’t heard from him since.
And even as we speak, a contractor (not a friend, but still…) is about to receive a letter from me, outlining the fact that he ripped me off to the tune of $1700.00, which is money I can’t afford to lose. We’ll probably wind up in small claims court over this. But he’s an intimidating guy. I really don’t know how he’s going to react to my letter. I’m sitting here, feeling sick to my stomach about this, waiting for things to hit the fan.
But probably the most distressing situation of all is that some very beloved friends shocked me recently, to the point where I felt the need to distance myself and write them a letter about how I felt, in which I asked them to please help me to understand why they reacted the way they did. Boy, did I ever paint myself into a corner with that one. I’ve had no response from them. Crickets. So now I’m left wondering if I’ve misinterpreted things and they’re furious, or if they’re just too embarrassed to respond. It also makes me wonder if they care about me as much as I care about them, and not knowing that makes it extremely awkward to envision walking back into their lives again. I don’t know if I’d be welcomed or not. I don’t want to force them into anything, but on the other hand, I can’t just pretend nothing happened. It’s too important to me. I miss them, but I’m so confused.
Boundaries, man. They suck. As my therapist says, though, once you start making changes and move toward a healthier you, not everyone in your life will want to tag along.
So if you’re looking for me, I’m the one standing over here in the lonely, unpainted corner. (I guess if you’re wanting to establish boundaries, that’s one way to do it.) All I can say is that I’m a work in progress, and it will be really interesting to see who is still with me when the dust settles.
Meanwhile, I sure miss the days when it was easy to get a Xanax prescription.
Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.
Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.
I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)
I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.
I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.
We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.
It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.