Speak Up! A Life Beyond Complacency and Fear
Lessons learned through complacency, classical conditioning and fear of being a burden
As a child, I used to watch my younger brother make a fuss about absolutely everything. He was short tempered, incredibly anxious and sometimes outright defiant. I recall many events where my parents struggled with him, including (but not limited to) the fact that he didn’t sleep through the night until he was six years old. He would bounce his ball in the house when he was told not to. He wouldn’t sit properly at the dinner table. He was terrified of absolutely everything. Making him do anything was a struggle, and sometimes a big fight. His crippling anxiety right from birth in combination with the typical male defiance and rebellion took on a catastrophic and exhausting combination. My Father travelled quite frequently as part of his job, and often this monumental task of getting my brother through the day was left to my Mother.
You’re so smart and well behaved.
I on the other hand was the opposite of defiant. I was the older child by eighteen months that did everything I was told with a smile. I was also a female, which according to many of my friends and family makes a massive difference, but I can’t speak from this from experience. I learned very quickly how difficult my life would be if I was as defiant and difficult as my brother was, and decided that I didn’t have the time for all that bother. I learned from the young age of two that going along with what everyone else wanted, doing what everyone else said and not making any fuss was the best thing I could do for myself. I saw how frustrated and exhausted my Mother would become. She would praise me for doing everything I was told and would say things like “Thank you for being so patient. You’re so smart and well behaved.” and “If only your brother was as well behaved as you are. You know how hard everything is with him.” She would even speak about how proud she was that her daughter was so mature and easy going, even as a baby. I loved this recognition from her. It made me feel like I was making my parents proud, and I held that to the highest esteem.
If the adults respect me and I do what they ask, good things happen.
Classical conditioning at its finest! This was an important lesson I gathered as a child, and it was especially effective self-reconciliation to combat the fact that all the other cousins and children in my family were male. The boys would rough around, get into fights and not do as they were told, but not me. I sat quietly and read my books while sitting and listening to the adults tell insightful stories. I listened and did what I was told without question which meant that I could in exchange be left to my own devices. Besides, the boys would never play anything other than full contact hockey and football video games. I just wasn’t into that, which was no fault of theirs. I realized that the attention from those older and wiser than me proved to be beneficial- and I was right, but here’s where it backfired.
My needs are a burden to others, even to my parents.
Often I didn’t want to express what I needed to my parents or anyone around me because I was so worried that I would be a burden. In fact, I had much higher expectations placed upon me than my brother did, and the moment that I needed to step away from agreeableness to draw attention to something I needed, I wasn’t able to bring myself to do it. Often times if I needed anything my parents were already exhausted from having to deal with my brother that they had no more energy to devote to me, despite their best efforts. Instead of putting up a fit of defiance and screaming “WHAT ABOUT ME!”, I just sat quietly and remembered just how proud my parents were of me when I was sitting nicely and not making their lives difficult. My family became accustomed to my agreeableness, although my Mother started to catch on quite early. She would ask me things like “Are you sure Sarah? You can always tell me if you need something.” and would take me out places just her and I so that I wasn’t constantly fading in the background next to my increasingly needy brother. I still felt guilty and burdensome for speaking my mind, and often went without because I felt bad that my parents had to fight about everything with my brother. At least I’m not being a burden, I would often think.
When we do not speak up for ourselves, we begin to resent the people around us.
Fast forward to the present, and I am still struggling with speaking up. Fortunately, I have time, maturity and knowledge on my side now. I studied personality types, went to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and have been burned again and again by my lack of backbone. I have now started to exercise boundaries, and although I am not perfect, I am much more successful than I used to be. It’s an every day battle for me, and often fail, but knowing where the problem began is half the battle. Having those tough conversations with yourself strengthens your understanding and helps you formulate a plan for the future.
Here are some of the many lessons I have learned from a lifetime of agreeableness and fear based complacency:
- Being complacent isn’t always right, and often it is an escape from facing a much larger fear.
- It is not selfish to assert yourself when you need something, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
- Do not place the burdens of others onto yourself, especially when it is not your burden to bear. Empathy is not about taking responsibility for everyone else’s problems.
- What you have to say is VALID and IMPORTANT.
- Agreeableness is important, but it’s not always the right answer. Sometimes conflict needs to happen whether you want it to or not.
- It is not up to women to place their needs below others. If we step aside, it should always be our choice.
- The more you put off facing conflict, the bigger it will grow and the harder it will be to face.
- Sometimes, you need to piss people off in order to deliver your point. Don’t take that personally.
- If you understand the intimate details of your personality in an honest and self reflective way, it will be easier to find a solution that fits you best.
- Do not apologize for standing up for yourself respectfully and firmly. Your needs are just as valid as everyone else’s.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Bernard M. Baruch.