I had some time today so a client of mine hung out just a bit after her prenatal so we could lament about the challenges of being the mother of an autistic child. This lead to discussions about our culture in general and how we seem to have a society that seems incapable of working through conflict resolution. While #bullying is significant and an incredible priority, we also need to be cautious about sanctifying victimhood, right? This inability to speak for oneself, safely and respectfully, also impacts young girls and their ability to offer or withhold consent. It's a complex and touchy subject, but always there is a middle line or proper balance to be mindful.
This made me think both of how I've been challenged in communicating when I know I am going to disappointment someone, and how I might teach my children how to do this as well, as each of them struggle with communicating their own needs. They talk back. They do know how to protect themselves. They also know how to give in when they don't want to and suffer to make life easier, but it's the honoring themselves in a gracious way and respectfully that we haven't quite mastered.
My son, for example, my fourteen-year-old, overly eager, incredibly impulsive, poster-child for ADHD and avid football player, smacked a fellow football player on the butt in the locker room this week and ended up in the principal's office. Both were fully clothed and this other child had previously given my son similar smacks, but on this particular day, the well-familiar football tradition was not well received. The complaint got my son suspended and uber defeated.
Yes, I am aware that he may have been too aggressive, he may have previously been asked to not repeat this behavior which he ignored, but what was communicated to him was, "Yes, my boys do the same thing and we are well familiar with this behavior, especially as a football player, but we are living in different times so now when someone complains about unwelcome touch, it is considered assault and we do need to punish. I am sorry." Consent and respectful touch is imperative to teach our young ones... but so is conflict resolution.
Following my discussion with my client and these meandering thoughts, I gathered with our Eden members for our routine Wellness Wednesday community appointment and today, we discussed disappointment. Ironically, we focus each week on a different aspect of wellness and for the past several weeks, we've been communicating about extreme self-care (last week was about deprivation). Today we talked about the difficulty in conversing with someone we need to disappoint and how we violate ourselves when we avoid these very necessary conversations.
Conflict is a Necessary Uncomfortable
We don't want to feel guilty so often assume responsibility or role we don't really want to because ultimately, that's easier than disappointing someone, right? It seems the easier thing to do. While we really never want to disappoint others, often I believe, the real issue is that we lack the language in how we can gracefully let someone down. Our fear of conflict and our desire to keep the peace keeps us from telling the truth. This is tough enough in our daily interactions, but imagine all the marriages where this is happening daily. We want people to like us, we want to make others happy, and we feel uncomfortable when they don't.
When we practice extreme self-care though, we have to get comfortable managing the guilt that comes from disappointing other people. When you break your pattern of self-sacrifice, draw healthy boundaries for yourself, and honor those, you will disappoint your friends and family, colleagues and clients. Some will become angry; some will be hurt. You're changing the rules of the game, right? If you want a meaningful life though, one that makes a difference, you will need to prioritize your own life and needs. This will help you identify what is really meant for you, and help you identify what is truly yours, authentically, without regret.
Disappointing Others the Right Way
So after thinking about all the times that I've fallen into this trap, less so for me about wanting to please others and more so because I feel it is the only right thing to do, I am the strong one, someone has to do it (Enneagram 8 all-the-way), I realized I need to understand and have prepared conversations for disappointing others and have a sort of comfort in the inevitable consequences. Think on times you've felt stuck, obligated, and choose a response or behavior that you would not have had you knew confidently the other person would not be upset. When have you made a critical decision based on what others want, knowing that on some level, this is an act of self-betrayal. The role of the good girl is hard to retire, huh?
You will have those who try to reel you back in, who make you feel guilty, but don't do it - don't give in to them. Don't send mixed messages and teach others to doubt your word. Instead, be honest, direct, and resolve to take care of yourself - without apology. Don't over explain, defend, or invite a debate about how you feel. The fewer words sometimes, the better.
Good support is important here for when you are weak. Maybe you need an emotional doula to get you over the hump, but either way, stick to your word. Live your truth. Asking for others to hold you up when you are wobbly is not weak; it is smart. Now is the time to get honest and be direct with others in your life, in a loving and kind way, so you can really honor your own needs.
Buy Some Time
Maybe your best strategy is to put space between the request and your answer. Take time to consider the consequences. Maybe you respond, "Let me sleep on it" or "Let me talk to someone before I commit" (even if that person is you). Let them know up front though, that you may not be able to oblige so that if you ultimately decline, they are less likely to take this personal. "I had already promised myself not to take on any new commitments this year or until I finish school, so I may not be able to do this." These type of statements prepare others for the potential you may not be able to commit. It also allows them opportunity to seek other options for themselves.
Check Your Gut
Admittedly, when you are so accustomed to not protecting yourself and always sacrificing for others, you may have lost touch with your intuition. Your body doesn't trust you to protect it anymore and so often what you find is anger. When I feel upset, I now ask myself, what boundary did I not protect because angry is not my nature. I recognize this as my inner child showing up to protect me.
Once you've sat on the offer or request a bit though, ask yourself how you feel? Are you super excited about it? Super may be the important word here. Is your body giving you a resounding yes or are you feeling the weight of it? If you knew this person wouldn't be upset or disappointed, might you decline? Don't make a defensive decision. What is best for you in this situation?
Keep in mind, I am not advocating to always put yourself first. There are things we do for our friends and partners because they love it and not because it directly serves us in anyway. I am not a lover of golf. In fact, I could go the rest of my life and never golf again, but my partner absolutely loves it and I do like spending time with him and have intelligent conversations about the sport as he works to improve his game, so I've committed to taking some lessons, getting my feet a little wet. He has no desire to recycle and isn't confident this is even effective, but it hurts my heart to think I am not giving my best effort to protect Mother Earth for our children and grandchildren's future. Recycling is then not for him, but something he can do to show love and to strengthen our relationship. If this is out of guilt and obligation though, this strategy will backfire and drive a wedge between you and the one you for which you love and respect. There are appropriate times it is necessary to intentionally disappoint others.
Tell the Truth Directly
Okay, so I am a Sagittarius; this is a life principle for me with absolutely no exception. My downfall is my desire to be honest supersedes just about every other thing so my honesty can be harsh, but it is never intentionally cruel. When many people are dishonest, it is simply because they were afraid and didn't have the words to articulate their thoughts and feelings, so they fabricated excuses or made up stories entirely. They may even completely omit truths, which is still a lie. Give them the words and their courage soars. Give a Sagittarius the words and our truth is a bit more gentle.
Truly, sit down and consider how you might better articulate yourself in a variety of scenarios. Write these down. Play out each side of the conversation. Be honest without a great deal of explanation. Let the other person know you have to turn down their offer, but don't leave the door open where you need a wall. Don't come back with, "but if anything changes," as this is wishy-washy. Be considerate and send them a clear message. When we disappoint people the right way, we don't need to manage their emotions. Our responsibility is to be kind and respectful. If they choose not to be, that's on them. Don't measure your success by their response; measure it by how you feel once your anxiety dissipates. Do you know in your heart that this was the right thing for you? Do you feel relief? This is all the evidence you need that you did the right thing for everyone involved.
Learn to Use Your Voice
DOCTOR Penny Layne Unapologetically is the name of my new podcast (find this soon at all the podcast outlets) because I am learning to use my own voice. I am learning to step into who I am without apology. I am learning to identify my needs, honor those, and not make excuses for how I feel, what I think, or the noise I make or even my intense energy. I am learning to take better care of myself. Are you doing the same? Can you disappoint people? Can you face conflict? Can you deal with anger, yours and others?
Write about your experiences in your journal. Strive to get better at telling the truth. Practice hard conversations. Consider reading about using your voice. Stand Up for Your Life, My Answer is No... If That's Okay with You, and Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most are all great resources. Of course, if you are a member of Eden, join our Wellness Wednesday discussions. We work towards applying behaviors and habits in all aspects of our lives so we can life a life full of vitality. If you aren't a member and would like to be, all we ask is that you schedule an appointment for Dr. Layne to get your history and a second visit for your physical history and labs. There are no additional fees, and this offers you opportunity to join our community of like-minded individuals working to improve their lives. Otherwise, maybe take on the challenge of disappointing someone every day this month on purpose and see how you do!