A friend was giving me hell this week – just shy of haranguing – concerning an old issue.
And then there are the remnants of my people pleaser past, rendering the concept of displeasing extremely uncomfortable.
Acquaintances have often remarked that I’m confident – and I am. But like everyone, I’m confident in some ways and less so in others.
Certainly, I play to my strengths. I shape my narratives according to my purpose. And only my closest friends are aware of my deepest insecurities.
Nothing unusual in that, you think?
I quite agree.
Telling Our Stories to Our Advantage
Don’t we all express ourselves to our own advantage? Don’t we edit and revise as we speak, sensing what’s appropriate? Isn’t that the most natural thing in the world – a necessary aspect of ou communication skills?
There are few people in our lives who witness our most complete set of truths, which is perhaps why – when we achieve that sort of intimacy in partnership – it’s so crushing if our trust is broken.
I consider myself fortunate to have two or three people whom I trust. This friend that I mention is one who is wise enough, astute enough, and articulate enough to advise honestly, while remaining a friend regardless of any decisions I make.
Our discussion doesn’t concern a topic that is life changing, though it’s something that is important to me. As I considered it, the full depth and breadth of it, I’m aware that it exemplifies the gap between who we see when we think we know someone, and who we’re dealing with when we come to understand the bigger picture. In other words, I could recount what’s on my mind and you may shrug; another may nod in total comprehension.
We are also our stories, but much more than our stories.
Being Ourselves, Revealing Ourselves
In many circumstances, we never disclose who we are. Not entirely. It’s neither necessary nor relevant. But with family, friends, and our most intimate partners, we reveal a more expansive set of moods and viewpoints. We share, bad days and good, as befitting the nature of the relationship.
Some people cannot hide their feelings (or their opinions) even if they try; my mother was such a person, making her challenging to live with.
There are aspects of my life that are only seen by my closest circle. I would imagine you might say the same. My are privy to yet another view, as are employers, clients, and co-workers. They judge me (as I judge them) by what they experience of me – the ways in which we interact.
Yet those of us who write may tell our stories best from behind our screens; we are our truest selves inside the music of our tapping as we pick and choose the dynamic we emphasize, the chapters we recite, and the characters and plots we water down, or render mute entirely.
Just Say No? Not So Simple
Returning to issues of boundaries, “just say no” has been much popularized in a variety of contexts. There are many ways in which it can be applied – no to unhealthy or self-destructive habits, no to a relationship that doesn’t value who we are, no to the friend who takes advantage over and over, no to the opportunity that comes with so many strings we feel utterly compromised, no to sharing confidences with someone we don’t trust.
Knowing who to trust feels like treacherous territory at times, and for a people pleaser, paying attention to the internal GPS can be problematic – especially if we’ve made mistakes in the past. As I consider the recent recommendation to “just say no,” I nonetheless struggle to apply what I begin to see as common sense, even as my old people-pleasing malaise raises its ugly head.
And so I find myself longing for a broader community of my peers – in part for support, and equally so my perspective would be more balanced.
Who Are Your Peers? In What Context?
The issue of peers lands me here: At this point in my life, who would that be?
Are they the corporate colleagues I worked with for years? Are they marketing clients with whom I have yet a different relationship? Are they fellow writers, or writers and artists, with whom I’ve always experienced the greatest kinship?
Are my peers other parents? Other women? Single parents, single women, working women, women over 40 – anyone, man or woman, who embraces life in open-minded engagement?
Doesn’t this depend upon the aspects of myself I want to share? The elements of my personal story that will find a home in their experience? What about their stories, their needs, their desire to find understanding – and mine, to learn from the vision and experience of others?
Do you know who your peers are? Does their absence leave you feeling stranded?
Yes, No, Maybe: Decisions, Decisions
If I offer glimpses into my life, here, I pick and choose as feels appropriate. What I say and how I say it varies slightly as I navigate, bypass, edit, and filter – in order to protect my privacy, to stay on point, to purposely digress, to think “aloud,” and to leave open spaces with intention – so as to encourage questioning.
As for tall tales, unguarded moments, and every variation in between, I’m staring into a situation that I realize I haven’t explained. Suffice it to say that it isn’t easily solved, but I’m tired of my own tour of yes, no, and maybe. Perhaps this is why I’m appreciative of the friend who is knows my many stories and addresses me directly, no holds barred.
But the decisions and consequences ultimately are mine. So I fight to push past old habits, set aside the desire to please, and hope to achieve a “yes” by insisting on a “no” that I’m convinced is what I need.
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