I was reminded recently that growing in emotional awareness is hard work. Speaking the truth that arises out of that awareness is a lot of hard work.
It can be so automatic to act passively when we have learned through painful experiences (often as children) to do whatever we can to blend in. Going with the flow can become the norm. Remember the line, “Children should be seen and not heard”?
It’s so beyond difficult to find new ways of being…difficult, but possible.
And I’ve seen how, little by little, the growth and practice adds up. Those of us on this journey may stumble from one extreme to the other or accidently fall back into behaviours we so desperately want to shed, wondering how things will ever get better. Change is so challenging. That’s why it’s so comforting and encouraging to look at our progress when we’re working on something that takes long-term effort.
Often our motivation to keep moving ahead comes from recognizing how far we have already come.
Recently, I was in a situation where I took action in a situation where I watched someone else being “talked over” when they really needed to be heard. I made the hard choice to be assertive. This involved breaking social norms in a situation that I wasn’t used to–and it was uncomfortable for me.
I was glad that I spoke up even though it was difficult, and it made me remember how in the past I wouldn’t have felt as able to step outside of the box.
Speaking up boldly is tough for so many of us:
- doing something that is decisive like removing ourselves from a bad situation, or
- speaking up even if we are not comfortable with the thought that other people might be offended or upset.
For a lot of us that takes a bit of courage.
I think some of the lessons that helped me feel good with my breaking outside of my box included:
- The value of noticing anger and fear as important signals that I have the right to attend to. Sometimes people can be critical of their own emotions. We get locked into being unaccepting of them or intellectually analyzing them. We don’t allow ourselves to attend to what these emotions might signal. Sometimes we learn to cope by ignoring painful emotions. Doing the work to become accepting, aware, and able to respond in helpful ways is a tough, but life-long learning that I cherish.
- Valuing safety and respect over social norms. Women are sometimes taught, whether directly or indirectly, to always “be nice”. Well-intentioned but harmful rules, such as “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” can have a far reaching effect. This can come at the cost of acting decisively or confronting problematic behaviour in others. This can also increase the risk of people ignoring their needs and being unaware of important personal boundaries. This can cascade into symptoms of depression and disconnection in personal relationships. Kindness doesn’t always look like niceness or “not rocking the boat”.
- Even though I was happy with my decision to take action, I have the self-compassion to know that even if I had frozen or if I had chosen another course of action that I regretted later, I don’t own responsibility for others’ behaviour. I know I’m here for myself and other people. I’m here for myself, no matter what. I will reach out for support from safe and loving people. I matter and nothing can change that. You matter, and nothing can change that. It sometimes takes a lot of slow work to find our loveable nature and worthiness. I do know it’s there for each one of us. If you struggle with this, please know you are not alone and there is help available.
- There’s a comfort in knowing that we’ll stumble with trying to listen and understand ourselves. We’ll keep growing. We get to celebrate when we grow. Mistakes don’t mean you’re a mistake. There is so much value in learning alternatives to beating ourselves up for missteps and instead seeing them as learning opportunities. Paradoxically, having the self-permission to make mistakes calms us. Calmness helps us choose well, since we are able to think through our decisions with more clarity in that state.
When we can relax into the fact that we matter, we can make choices from a place that feels like solid ground instead of shifting sand of a performance-based worth.
Growing in listening to ourselves and then speaking boldly out of that hearing often comes from becoming aware of our own lovability, worthiness, and belonging in this world.
We all matter.
Our voices all matter.
When we allow ourselves to see our value, emotional awareness and assertiveness skills have a place from which to grow.