There they go again. Criticising this, undermining that, taking knocks out of who you are and what you try and do every day to support them.
It’s so hard to take when you can see so clearly what you bring to your relationships and friendships but others don’t. It can feel like give give give, with very little take in return. This is particularly true if you were parented by a narcissist or experienced childhood emotional neglect.
For many who had this childhood experience, the outcome is to become a committed, card-carrying people pleaser.
And of course, people pleasers do anything they can to avoid confrontation.
When confronted with the type of scenario where resentment can build, what kind of role do you take?
Peace-keeper or a war-maker?
The peace-keeper will try to smooth things over, possibly take an emotional bullet or ignore what’s painful for the sake of harmony. Conflict and difference can feel scary and uncomfortable, so the peacemaker will take all steps she or he can to avoid the bust up. But that might mean a lot gets unsaid and is swept under the carpet to resurface in other ways (see this post on passive aggression for how.)
If you lash out, then perhaps you are more of a war-maker. Though that isn’t really a fair term for someone who might speak up and enter into conflict, unless their speaking up turns in to attack, viciousness or acting out their anger. There’s a strong difference between maintaining or asserting boundaries and taking that to the stage of attack or inappropriate anger.
For the peace-keeper, it can be hard to know when to speak out and when to hold your tongue. If your tendency is to always stay quiet, you may have learnt at some point in your life that it wasn’t safe to say what was on your mind.
Underneath it all, perhaps you feel scared about confronting what displeases you, or you prefer to avoid conflict than really speaking your mind.
7 reasons you won’t say what’s on your mind
So here are seven reasons why you might shy away from saying what you really feel or which might stop you being assertive when you need to:
1 Fear of confrontation: ‘Who do you think you are?’
This is perhaps one of the biggest things that holds you back from saying what feels important. The idea of speaking out and causing an argument, getting shouted at or worse. It’s a natural response to keeping safe, but are there times when staying silent comes at too high a price.
Maybe it’s with a parent or sibling that you always find yourself accommodating or steering clear of confrontation or a work boss or colleague.
Did you learn at some point that anger and confrontation weren’t ok?
2 Fear of judgment: ‘Don’t be so stupid’
Sometimes speaking your mind, might mean taking a stand and that can feel very scary. If you say what you’re really thinking, what would others think of you and say of you? It can feel safer to stay quiet than to risk disapproval.
Was there a time when you were made to feel ashamed of what you said or how you behaved? Maybe you experienced this at home or at school?
3 Fear of rejection: ‘You’re not part of my gang’
On a similar note, saying what your really think might lead you to be cut adrift from your group; you may feel that they wouldn’t approve or appreciate your view and might ostracise you for daring to be different.
Have you had an experience before, of being shut out for speaking your mind or seeing others excluded from a group?
4 Fear of offending: ‘You hurt me’
You may be worried that what you have to say may not be well received. Rather than leading to confrontation, the other person takes offence and retreats into themselves. In this scenario, you’re trying to protect them from hurt, as if what you have to say will be too much for them to hear.
Have you had a response to speaking your mind where someone crumbled or seemed so overwhelmingly devastated by your remark that you vowed not to do it again?
5 Fear of abandonment: ‘You might leave me’
You may have a deep seated worry that if you call someone out on their behaviour, they may up sticks and leave you completely.
Were you ever threatened in your life or had the experience of being cut off, left alone or shut away when you did something that displeased a care-giver or person in authority? You may feel that it’s too much to risk to have someone close leave because you’ve confronted them.
6 Fear of your own power ‘You’re scaring me’
There may be an underlying concern that if you really let go and say what’s on your mind that others will be overwhelmed, scared or feel crushed by your power in the situation. You keep yourself quiet, not from powerlessness but feeling like you might overpower.
7 Fear your self-image might be compromised ‘You won’t like me’
Going back to the peacemaker idea, perhaps there’s a part of you that is very attached to the idea of being ‘nice’, ‘kind’, ‘accommodating.’ By saying what you really feel, you might taint or damage that image of yourself in your own eyes and those of others.
Was there a time when you only felt loveable because you had to be a good boy or girl? You might be attached to the idea of perfection as the only way of being accepted.
The cost of staying silent
The trouble with never or rarely speaking your mind is that you end up putting a mask over what your true and authentic experience is.
I’m not suggesting that you go hell for leather with whatever is on your mind. But you might try to notice when and with whom you decide to say what you really feel. Is it for one of the reasons above, or another? What does it cost you to speak, or not to speak? What do you lose out from by not being assertive?
Often, keeping a lid on your thoughts and feelings which are crying out to be heard, can have all sorts of unintended consequences, including feelings of anxiety, depression and physical symptoms such as back ache, stomach ache, sore throat, headache.
So next time you find yourself silencing that inner voice, ask what do you gain and lose from not speaking your mind? What would make you feel safer to say what you really feel?
This week’s Lifeline is all about that.
This week’s Lifeline
Think of a scenario in which you haven’t spoken your mind. Cast your mind back to that time and recreate the scene in as much detail as you can.
Now write the dialogue as if you were freely saying what you wanted and needed to say. Don’t pull any punches. Embrace the opportunity of replaying the scenario in full playing it out as you would want to see it happen.
Once you’ve written it, re-read it and digest for a moment or too. Then tune into your responses to that experience. Does it bring up elation, energy or anxiety and trepidation? List all your hopes and fears in playing out the conversation and really speaking your mind. And how did you feel in not playing it out this way? What was the impact and consequence?
Afraid of speaking up or saying how you feel?
I offer counselling and psychotherapy in Totnes providing a safe space to get things off your chest, and to try out new ways of expressing or asserting yourself. If you’d like to work through what’s holding you back from speaking your mind, why not get in touch to book a first counselling session?