Recently, my therapist and I discussed my past failures to assert myself in decisions that greatly impacted my life. I failed to state that I did not want something; that I would not do something; that the impact of a particular decision was unacceptable to me. I have also failed to state that I did want something; that my want was valid and important; that compliance was nonnegotiable.
My therapist seemed genuinely baffled that a woman of my age and intelligence, with a seemingly good sense of her own best interests, would not reject the harmful and demand the helpful as a matter of course. She asked me why I did not protect and advocate for myself in these basic ways. I had no answer.
Since our session, I have thought and googled and thought some more about this issue.
Am I afraid of rejection? That seems to be the most common reason cited by internet psychologists. But would I truly accommodate someone by going along with a decision that I believe is wrong or potentially harmful to me to ensure that I am not left alone? Would I fail to tell someone I want something out of fear that simply asking will make that person leave me?
Or, is it guilt? Would I accept the potentially harmful consequences of a decision because I feel I owe the other person the sacrifice of my physical or mental health? Would I silence my wants because my past bad acts make me feel like I am not entitled to ask for anything ever again?
Maybe I am just weak, not emotionally strong enough to endure the vulnerability of saying either no or I want something from you to a person I love. I have rarely said either of those things to any loved one ever. I do what is asked of me and I accept what I am given. I have taught myself that this is enough.
It is not.
My failure to recognize my fear, my guilt and my passivity likely cost me my mental health and my career, at least for the past few years and for another one or two years to come. It is highly likely that, with proper medication, therapy and self-management, I will be able to recover my mental stability and my life. But the kind of life I recover depends on me.
Although I am nearly 40 years old, there is no reason I can’t live my life differently moving forward. The only things in my way are my own fear, guilt and weakness. I cannot be deterred by these sentiments any longer, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable moving beyond them may feel.
It is so late in the game there is no place for fear of rejection. I am either going to live my life for me or for someone else. If I choose me, rejection by another becomes irrelevant. Likewise, guilt must be thrown away, like a pair of shoes that no longer fits. There is no point in continuing to burden myself with something that cannot be changed. What’s done is done; leave it and move on. Finally, my weakness must be replaced with strength, the emotional strength necessary to endure vulnerability, to risk being left or let down. Because, in either case, I will learn what I have and do not have in my life. I will learn that I do or do not have enough of what I want. And then I can go out and find what I know I am missing, probably what I have been looking for all along.