My whole life, I’ve struggled with an inability to speak my mind without immediately second-guessing myself.
I could speculate about exactly what causes this. Maybe it’s a subset of the anxiety disorder, maybe it’s from being socialized as a girl in a society that still largely prefers women to be seen and not heard. Or maybe it’s Maybelline, who knows?
Whatever the deeper underlying cause, the surface reason is a simple one: I care way, way too much what other people think of me.
Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that you should never give a shit about other people’s opinion of you. Obviously there’s a balance to be struck between “not letting public opinion control your life” and “still being welcome to participate in polite society.” It’s insane to really and truly not care at all how you’re perceived by other people. Only serial killers and Fortune 500 CEOs can get away with that.
But I am saying that it’s possible to care a little too much, or in my case a lot too much.
I’ve never been able to assert my opinion on a topic or, God forbid, disagree outright with someone without feeling like a rude, ill-bred little asshole. Somewhere over the years, I got it into my head that rudeness was the worst crime a person could be guilty of. And it’s rude to challenge someone else’s opinion, or to assert your own opinion too strongly in case they take that as a challenge to their opinion, which will undoubtedly offend them, and if someone is offended it’s obviously your fault for being rude to them, and so on, and so forth, and thus is written the story of me biting my tongue near-constantly, even in situations where I really should speak up.
It’s no way to live. It’s hard to get through life feeling like you’re not allowed to have opinions for fear of offending someone, and that expressing an opinion is tantamount to intentionally starting a bar brawl. It does a number on your sense of self. It stops you from standing up for things that are important. It keeps you from living your best life, or really from living your life at all- instead, you’re just living the closest approximation that you can get without anyone knowing that you have thoughts and feelings about what happens in the world around you.
So over the past few months, I’ve decided that I can’t go on being afraid to say what’s on my mind. I’m no longer going to let my life be steered by a near-pathological need to avoid upsetting anyone. No more falling into the same old trap of staying silent to avoid conflict. Now I’m trying to learn to feel comfortable being assertive and opinionated.
For some reason, I thought this would make my life easier. So far, it’s made things a lot more difficult, but for slightly different reasons. A real bitch of a Morton’s Fork.
For starters, I’ve learned that a non-zero number of my friendships were only surviving because I never had the balls to openly disagree with something that was said in front of me. I should probably welcome the opportunity for personal growth by weeding those relationships out of my life, but first I’d have to stop beating myself up for daring to think that I had the right to open disagreement.
Secondly, the thing about expressing an opinion is that you’ll then be called upon to defend it. This is something that I’m still struggling with, and will most likely struggle with for the foreseeable future. I mean, I know how to use my words and explain my position on an issue. I just don’t know how to do it without my heart rate skyrocketing in anticipation of some terrible outcome.
Every time I get into a debate, I’m running a mental countdown of exactly how many exchanges could possibly be left before it escalates into a full-blown argument where everyone decides that I’m the asshole. Even if I’m correct, polite, and articulate in my arguments, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s that paranoia of thinking that you hear someone coming down the hallway when you’re secretly up reading comic books after bedtime: I’m definitely doing something wrong by engaging in this conversation, so it stands to reason that I’m going to be caught and punished. Even though, generally speaking, the only punishment received is my own unwarranted inner turmoil.
At the end of the day (and this article), I guess that all I can do is learn to trust myself a little bit more. Emotions and anxiety aside, I know on an intellectual level that there’s nothing wrong with speaking up, speaking out, and speaking my mind plainly. It’s just a matter of reinforcing the behavior until it’s a habit, and not something that I need to spend a week steeling myself for and another month recovering from.
It’s hard to muster up that last little bit of self-confidence that it takes to stop second-guessing myself all the time, but I’m holding onto hope that it’s possible.
As my favorite song introspectively states, “Though you can see when you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right.”
For the first time in my life, I’m going to allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe, I’m right.