When I was in my twenties, I wasn’t very good at using my words or asking for what I wanted. I often went along with what everyone else was doing, saying “fine by me,” when it often wasn’t “fine”. I was very agreeable. I dated a man off and on for years during this time and never asked for what I wanted or dared to tell him what I needed. I was too afraid. I was afraid that if I asked for what I wanted or needed, he would leave. (That wouldn’t have been such a terrible thing but that’s a story for another day.)
I was also often afraid that if I told people what I wanted, they would be mad at me. When I look back on it, it’s a ridiculous thought. Why would someone be mad at me for wanting to go to a different restaurant or adjusting plans to be more mutually accommodating? If a person truly responds poorly to such a simple request, it’s a very telling sign of the type of person that you’re dealing with.
Using your words is also as simple as saying “excuse me” when you need to get past someone in the aisle of a grocery store. I’ve found myself extremely frustrated when someone tries to clumsily maneuver around me at a store, rather than just say, “Excuse me”. This simple phrase alerts me to their presence and need, and alleviates stress and awkwardness.
But for many reasons, most of us are challenged with the idea of being direct about our needs. Whether we’re in fear of another person’s response, or unsure of our needs, we bite our tongue and hold back. Sometimes we’re really good about being direct in one are of our life such as work. We can ask for raises and time off without the slightest stomach knot or sweat. But when it comes to asking for our needs to be met in a relationship we might churn and churn on the issue until our stomach hurts and we’ve built up every imaginable negative outcome.
Then there are the other situations – when someone has hurt you, been dismissive, or challenging. When these situations are fueled with emotion, it’s often hard to use your words and tell the person how you feel. I used to feel my head spin in these situations, wanting to leave my body, and run far away from the situation. It seemed easier to push it down than to deal with it directly. All that pushing down is rough on your body. Your body aches and groans with each emotion you shove into it, running out of room, until a disk pops or a ligament breaks or a blow up happens with the person. These are the situations I’m least successful in and need the most improvement (I was going to say practice but I’d still like to avoid these, please.)
Sometimes we’re so afraid to ask for what we want that we jump through hoops and avoid issues until we’re so exhausted we don’t know what we want anymore.
We avoid, avoid, avoid rather than face what’s really going on. When we end up here, resentment builds. We pull further away from the situation and from using our words. The mere thought of being direct is now panic ensuing because our molehill is now a mountain. We don’t know where to begin.
How can you overcome the mountain and become more direct about your needs? How can your needs be met if you never voice them? How can anyone respond to your needs if you never speak them clearly and directly?
As I’ve been sitting with this, this quote from Margaret Thatcher comes to mind: “Watch your thoughts, for they will become your actions. Watch your actions for they’ll become habits. Watch your habits, for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.”
If your thoughts are consumed with issues and needs you are avoiding and you are suppressing and not voicing your needs and building resentment within, than what actions will follow? How will this reverberate throughout your life? You’ll most likely become incredibly unhappy. If you’re incredibly unhappy, how with this impact your life and those around you. If you’re unhappy and resentful, you might not want anyone else to be happy and resentful and thus your actions may follow suite and create a tidal wave of discomfort in your life and for everyone around you.
This sounds terrible to me. It is a horrible way to live. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Change your thoughts, change your destiny. Use your words. Speak your needs clearly and directly. Start small. Take baby steps. Find an area of your life where it seems possible for you to be direct and clear with your words. Perhaps it’s correcting the pronunciation of your name when someone says it wrong or maybe clarifying your order with a server when they bring you the wrong item. Find an area of your life that isn’t panic inducing and ask for what you want. As you continue to make baby steps with direct communication, you’ll find your confidence will grow. As your confidence grows, you’ll begin to believe how much your needs matter. You matter. Sacrificing your own needs on daily basis isn’t healthy – it’s victimhood. Ensuring your own needs are met is a foundation to emotional health. Being clear with your communication is foundational to living a stress free, productive, and healthy life.