“I have to go potty!” My daughter called from the other room. I put down the dish I was washing, slipped off my rubber gloves, and hustled out of the kitchen.
“Great!” I told her. “Let’s go!” I’d been hoping she’d finally gotten far enough in her potty-training journey that she’d be able to recognize when she needs to go on her own, rather than having to rely on my near-incessant reminders throughout the day.
We rushed to the door of the bathroom, and she stopped short. “I don’t have to go.”
“Let’s go!” I told her, anxious to get things moving, and not at all excited about the prospect of having to clean up yet another accident.
“I don’t have to go.”
I looked at her, trying to keep my exasperation level down. (I was only mildly succeeding.) “You just said you had to go, honey. Let’s give it a try.”
“I. Don’t. Have. To. GO!” She screamed, stamping her foot.
I threw up my hands. “Fine.” I headed back to the kitchen, and was only about a foot away from her when she called out.
“Mama, I DO have to go!”
We had a saying growing up that I plan on making sure I pass down to my kids: Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. It comes from the Bible, and it’s always made sense to me. But as someone who has spent most of her life thus far wanting to be The Favorite, The Most Well-Liked, and The Best Friend Ever, those words gave me a lot of anxiety. There are so many things I want to say, but I’m always so worried – what will the person I’m talking to think? Will they still like me after they hear my thoughts? What happens if they don’t?
I know, I know – my insecurity level? Expert!
I spent so much time in my life tamping down what I think in order to always say the “right” thing – or, rather, what I think others wanted to hear. If I did that, I reasoned, then I could be everyone’s friend. No one would dislike me. It made sense!
Until it didn’t. Because I’ve found that generally, people do two things when confronted with behavior like that: 1) they know exactly what I’m doing; and 2) they don’t like it, because they know it’s not authentic. And I’d get called out on it. And when I did, I’d move through this really interesting cycle of behavior: someone would say, “Is that what you really think?” I’d say yes, then feel awful and terrible about myself afterward, because I knew I was lying – not only to them, but to myself. It feels awful to deny yourself the truth, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. I didn’t know how to be my authentic self.
Not such a long time ago, I happened to be at the library in my neighborhood when I struck up a conversation with another mother with young children. She was starting the process of homeschooling her oldest, and asked me if I home-schooled or, if I didn’t, if I knew of anyone in town who did.
“I don’t,” I said. “But I have many friends who do, they live in another state, but if you want, I can give you some bloggers I read that home school, for ideas.”
She shook her head. “Thank you, but no,” she said. “I really just wanted to know if there was anyone local, so I could meet up in person. Thank you anyway.”
We got on talking about something else, but that short little bit of conversation was so striking to me, precisely because it was the opposite of something I would do. If our roles were reversed, I’d probably throw a bunch of clarifiers in there, floundering around in conversation, but she didn’t do that. I loved so, so much that she knew exactly what she was looking for, and when she didn’t find it, she thanked me, but also made her point perfectly clear with no animosity, no worries that I was insignificant, and without belittling me. She knew what she was about and communicated it clearly, and didn’t seem to care about my opinion one way or another.
All of this is something I have such a hard time doing! But I was able to use it as a wonderful example in my own life, for clearly communicating my own thoughts and needs. As I’ve been able to learn about how to be assertive, and how to speak up for myself, I’ve been doing my best to listen to others and realize that just because I think one thing does not mean they are any less of a person because they don’t agree with me. It seems so silly to say that, but it’s what I had been doing, in reverse. Before, if I had spoken my mind, and someone would have disagreed, I would have felt ashamed, or stupid, or less than, even if the person I was talking to didn’t intend those things. But I’m learning now that all of that thinking had to do with my anxiety, not with them.
And so I’m trying to learn, and to practice the skill of clear communication: of my yes meaning yes and my no meaning no. It’s a hard one to master, but it truly feels worth it. It feels authentic! And it feels really good. If insecurity in conversation with others is something you struggle with too, you are not alone! Let’s go through it together.
Until next time, be well!