I really value harmony. I don’t like conflict or division. It is like nails on a chalkboard to me.
As such, I tend to avoid things. If someone texts me, it usually takes me a while to respond. And that is the best of circumstances. I’ve been known to completely ignore an awkward text or two. I tend to agree with whoever is right in front of me, trying to find the truth in their perspectives but also trying to avoid disagreement.
All of this avoidance boils down to one thing: I am afraid of failing. Terrified, actually. And I will do all I can to avoid it. I hide from people, which is a challenge in my relationships and community.
The worst thing about this mentality is that it pushes one into an imagined reality. I start to see the worst people might say and assume they’ve already said it. I imagine how things might go wrong. Every circumstance, every encounter, threatens to define me.
Earlier this year, I decided I was going to try to do better with all of this. I decided I would tell people when I didn’t want to do something. I would answer questions about how I feel more honestly. I wouldn’t work so hard to edit emails and texts to get the wording just right.
It has been oddly freeing. Turns out, the people who love me aren’t afraid of my boundaries. They don’t need me to say yes to everything or agree to everything. They don’t need my carefully concocted excuses as much as they need my upfront honesty.
I recently texted a friend, “no thanks. It has been a long week and I just want to stay in tonight.” He responded with, “great, We’ll get you next time”.
I’ve found that when I just put my honest responses out there, people are more gracious than I ever gave them credit for. And I am more okay with their disappointment than I imagined. And the end result is I am not carrying around all the what ifs for nearly as long.
It frees up my emotion, loosens my concerns, and gives the people around me a chance to share real reality with me, thus freeing me from my false narrative.
The other thing I have noticed about non-avoidance is that it allows me to have a more positive impact on the people around me. I am not so afraid of messing up. I’m not so busy cowering in corners to protect myself from imagined invaders. I am more able to move, to influence, to seek and share truth within my communities.
There is still a pit in my stomach when I have to share bad news or give an answer I know isn’t what someone wants to hear. Not all the responses have been as quick and kind as the example above. Some have given me the silent treatment. But I’ve come to see those people are probably more worried about what I am thinking about them than what they think of my answers.
I am still a long way off. I still spend way too much time avoiding the hard and awkward facets of reality and relationship. But I am discovering a courage to encounter it more freely.