I had an interesting interaction at the local deli yesterday.
There were a lot of people in the store, so I was keeping tabs on my position. When it was my turn, I stepped forward to place my order.
Shortly thereafter I heard the woman who had just completed her transaction say to the next person in line, “I thought you were next.”
To which I automatically responded to her, “Busybody.”
The line-up dictator left. And the woman behind me said, “Well, I guess some people just know more than the rest of us, hey?”
We both gave each other a smile, and life went on.
Here’s why I’m sharing the details of this seemingly superficial deli counter interaction with you today:
I used to be really scared to speak up in real-time, choosing to relentlessly fester on unsavoury interactions instead.
Maybe you can relate: I would think about what I should or could have said, and get increasingly pissed off in the process.
It felt safer not to speak, even though not speaking caused so much internal chaos – Chaos that manifested into me being unnecessarily aggressive towards other people.
The words that came out of my mouth yesterday provided the first scenario in my life in which I’ve spoken up for myself without guilt or shame or over-the-top anger consuming me.
I didn’t feel the need to lash out- the words just came out, void of hyper-aggression.
Prior to this interaction I always felt bad about standing up for myself. I’d witnessed a lot of people affirm that it wasn’t OK to speak. Variations of the belief that it’s best not to, like “best to keep quiet” have been the norm throughout my life.
These statements affirmed the validity of the shame and guilt that kept me from using my voice in a productive way. And the aggression that festered from reliving unsavoury interactions fuelled a hyper-aggressive self-protective mode, which led to a lot of suffering.
You never get the outcome you’re looking for when you approach an interaction with heightened aggression. But it’s hard not to, especially when it’s ingrained in our psyches that speaking out is something to be ashamed of.
We are human – we crave connection. Logic tells us we will never connect with people if they disapprove of us, and disapprove they will if we speak. How can we not turn speaking out into an aggressive tirade when we deny ourselves, through no fault of our own, the right to stand up for ourselves? That festering energy needs to go somewhere.
It’s super scary to use your voice. More often than not women get labelled overly dramatic, ridiculous, or some variation of inadequate.
Some women will even embrace the patriarchy and turn on those who are being assertive with their rights and needs as human beings.
We have women trying to shame other women in a desperate attempt for power. They are so committed to distracting themselves from their own insecurities and pain that they choose judgement because it feels safer.
I used to be one of those women. And there are days I catch glimpses of her in my behaviours and beliefs.
Compassion is the only viable response to judgement. It’s the only offering that will lead to anything positive. (Here’s an amazing example.)
It’s not easy and it’s tough to get right. For example, I’m well aware of the judgment not-so-subtly hidden in my “busybody” comment. I’m also aware that it makes me sound like I’m from the early 1900s.
In a perfect world, I’d have been more honest with the woman at the deli counter. I’d have told her I see her and know what she’s trying to do, and that I have compassion for her struggle because I live it, too
But I know that interaction, in all its imperfection, provided a huge opportunity for me.
It offered me a chance to be assertive and stand up for myself.
It offered me a chance to speak.
Even though it was on a small-scale, it was a chance for me to communicate without taking a hyper-aggressive stance.
That’s a win for me.
Many of us don’t know how to speak. We were never taught how to or that it was OK to do so.