This was inspired by a sideline thought I had during a conversation about communication with my friend Shawn. It was a good conversation. This navel-gazing didn’t belong there, so here it is. Heh.
I am so fucking torn, ALL the time. I constantly doubt myself.
Yeah, I’m talking about me like a self-absorbed thing… but the ironic thing is that every single fucking time I post something anywhere, I worry about it. Will it be taken the right way, did I say it right, who will get insulted if they disagree, who will have some smart-ass comment when I’m being thoughtful… I am stuck between this place of trying to be a smart, informed, caring person who is honest to the best of her ability, and being someone who is scared that she’ll be exposed as a fraud, someone who can be torn down easily, someone weak and not informed and definitely not smart.
We get all the conflicting messages:
You should believe in yourself.
You shouldn’t be so cocky.
You should be confident in your opinions and share them with the world.
You should shut up, because you have no idea what you’re talking about.
You should love yourself. You are amazing.
You should get over yourself, you’re nothing special.
You understand so much!
You don’t know shit!
You will be happy if you choose to be.
You are sad because you chose to be so.
People treat you the way you allow them to treat you.
You aren’t nice enough/you are too nice.
And so many of these cross-signals come from well-meaning sources! Friends who want to “make sure your ego doesn’t get too big,” and inspirational speakers who either build you up to impossible heights or throw all responsibility for your issues into your lap… your parents, teachers, bosses – who are “doing it for your own good” or praising you all out of proportion… well-meaning people and those who want to knock you down a peg, and sometimes those two groups are not so easy to tell apart!
Some people seem completely unfazed by all these conflicting messages, and are secure in who they are and what they do.
I am not one of them.
I had the ability to be assertive threatened, intimidated, and beaten out of me for the longest time. I went from a smart kid who was quiet but who trusted what she’d learned and wasn’t afraid to share it, to a young woman who wavered between being self-assured and being overly assertive in order to hide her self-doubts. And then, through a combination of events, I fell into a place where I thought so little of myself that I started treating myself badly, fell between being completely quiet or aggressive with what I thought, and then… I allowed myself to get in an abusive relationship where my opinions were shut down with a fist. [this is a vast simplification of that story, but you get the drift]
It has taken a HUGE amount of effort to pull myself out of that hole. I’m still hovering around the entrance quite a bit, but I’m sure this will be a life-long work in progress, so it’s okay.
But what can be frustrating for me is trying to strike that balance – finding the sweet spot between stating my thoughts confidently, without sounding like a pompous, opinionated asshole. It’s even harder when I’m in the middle of some debate about a subject of which I am both passionate and well-informed.
It’s always the well-informed that gets me, y’all. I read a LOT. I try to vet the things I post about, especially if I’m not quite sure, or if there’s wiggle room in interpretation. I really enjoy researching and forming a logical, well-constructed statement. I try not to post if I’m unsure, unless I state plainly that I’m unsure but this is what I think.
And then I sit there and shake internally. I wait for the dissection, the criticism, the assertion that I’m too full of myself or a smart-ass or not actually informed or a jerk… whatever the thing is that I fear the most at that moment, because I dared to have an opinion. And people, of course, capitalize on that if they can, so I try to hide it and probably look even more pompous or whatever.
It’s a catch-22. “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes.”* But probably be thought to be a bloviating asshole if you speak up.
I do speak up more often than not, now. I hope I don’t sound like an arrogant know-it-all.
* another funny quote from Maggie Kuhn – “Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” Hell yeah, Maggie.