Walking Through the Fires of Other People’s Disappointment

There’s a fear I hear whispered a lot, whether the topic is changing jobs or shifting the dynamics of a relationship or undertaking sobriety – anything that threatens the status quo, really. It goes something like this:

“I’m afraid that if I do _______, then they’re gonna _______.”

If I speak my truth, they’ll ______.

If I take a step forward, or back, or to the side, they’ll _______.

If I lay down a boundary, they’ll ________. 

If I say I need help, they’ll __________.

At the center of each one of those scenarios is the sense of risk that comes with revelation, a fear of reaction or negativity or all-out retribution if we simply are ourselves, in all our messy humanness, without editing or hiding or shapeshifting into something we’re not but expected to be. Fundamentally, it’s some variation on the thought, “If I expose my true self, somebody’s not gonna be happy.”

If I do/say/change something, they’ll:

* think poorly of me
* think I’m weak
* think I’m selfish
* take it personally and make it about them
* question my abilities
* question my sanity
* question my judgment 
* lose faith in me
* lose respect for me
* not want to be around me
* badmouth me to others
* punish me in some other way

All of which serves to keep us conforming to everybody else’s expectations for our lives, being good little doobies, generally toeing the line – which, in many cases, keeps us stuck where we don’t want to be. As Brené Brownputs it: “You can’t ever do anything brave if you’re wearing the straitjacket of ‘What will people think?!’”  

Perhaps the more valuable question is less about what anyone else thinks of us, and more about what we think of ourselves. For example, if YOU do the thing that needs to be done/say the thing that needs to be said/change the thing that needs to be changed, will YOU think poorly of yourself? Think you’re weak or selfish? Question your abilities or sanity or judgment? Lose respect for or faith in yourself? Punish yourself??


Will you actually think *more* of yourself? Feel more capable, more powerful? Stand tall on your values and discernment? Gain a deeper respect for the person you’re becoming? Honor every part of your integrating Self?

I know my answer, because these are inner conversations I’ve had often, in several different settings, in the distant and not-so-distant past. I suspect they’re conversations I’ll live until I die, and that’s not a bad thing. I see the dialogue with a lot more friendliness than I used to, because it scares me less than it used to: I’ve walked through the fires of other people’s disappointment and it just doesn’t burn the way I thought it would. I mean, it burns… but burns heal eventually.

So I made a promise that I will no longer shush the screaming of my gut. I will not hide the truth of what I know, not from myself and not from anyone else. I will not stifle the voice that demands to speak, even if she is heard by no one than me. I will not abandon myself, ever again.

Put another way, I won’t live this life in a straitjacket; there are too many brave things ahead of me, ahead of each of us. And if there’s anything I know for certain, it’s that we’re up to the challenge.

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