The key is being ok with where we are AND being willing to uncover even more of the real us at every turn, no matter what we need to change to get there.
There are so many paths to uncovering more of the real us. It’s a lifetime process of unlearning other people's ways and socialization and re-learning what’s best for us. There’s both internal work (meditation, journaling, self-care) and external work that involves other people. The work involving other people can be very scary for some. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get the book, go off alone, do the work and emerge totally healed? Unfortunately and fortunately, that’s not how it works. Healing involves other people, which can be really difficult for those who don’t like to give up control or have trouble trusting.
Someone told me once that the first phase in your life after adolescence was all about IN-dependence - learning who you are apart from others; how you are different; how you want to do things your way. The next phase is for INTER-dependance - taking your differences and learning how to live together in mutually beneficial relationships; how to negotiate; how to be true to yourself while embracing others and working through the differences; recognizing the oneness among all things. To me these phases aren’t linear. I think every time we challenge ourselves and grow, we gain a little more independence. Yet, that growth can offer a deeper capacity to balance how our lives (and choices) interplay with others.
A challenge for me in this process of graceful interdependence has been asking for what I needed in certain situations, especially if I was projecting that the thing I needed was not optimal for someone else. It always felt selfish to go against the grain and ask for what I wanted and I used to seriously pride myself on being a easy-going, generous, selfless (translation: people pleasing) person. However, as I started to wake up more to who I was and my purpose in life, there was a growing discomfort in constantly going with the flow and never claiming what was best for me. I knew I had to start doing things differently.
Inevitably, the gremlins would come and tell me I was being a jerk-face and that I shouldn’t rock the boat. My inner critic would say that I was just being a spoiled brat. I would get stuck and confused.
Generally, if we are having this dilemma, something's coming up that is important that needs to be addressed. Sometimes it’s not even the issue we think it is. It may be something under the surface of the perceived problem. This is a time to be still, go within and get some support. Often a boundary is being crossed (or hasn’t been set) and our guts are telling us something is amiss. The key is figuring out what. Sometimes it’s just something internal that needs to shift (an emotion or belief), but often we need to verbally ask for what we want. With work and support over the years I’ve learned that when this comes up, there are a few questions I can ask myself that help me answer the question:
Is asking for what I want right now SELFISH or SACRED?
Is my intention to help myself or to hurt someone else? Is it to add something to my life (more time, space, a boundary, etc) or take away from or control someone else’s? What you need might be uncomfortable for the other(s) involved, but if your intention is centered around you and in alignment, that’s sacred.
How am I going to feel if I don’t speak up and ask?
This is a question that might be good to ask over several days. Sometimes we think about asking for something IN REACTION to a situation that’s happened and reactions can be loaded with emotions that often simmer over a few days. If after a few days you still feel like what’s coming up really needs to be addressed out loud, that is sacred.
Am I projecting about how another person will feel about the situation?
I can’t tell you how many times I have worked myself into a tizzy projecting how someone will MOST CERTAINLY react negatively to what I am asking for, only to be met with complete indifference or even happy compliance upon asking. Owning your feelings and allowing others to own theirs is sacred.
Am I really willing to RECEIVE what I am asking for?
This may seem like a silly question, but sometimes WE are the reason we aren’t getting what we need; not someone else. Be aware of what may be blocking you from actually receiving the thing you are asking for. Also, remember that what you are asking for may not be delivered exactly how you want it. We are all different and unique, so we are all going to offer gifts in different ways. Stay open in your heart and honest in your words so you can compassionately negotiate. Being willing to receive is sacred.
What will it be like if I don’t get what I ask for?
We can’t control other people’s behaviors and everyone has a right to answer the request however they want. Sometimes people are just too busy or don’t have the skills or capacity to give you what you need. Or they may refuse for a number of other reasons. What will it be like for you if this happens and what are you willing to do if it does? It may be as simple as finding someone else who can help. It might be as difficult as severing a relationship if someone is not willing to respect your boundaries. If it’s the latter, get some support. Knowing all will be OK no matter what the outcome is sacred.
A few more things to consider...
Sometimes, there is no right answer, which also means there is no wrong answer either. Just do what feels most right and be open to learning from it. Be open and honest with the people involved. If the relationship is severed because of you asking for what you need, it may not have been in alignment anyway. That’s OK and is something from which you can learn. Even if you make a “mistake” you will still be worthy and loved by the universe and the right people in your life.
Lastly, asking for what you need in a relationship is a GIFT to the people involved. People love to feel needed. Give someone an opportunity to help you if it’s something like support, encouragement, or expertise. If it’s something more personal like trying to set a boundary or wanting something done differently and they aren’t particularly happy with the request, you are still giving them a gift by being honest and honoring the relationship enough to be brave and ask. The alternative is usually resentment for not speaking up and/or a distancing in the relationship. Either way, there is a breakdown of some kind when we’re not honest.
I realize that some of the situations referenced here are not easy ones. Most are SIMPLE when you break them down, but they aren’t EASY. This takes great courage, especially when you are first starting out. It can be AWKWARD and UNCOMFORTABLE when you start really telling the truth and being honest about what you want. Some people may actually have a physiological reaction to the thought of speaking up such as a feeling of panic or a desperate urge to run away (flight). That’s OK. That’s why support is so important. Having an emotionally neutral person or group on our team can be so comforting in reassuring us that we will be OK. Because we will. We always will.
Let’s give ourselves permission to be beginners (and not be perfect) at this. Let’s remember that it takes practice just like everything else. The more we practice, the easier it gets. Eventually it will become more uncomfortable NOT to speak up than it will be to ask for what we want. Our inner compasses will more readily let us know when we are headed in the wrong direction. We will listen more to the still small voice of our Highest Self.
I still sometimes feel like an emotional bull in a china shop when I am asking for what I need. It’s not completely natural for me yet. However, when I know it needs to be done, I muster as much self compassion as I can and do it anyway. I still feel conflicted at times; not knowing if what I am doing is “right”. I wonder if my ego is getting in the way and flexing my “speaking out” muscles a little too much. I do what I think is best and learn from it either way. And most importantly I remind myself that no matter how another person reacts or what they say, that has NOTHING to do with me, my worth or my value as a human. We are all spiritual kids of the universe who are loved just for being alive.
So, next time this comes up, take some time to sit with it. Get still, go within and ask the questions. Get support. Be gentle with yourself. Be brave. Be loving to yourself and the others and remember to laugh when you can. Sometimes, all we can do is laugh a little and hold ourselves lovingly as we grow.