Think about how much of your time is consumed by your story of what others think of you. It's just a story, it's not a fact. When you continue to make decisions according to your assumptions of others' feelings, you are handing over your power on a silver platter. If that doesn't click for you, think of it as deferring control to others. Their opinion or approval dictates how you feel or what you do.
Now, it isn’t that simple or easy for people who look for value and worthiness from what they do for others. Our culture sends messages that women who say no or set boundaries are mean. That could be selfish- to say no when someone else needs something. The rules say we’re supposed to be nice, quiet, accommodating, follow the rules, don't ruffle feathers, etc. But here's a newsflash: this is difficult for men too!
Why have these rules eclipsed our freedom? I would speculate it’s because of safety. If we do what the group approves of, then we’re safe and we can remain a member. We risk alienation, criticism, scorn, “getting in trouble,” etc. if we stray from the pack.
This doesn’t mean that rebellion or anarchy is the answer. It means that we don’t have to follow rules that don’t actually exist or exist purely in our own minds. If you can’t be who you are when you’re with a certain group: friends, family, colleagues, a team, a religious group, a book club, etc., then you are not free. Brené Brown describes the difference between fitting in and belonging in her book Braving the Wilderness: “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”
Here’s the thing; from what I see and hear in my office and on social media, we don’t feel brave and we don’t feel free. We feel constrained by who society tells us we should be, what rules we have to follow to fit in to a certain group, when we need to achieve certain milestones in life, what type of profession or career to have, what type of college to go to, and the list goes on. The fear to listen to one’s intuition or natural inclination towards certain decisions can be paralyzing. Many people do let it stop them. They then opt out of truly living their lives; they are not free at all. They are controlled and obstructed.
So many people are paralyzed by not wanting to make another person "mad." But we often don't know what will anger another person (except the obvious- violence, disrespect, etc). Staying within the confines of your assumptions leads to anxiety and feeling trapped. Like we don't have control. It would be extremely scary to say how we feel or ask for what we need.
Brené Brown defines integrity as having courage over comfort. Courage to be true to yourself, courage to decline a request at the risk of another's disapproval, courage to honor and stand in your own power. Comfort meaning to avoid all of that, continue to accommodate, acquiesce, and defer. At some point, that box gets very very tight and you feel suffocated.
As Oprah would say, “Here’s what I know for sure:”
When we’re brave and afraid we have the courage to take calculated risks, go on new adventures, and explore new possibilities.
When we’re brave we can trust ourselves entering vulnerable situations, as we know we have our own back, or who does have our back.
When we’re brave, we think about fear but don’t let it stop us.
When we’re brave, we live aligned with our values, not according to others’ rules or opinions.
When we’re brave, we communicate assertively about our needs and express how we feel.
Courage means being brave and afraid at the same time. When you exercise the courage to be brave and express yourself authentically it leads to freedom. Being brave makes you free. Shrinking in fear and staying silent leaves you trapped.
Claim your power and freedom at your own pace, but start your journey. Even one step. You owe it to yourself. You have the key to your own lock.