When I was in my late teens and early twenties, experiencing independence for the first time, I’d developed a very assertive, confident, no nonsense attitude and way of confronting life that was, more or less, a defensive mechanism or method of self-preservation. It stemmed, I determined through therapy, from the oppression and abuse I was powerless against as a child.
Becoming an adult meant that having an opinion was okay and expressing it was no longer ‘dangerous.’
People were attracted to me because of my strength. I was a ‘take control’ type of person, as I’d been groomed all my life to shoulder responsibility and to assume it when others did not, to never shirk it or ignore it, leaving it for someone else.
I was honest, to a fault, often in a tactless way. I can remember telling tearful friends, having destroyed them with my opinion or sharp tongue, that I delivered nothing more or less than I expected from others. I didn’t want ‘rainbows and lollipops’ when I asked for someone’s opinion, I didn’t want ‘sunshine blown up my skirt’ in lieu of the truth. I much rather preferred that we all knew where everyone stood, had everything out on the table, so there was no need of ‘reading between the lines’ or needing to ‘assume’ anything.
“If you ask for my opinion you’ll get it. If you’re not prepared to hear it, don’t ask.” is what I used to tell them.
At first my friends seemed to admire this trait. They liked it when I came to their defense, protected them, but when it was directed at them, they were not so pleased with it.
I soon discovered that my friends were distancing themselves from me. It wasn’t long until there was resentment and then extended periods of no contact at all.
I continued with this ‘attitude’ and it became a problem at work. I worked in a number of sewing factories (as they had ‘seasons’ of the year that they laid off employes while work was slow – I would move on to another factory rather than wait to be called back), where my ability to do my job was directly impacted by the quality of the work of the person who’d done the procedure before mine. We were instructed not to fix the mistakes of others but take them back and point them out so the previous worker could repair their own mistakes. You can surely imagine how this attitude was received in such an environment.
I started therapy when I was thirty and my father had passed away. I left therapy when I was 38. During therapy I realized that this attitude had been a reaction to the abuse and oppression of my childhood and that by becoming so hard, cold and unfeeling, I had replicated the very attitude that had oppressed me, thus was oppressing others. I was so appalled by this realization that I vowed I would be more sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
The change that occurred was dramatic and just as extreme, but overly empathetic. I found myself sacrificing myself so that others would feel good about themselves, making their happiness a priority, wanting to leave everyone I encountered with good feelings about themselves.
Over the years that have followed I’ve recognized that this extreme overreaction has ebbed and flowed, sometimes being even more exaggerated and other times much less severe. I’ve maintained this level of ‘self sacrifice’ that has created a very difficult dynamic for me with others.
New friends think that I’m this always ‘giving’ person, that appears to have a never ending supply of love, understanding and tolerance, but in reality, I’m experiencing a lot of resentment for, and feeling taken for granted, unappreciated by people I love and trust.
I’ve realized, as a result of working on this Support Group, that if I’m going to emotionally survive this experience and be assertive enough to manage this group (as my sponsor keeps reiterating that it’s my group, my decisions, everything is up to me), I’m going to have dig down inside myself, to tap into some of that ‘old me’, some of that assertiveness and perhaps less empathetic behavior. I’m going to have to detach and become colder, not so concerned with the individual, but more concerned with the common good of the group. I need to learn to put my foot down, put a period at the end of sentences, rather than a question mark.
I don’t need to and should not be asking anyone for permission to follow my dream, to pursue success, to do what I think is right. That’s not to say I’m not going to ask for input or consider the ideas of others, but I need to be less fearful of hurting others and more conscious of the focus of my goal.
To create a balance is going to be tricky, I might falter, might fail from time to time, but I’m human and that’s expected. If others are hurt in the process, I will regret that, but they will have to understand, as they’ve asked me to.