This three part series aims to discuss one of the key cornerstones for any healthy relationship –Mutual Respect.
Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall subjective and emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself (either positive or negative) as well as an attitude towards the self. Our personal understanding of this concept gets shaped and reshaped by our everyday experiences and the impact and feelings associated with these experiences reinforce our perception of ourselves.
In my attempt to please one and all, I always behaved ‘appropriately’. I would remember birthdays, would go out of my way to help others, or remember their personal likes and dislikes. Irrespective of my relationship with them, or if their need for me was only dictated by my position (professionally), I would always be eager to lend a hand of support. I would deny acknowledging my own feelings about the person or situation. No matter the discomfort, I would take a backseat and in trying to do the ‘right’ thing, I would only think about how I could please the other person. More often than not, I wouldn’t stand up for myself or express my views. If I was asked for feedback or my opinion about another person or situation, I would always give a balanced response – one that enumerated both the pros and cons. Sometimes, I needed to really think hard and explore ways to make something work even though it didn’t really need to happen, but only because someone asked me to. I couldn’t and more importantly, didn’t like to say no. Being accommodating was important to me.
Critically analysing myself, I realise that I did all this because it reinforced my personal need to be labelled a ‘nice person.’ I believed it was the only way to increase my likeability quotient! Every time someone praised me or spoke highly of me for helping them, I felt great. Their attention reassured me that I was indeed a ‘nice person!’
What I absolutely failed to accept or acknowledge were my own feelings, and belief that I was competent enough to have an opinion. I doubted my own self worth and capabilities. I felt what I had to offer didn’t really matter. Thus most often I would simply keep quiet or very meekly put my point across. This led anyone with a louder voice or forceful way of talking get away with what they wanted.
I failed to see that saying ‘no’ didn’t make me a bad person. Being unable to make something happen didn’t reflect on my innate abilities in any way. My self belief was so low that, I allowed the constant chatter of negative self talk to push me to deliver and when I couldn’t, I felt even more miserable. At this point I wouldn’t see the real facts about why I couldn’t make something happen. I would simply feel like a failure and the need to give explanations felt like excuses.
Whenever I pushed myself to do something I didn’t want in the first place, I felt angry, used, hurt, sad. Sometimes I felt like no one understood me. I expected people to read my mind, acknowledge my unsaid thoughts and unexplained expectations. That of course, didn’t help me at all! It led to people making assumptions about me and the person I was.
Today when I look back, I feel like I failed myself. I didn’t respect myself enough – forget ‘enough,’ I simply did not respect myself. And since I didn’t respect myself, there was no question of others respecting my feelings, opinions, space or time.
It’s taken me a long time to begin standing up for myself and stop feeling guilty about having to say no. I’ve learnt to be vocal about my opinions and expectations. I’m not always successful but just knowing that I’m making the effort helps hugely. I still continue to struggle to express my anger or frustration especially when in public and do remonstrate myself if I let go of an opportunity. But I’m learning to forgive myself. I do keep the negative self talk under strict supervision and snub it down whenever it overwhelms me.
Striking a balance is important. Sometimes even though I know how I can vocally retaliate, I don’t because it goes against my personal beliefs and values. At that juncture I take a moment to decide if responding is really required or worth the effort. If I feel that it isn’t, then I simply move on. I’ve come to realise that silence works as well – the only thing to note is that it’s used at the right moment.
Accepting ourselves, truly understanding who we are instead of believing the different versions that people create and loving ourselves are the crucial keystones of building self-respect.