Speaking out… and listening

How do you get the right balance between speaking out for yourself, and being open to what others say?

I have a tendency to be far too open to the opinions of my friends, too sensitive, too willing to take them seriously regardless of whether they make sense or are fair. I forget that people have their own reasons for saying what they do, and often these reasons have nothing to do with me. Sometimes I’m so busy contemplating what others have said that I ignore what I’m thinking or feeling. 

It leaves me very vulnerable to the opinions of the people I trust. I often get to a point where I trust their opinions far more than my own, which is unhealthy. This sort of trust led to be me being deeply hurt by the things my ex said as he was falling apart. Because I believed him when he was describing my weaknesses, to the extent that those weaknesses became real where they didn’t exist, or worse where they did exist. Believed him when he said that my fears were all from my side, had no basis in reality and that I shouldn’t expect him to help me deal with them. Believed him when his “energy readings” were giving him completely misleading perceptions of me and my intentions.

Of course it eventually did become clear to me that his perceptions of me were deeply influenced by his own turmoil. But why did it take me so long to see this? And when I did challenge his views, why did I do it so mildly and quietly, rather than fighting back to defend myself?

To some extent there’s always a degree of fear in speaking up for yourself. But it’s more than that.  Why do I not trust my instinctive and emotional reactions? Why am I so afraid of getting angry with people? Why am I so reluctant to challenge other people’s views of me and things important to me? Partly because I have very little experience of doing so successfully. Partly because I genuinely don’t like to hurt others. Partly because I like to find compromises, intellectual truces where we can all be right.

But I know that I have changed. I’ve seen what happens when you don’t listen to yourself, when you allow yourself to make one compromise too many. I’ve realised that this is a way of shielding your own beliefs from arguments that might change your mind. I still prefer to speak with a voice that is gentle, and the rhetoric of snark is very foreign to me. But I am learning to be firm. To insist. To question. To demand. To respect others by disagreeing with them, rather than by tolerating them. To speak out as well as listen.

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4 responses to “Speaking out… and listening

  1. You didn’t trust yourself because you trusted those who you believed cared about you. In many ways, there is nothing wrong with this approach, except that you have to listen to more than one voice.

    I briefly lived with a man who tried to alienate me from everyone around me, and to convince me that I was the one at fault, not him. He was very clever about it – he tried to zero in on my most vulnerable places. but in the end it was the behaviour of everyone around us that negated what he said: it became clear that he WASN’T the only person who gave a damn about me, and that others were aware of what he was trying to do. Ever since then I have questioned the motives of those who criticise me, or others. I hope I acknowledge when I am in the wrong, but I won’t take the blame when I’m not – and I won’t let someone else be blamed when they are not in the wrong, either. I listen, and come to my own conclusions, and sometimes they are unpopular. But I don’t care, because I have moral righteousness on my side 🙂

    It is one of the hardest things to learn, to trust ourselves, when we spend so long being taught.

  2. I very much approve of Z’s response. Thank you, Z! 🙂

    Yes, it’s good to learn to speak out for yourself, and we all tend to avoid confrontation whenever possible, for very deeply ingrained instinctual reasons mainly (which make sense, so it’s not just imaginary fears!). However, I think the most important thing is to learn to think critically no matter who is speaking, ‘friend’ or ‘foe’, AND to learn to examine your own appraisal of the situation or whatever. WHen I mean examine, I mean in the first place even just to be aware of your own take on the matter, and then to learn to decipher where your own view is coming from, and conclude whether you prefer to stick to it or feel a change might be called for. What’s most important, though, is that you remain in the centre of your own circle of thoughts. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily right or that other people’s different opinions and views are not valid, but at least it will protect you from ‘losing yourself’ out of emotional sympathy for someone. As for the necessity to “speak out against”, well I’m sure it would be a good excercise for you if it’s really difficult for you, but I don’t think it’s necessarily always the best or the most productive solution. Sometimes, it is downright necessary, but I know from experience that there are some subject matters on which personal beliefs or sometimes just plain conditioning means that you will never be able to get through to the other person if you challenge their views outright, and sometimes the argument is just not worth the energy wasted. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot hold and cherish a very different opinion, or express it when you are asked for it or when you feel you need to afirm your views, but it needn’t be systematic. The essential thing is to know where you are at and to know why you are there and to be at peace with this. Dunno if I’m making sense to you or anyone else but myself here! But let’s say that not overtly expressing you views every single time a challenging notion is expressed should not make you feel like your view is inferior or not worth sticking to.

  3. Pingback: Untangling the last knots « Words that sing

  4. Thanks to you both for your thoughtful responses.

    Z – It’s interesting that as the problems started to accumulate I found I didn’t want to mention them even to my closest friends because I knew, deep down, they would tell me how unacceptable his behaviour was, and I really didn’t want to hear that. If I ever feel the same in the future, I will try to make a special effort to tell my friends because not wanting to is a danger sign! And, as you say, other people’s perspectives can really help us keep balanced. Particularly when they’re the perspective of good friends who have known you long enough to have a really deep-founded insight into you!

    Katia – I think the idea of remaining in the centre of your own circle of thoughts is a really good way of putting this. And I agree that you don’t always need to say things aloud to maintain your integrity – though right now I would probably benefit from the practice!

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