Ever since I was little, I’ve been praised for being quiet and polite and always doing as I’m asked. My earliest report cards described me as a “quiet and conscientious worker.” Those words may as well be tattooed across my forehead, never has a sentence so consistently haunted me my entire life.
Along with the identifiers of quiet and polite, also comes kind, dependable and patient. On the surface these seem like valuable qualities to have, and they are, absolutely. But they need an essential ingredient to make sure the bearer doesn’t go insane. That essential ingredient is the ability to say “no”; an ability to see that something is a lost cause and an ability to know when it’s time to give up.
I’m a textbook people pleaser, I’m a yes man and a pathological apologiser. And I can see more clearly than ever how this will probably destroy me one day.
Along with being kind, dependable and patient, I’m also reasonably intelligent, very observant and a good judge of character. This super-fun combination means I can see how a person or a situation is going to be bad for me, but I remain completely incapable of opening my mouth and saying the words that might save me.
I am so incapable of saying no to someone that I allow myself to be put in situations I don’t want to be in. I stay with people long after I should have left them, whether it’s a romantic relationship or not. I stick around in jobs that give me anxiety because it might get better soon. I’d rather lose sleep and my appetite than risk disappointing someone. So I give people chance after chance, make excuses for their otherwise shitty behaviour, and say things “well they aren’t always like that.”
And this isn’t healthy.
Earlier this year, an app made the news that was basically designed to try and teach women to stop apologising so much, and to stop using passive language at work. A lot of people made fun of it, but I think it’s important. Although I haven’t used it, it’s only a good thing to be made aware of potentially problematic behaviour. Simply reading about the app was enough to highlight some of the passive language I use at work and in my personal relationships. And boy did it drive home how much I apologise. I apologise as way of a greeting sometimes. I don’t walk up to someone and say “hello, can you please do this?” I say “sorry to bother you, but do you think you could maybe take a look at this?”
Most of the time, being passive, kind, dependable and patient is a good thing. It means the friends I do have, the ones that aren’t taking advantage of me, are the best friends I could have. I didn’t give up on them so they aren’t going to give up on me. It also means I’ve progressed slowly in my career, it means I’ve been taken advantage of so many times that I have a very deep mistrust of anyone new, and it means that I can sometimes analyse the behaviour of people around me to the point of obsessiveness.
Since identifying this behaviour in myself earlier this year, I’ve taken progressive steps to ensure I stop accepting treatment that actively makes me unhappy. I still agree to more than I should, and fumble over saying ‘no’.
But I’ve also learnt that there is a fine line between saying ‘no’ for the right reasons, and saying ‘no’ because I’m scared. I’m walking that line so well now. Here’s to an optimistic future.
How being a doormat led me to a Crazy Place.
What I hear when you call me a Bitch.