Have you ever put off doing something because you were afraid of the outcome? Most of us have. I have to confess that I am a repeat offender in this category. I’m what one would call a “conflict avoider” (and by “one”, I mean any number of the amateur psychologists – ie. friends – who have wisely pointed out how much I try to avoid conflict).
It’s a bit of a weird personality trait. In some parts of my life I have absolutely no fear of conflict, and in fact I manage to thrive on it. Professionally, I often have to deal with difficult interpersonal situations and I manage to navigate these situations without much anxiety. However, when it comes to something more personal – or rather, when it comes to dealing with something that I feel reflects on me personally, I will do backflips to avoid causing any kind of friction.
It’s taken me many years to realize that this is part of my ‘people pleasing’ personality. I don’t want to upset people because I want people to like me. Ugh, that’s hard to admit, even though the intellectual part of me knows that this is true for pretty much everyone on earth. But for me, I think I try to avoid conflict because I don’t want people to perceive anything negative about me.
I won’t go into why this is, although I’ve spent my fair share of time (and wine) figuring out where this comes from. It really doesn’t matter where it comes from, does it? It’s a fact of life and I either live with it or I change it. Mostly, I choose to live with it. Just accepting that this is part of who I am seems to lessen my anxiety about it.
If you’re a regular reader you may recall my post about worrying that my dogs’ anti-social tendencies might cause my neighbours to have less-than-neighbourly feelings about me. This is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. I know that in the same situation most people would not spend nearly so much energy worrying about what others are thinking.
Today is a perfect example of why confronting your worries is so much better than simply sitting and marinating in them. I had to discuss a personal issue at work and of course I’ve spent weeks worrying that my colleague would think less of me simply for asking her to help me address what I know is a perfectly legitimate issue.
Knowing this conversation has been coming for a few weeks, I’ve been rehearsing in my head what is the best way to phrase my problem, how to approach my colleague, ways to offset what I fear may be a negative image I’m projecting.
All of this, of course, has been a total waste of time and mental energy. I had barely gotten the (probably-very-poorly-phrased-because-I’ve-been-obsessing) words out of my mouth before my colleague totally eased my worries by acknowledging my issue and offering perfectly reasonable ways to deal with the problem. Does this happen to other people? The relief I felt was actually a tangible, physical feeling. Immediately followed, of course, with the thought why didn’t I bring this up sooner?
So today was yet another lesson that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I find that the simplest way to think about it — the fact is, most people don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about and judging me as I do myself (thankfully!). So if that’s the case, there really is no need to worry so much that others are going to judge us; aren’t we all to some extent in the same boat?