Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t one of the popular kids.
I went to a small Catholic school growing up, and there were only five girls (including me) in my class. The upper elementary girlfriend dynamics played out rather harshly with so few girls. There weren’t enough of us to form separate small friend groups. But different girls were expelled from the main group on a regular basis. Well, there were two of us who were often on the outs with the main group of more “popular” girls. This game of who’s in and who’s out played out repeatedly in upper elementary and middle school. You just never knew where you stood with the main group. The slightest social faux pas or poor clothing choice could relegate you to eating lunch by yourself for days.
Although I grew up and have had much deeper, more supportive and enriching friend relationships with girls and women in high school, college and beyond, the scars of that experience (and probably many others) often leave me wondering whether I’m in or out in whatever group I find myself. I don’t often think of this elementary school baggage, but the insecurity about being included/excluded lingers.
I’m guessing nearly everyone has a version of this experience lodged into their memory. If I occupied something other than a white, cisgendered body, I’m sure that the effects of the fear of the behaviors of racism, homophobia or transphobia would run even deeper in adult life. (And it’s not like those behaviors go away in adults.)
As social creatures that literally depend on groups to live, the impulse to please others feels like a life-and-death issue to our nervous systems. So we say yes to helping others when we really don’t have time. We laugh off others’ harmful behaviors in order to preserve equilibrium in a group. We ignore racial or gender biases in others and even adopt them ourselves in order to maintain our social status.
Here’s the truth: You will disappoint people. Even with good intentions, you will do something that lets down other people. You will try to do an unfamiliar task at work and fail your team. You will try to be emotionally present to your friends, family or spouse and not be available. You will shrink away from challenging racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia because you were too afraid to rock the boat.
You also need to intentionally make choices for your own health and well-being that sometimes result in others’ disappointment, confusion or anger. Have you ever started to say no to tasks or activities people take for granted that you will do? People probably pushed back rather than support your decision to prioritize yourself. Have you ever confronted someone about their behavior not being good for you or a group? They likely didn’t take it well, no matter how kind or calm you were when saying it.
Maybe we need to do our own work on our past traumas so that we can be OK with the discomfort of disappointing people. If we are comfortable with the discomfort of causing disappointment, we can not only choose ourselves and our own health and wellness more easily, we can stand up and challenge the status quo of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. If we choose the discomfort of disappointment, we will actually make space for more people to feel loved and welcomed at the table.
Get Comfortable with Discomfort: Register now for my free Brown Bag Lunch event (1 p.m. ET Tuesday, Oct. 26) that will help you make time for at least one healthy thing, help you eliminate something you don’t need, and get a little more comfortable with disappointing others. Can’t make this event? No problem, just schedule a time to chat with me about how I can help!