A women leaning against a cabin with her eyes closed

I was raised to honor my obligations and to be true to my word. Once I committed, I had to see things through. Backing out would have only shown poor character.

I lived largely with this filter of obligation rather than the clarity of truth until my early 30s, quitting few things on my own accord. New information, like the bridesmaid dress costing $300, couldn’t be used to shift my decision now. The lesson here was to ask about the financial commitment before saying yes. I felt lingering unease wearing the dress to honor a friendship that used to be, rather than stating the truth.

This discomfort was something to recall the next time an invitation was extended. Until then, I would collect lessons and learn from my mistakes, although I was unable to fix them. 

Once I committed, I had to see things through. I thought backing out would have only shown a lack of respect. 

Once I committed, I had to see things through. I thought backing out would have only shown a lack of respect. 

Why is there guilt associated with changing your mind?

Despite heart palpitations, fatigue and increasing anxiety, I stayed in one job for four years too long because these new health issues had nothing to do with the job. Nope. My doctor said they were unexplained.

Plus, when other people would cry in the bathroom or quit with insufficient notice, I remained. Actually, I excelled, accepting promotions, while editing resumes and serving as a reference for anyone ready to leave. I imagine my mind and body would have continued to whither had I not been laid off two months before my five-year anniversary. 

Once I committed, I had to see things through. I thought backing out would have only shown a lack of resilience.

Why was I so willing to help others, but not myself?

I’ve never ended a relationship, but I can describe both the moment when past relationships were over for me and when they finally ended for us. For me, the reasons varied from feelings of inadequacy to a misalignment on future goals. It was the end for us though. I replicated with precision from one guy to the next. Need. Smother. Blame. Reject. Repeat.

The relationships had little to do with the individual. They were simply a conduit to the achievement that would elevate me from girl to woman—love, marriage and children. If I ended things, then the only thing that would remain would be a clock that continued to count down while I started over.

Once I committed, I had to see things through. I thought backing out would have only shown an inability to build an adequate future. 

I thought backing out would have only shown an inability to build an adequate future. 

Why is there so much fear surrounding authenticity?

It is as if I believed that honoring my wants and needs meant that I didn’t value the opportunity, moment or relationship. The biggest fear was that I’d be perceived as not valuing the individual(s) on the receiving end of the obligation. Regardless of the perception, I thought I owed them more because when obligation leads, deceit isn’t far behind. 

I’ve also exhibited a lack of value for myself by orchestrating an environment of half truths. While it has taken some time, I now understand that prioritizing an obligation only minimizes my needs.  To correct this, I’ve put a few behaviors into practice:

  • I ask the clarifying questions up front.
  • I sleep on the big decisions to see if any immediate feelings of anxiety or discomfort arise.
  • I allow myself the freedom to pivot in the same way that circumstances often do.
  • I initiate the conversations that seemed insurmountable in the past, only to find that rational people are generally understanding and gracious.
  • When and if the truth brings about change, I welcome it.

I strive each day to honor myself and stay true to my needs. I’ve shifted.

Have you ever been afraid to say no to a prior commitment? What stops you from speaking up for yourself?

image via Carissa Gallo, Darling Issue No. 13

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