Early childhood experiences led me to believe that my real opinions and feelings didn’t matter.
I learned that the quickest way to gain approval was through compliance and agreeableness, and that I was responsible for regulating people’s emotions for them, even if it meant abandoning myself. Whatever would cause less friction, keep the peace, or not cause the slightest form of discomfort, was my chosen course of action.
I suppressed my feelings, abandoned my truth, and rarely voiced out any disagreements for the sake of short-term harmony, or to preserve my ‘good standing’ with someone—even if that ‘good standing’ was fragile to begin with, since it wasn’t born from complete honesty. I would meticulously read people’s faces for signs of the “right thing to say,” assuming that it was always what people wanted to hear rather than the truth itself.
This was the recipe to a fragmented sense of self, to never feeling truly seen and known, and to anxiety from trying to control people’s reactions, which was never in my realm of control to begin with.
One day, a friend of mine who knew I struggled with this tendency challenged me to honour my own preferences rather than pacify his own.
The scenario started off simple: I’d told him it was okay for us to hang out longer, even though, in reality, I craved some space. He saw right through my BS and asked me why I didn’t just tell him how I really felt from the get-go. My honest answer: I felt like I had no choice. I felt like I had to appease his preferences, because it was the “polite” thing to do.
Being a good friend, he cared more about helping me break this pattern than about pleasing his own ego. So he suggested that we take turns talking about more serious things that bothered us about our friendship—things that we left unsaid. I crumbled.
Telling him the full truth—the ugly truth—was so foreign to me that it felt like I was committing a crime.
I felt so much resistance, not just in my mind, but in my body; my nervous system kicked into “flight mode” as if I was in dire danger. My throat began to constrict, doing everything it could to literally shut me up. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I started crying and could barely squeeze words out of my mouth.
That’s when I knew this tendency of mine had become so deeply ingrained. My mind and body latched onto old patterns like a life preserver, even if they no longer served me. The process was rewarding and necessary, but gruelling nonetheless.
Luckily, my friend was calm, patient, and receptive.
After the confrontation, we agreed that our honest communication helped us feel better understood and closer than before. I felt more secure about our friendship, knowing it was grounded in something real rather than just convenience. I gained more respect for him after seeing how self-assured he was that he didn’t need me to pacify him, and I gained more respect for myself for finally standing up for my needs.
This was a huge awakening.
Sometimes we think the most loving thing we can do is avoid conflict, protect other people’s feelings, or give into people’s preferences all the time.
But that’s not true at all. That’s the recipe to growing resentment.
Yes, compromise and sacrifice are necessary for healthy relationships, but not to the extent that we no longer present our true selves to our friends and our partners, because we’ve suppressed our truth and denied our own needs for so long.
We need to have the courage to give the people we love the gift of our authentic selves. Because that’s the only way for real intimacy and connection to grow. It’s the only way to be seen, known, and loved. And it’s the only way to honour who we truly are.