If you’ve ever enlisted the “disappearing act” method as a way to put some space between you and another person, I get it. When you feel like you might need some time away from someone, want to end a relationship, or change a relationship dynamic it can be anxiety producing; speaking up for yourself can feel tricky. Sometimes we’d all rather slink away to avoid conflict.
Now and then, everyone thinks that addressing a relationship issue might result in too many hurt feelings, a knock-down-drag-out argument, or something ambiguously scary. It can be tempting to stay silent and hope it resolves itself. It’s my experience, though, that problems tend not to fix themselves and that, the longer they’re left unmanaged, the more overwhelming they can seem.
There are some things you can do to effectively express what you need from a relationship without becoming invisible and without feeling like your only other alternative is to drape yourself in aggression and hostility. Putting these things to use will help you to feel more grounded as you organize your thoughts about your experience and think about what you’d like to convey. Eventually, while speaking up for yourself might feel slightly uncomfortable in certain situations, it won’t feel as unavailable to you.
The first step to take is to explore your experience. The idea here is to gain awareness of your feelings about the situation and how they connect to your thoughts and actions. This will help you to trust yourself.
For example, let’s say you want some space in a friendship. You love your friend very much and value the relationship, and you also feel overwhelmed by the various goings on in your life. Perhaps you’re afraid to tell the friend that you can’t help them as often as they ask or that you can’t spend as much time hanging out and talking on the phone with them. Because you’re afraid to communicate this, you might continue doing things that you don’t have a chance to do. By overextending yourself, you might begin to resent your friend’s requests and experience the friend as overbearing. Maybe you start to exert less effort in the help that you lend, continue to make plans with the friend but begin to break them.
Be curious about why you’re afraid to say that you need space; what are you afraid will happen? Why would you rather overextend yourself? What do these things mean to you? As you become more aware of your feelings, you will begin to trust your experience. You will feel more secure in creating a more desirable situation for yourself.
The second step is to take the information you’ve acquired and use it to clarify the choices available to you. Will you choose to talk to your friend? Will you choose to let your resentment grow? Gaining awareness of your choices helps you to feel more empowered. When you feel empowered, you feel less inclined to suffer silently, quietly disengage from the relationship, or engage in aggressive behavior. This sense of empowerment will give you comfort when you address the situation.
The third step is to show up in an authentic way. If you’re nervous to express how you’re feeling, let the person know. Be honest about what this experience is like for you, about your fear of what might happen. However they manifest, these feelings will surface at some point, and they are so much more manageable (and a lot less scary) when you address them as you become aware of them.
Standing up for yourself can be scary, but you can effectively say what you need to in an empathic and satisfying way.
Love and Be Loved,