True story: I learned how to be brave by returning a broken curling iron to Walmart customer service. As strange as that may sound, hear me out. For many reasons, returning unwanted stuff to a store was a stressful and uncomfortable experience for me. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to return the items, it was because the act of returning stuff to a store was a highly unpleasant experience – one that generally caused a great deal of stress and anxiety. You see, I used to have this fear of being inconvenient to the sales associate who would be working customer service. I was afraid that they would not want to return the item or that somehow returning the items to the store meant that I was ‘less of a person’ (how dare I waste anyone’s time by returning things to the store?). In reality, the sales associates probably never cared.
You can laugh (I know it seems silly) but unfortunately this line of thinking wasn’t just when I returned items to the store – it used to invade most aspects of my life. The fear of being an ‘inconvenience’ used to rule me. It meant that I always needed to be perfect, no matter the circumstance. Because if I was perfect, then I couldn’t possibly be an inconvenience to anyone. The equations in my head looked something like this:
Be perfect = Not being an inconvenience
Not being an inconvenience = everyone will like me and I will avoid criticism and pain
These equations made it difficult for me to say no, ask for help, or identify what I needed in my life. I can think of hundreds of times where I stayed silent when I disagreed or said yes to requests I did not feel comfortable with because I didn’t dare inconvenience anyone. Although the intent of my equation was to ultimately avoid pain and criticism, it resulted in loneliness, fear, and anxiety. In my attempt to avoid pain, I created more of it.
I spent much of my life believing it was my responsibility to make others feel happy, comfortable, and content. The desire to be liked and respected outweighed my own happiness and need for boundaries. If I did not live up to those strict expectations, then I assumed that there was something seriously wrong with me. Instead of connecting with others and making friends, it was easier to be alone and isolated. No one can hate you if you don't invite anyone into your life.
What changed for me:
By learning how to be brave and master my negative thinking patterns, I was able to overcome a lot of the unnecessary stress in my life. It wasn't something that came easy or readily--it involved a lot of research and help from the people around me. I finally realized that it was my own thoughts that were keeping me shadowed in darkness. I would never be able to control the thoughts of anyone around me, but I had 100% control over my own. When I finally returned my broken curling iron to the store, the following conversation happened in my head:
And it happened...I had found my bravery at the Walmart customer service desk. I discovered that I was able to do much more than return items to the store. I was able to say ‘no’, ask for help when I was overwhelmed, stand up for myself when I disagreed with the way someone was talking to me, and ultimately give myself the voice that I desperately needed. I became my own advocate.
I know that many of us have had our own ‘return items to Walmart’ moments. The moments where we felt anxious, unimportant, and unable to stand up for our self because it could be an inconvenience to someone. I know that for myself, I felt trapped living like that. Being brave doesn't necessarily mean that you have to do something big, loud, and noticeable. It starts with the little things. Those little things may seem silly or insignificant, but they most likely impact the big and important aspects of your life too. It took me a long time to realize that my fear of returning stuff to the store dictated more parts of my life than I had thought. I was so used to feeling that way, that I didn't notice how deeply it impacted me. Finding my power in the little acts of bravery meant that I was able to be brave in the big parts of my life too.
You are cabable of finding your own bravery, as I have seen it happen time and time again with the individuals who I have worked with. Find what makes you feel brave, because you deserve to be seen, feel important, and ultimately feel worthy enough to be an inconvenience.
Stay tuned for part 2 of "What brave looks like".
Kylie Chaffin M.A., LMHCA, LLPC
Authors note: The fear of being an inconvenience is often the symptom perfectionism and anxiety. It can be incredibly isolating to feel like you are responsible for everyone’s convenience, happiness, and comfort. You do not have to go through this alone. There are very real and helpful tools that can help you overcome these types of thoughts and feelings.
I have been trained to help individuals overcome such difficulties in their life, whether it is due to anxiety, depression, or something more. If you feel that you could benefit from my services, please contact me. I am a licensed counselor in the state of Washington. I provide counseling at my office locations in Spokane and Spokane Valley.