At time of writing, it is almost one week after the last class, our fourth classroom. I don’t remember much from the classroom other than it was our usual schedule of an opening share followed by a guided and moving meditation interspersed with more sharing in between.

Most of the class was a dialogue, which was somewhat new; and towards the end of class, we discussed stressful and unpleasant experiences. The class picked up some energy as we talked about different stressors in our lives, a confirmation of why most of us were gathered there.

What I’ve noticed is that most of my stressful experiences are interpersonal. More specifically, it is difficulty being assertive. Instead, I will be nice and passive or tense and aggressive.

Either I am shrinking myself to accommodate another or I am loud and agitated, desperate to be heard. Where is the happy medium where I can speak my truth without costing another their own sense of autonomy?

It seems I vacillate between these two polar opposites – passive versus aggressive and I would rather be the former than the latter so I err on the side of caution. And I do this a lot. It keeps rearing its head throughout the week and it is only because of this new mindfulness practice that I am noticing it.


Before taking this mindfulness course, if I was being passive about something, I would feel off. Upset and annoyed or tired and moody until eventually, inevitably, it bubbled out of me. I might snap at the person involved or take it out on someone else. I might attribute my negative feelings to the person and think any one of the following variations of, “What an asshole”, “Why are they so dominating?”, or “I don’t like them.”

Now, I can catch myself feeling angry or otherwise “off” early enough that instead of lashing out based off this emotion, I ask myself why I feel this way. When I trace its origin, a good portion of the time it is because I feel I didn’t stick up for myself so the resonating emotion is one of being bulldozered over by somebody else’s opinion and disrespected.

There is a significant lesson to be learned here. It is asking for growth and as my teachers in my MBSR course stated, “Growth is not linear.”

The Push and Pull

My usual way of doing things is to try and not upset people. I will bend over backwards if that means someone is not upset with me. I desperately seek approval by others while my own approval of myself is inconsequential. I don’t think that what I want matters.

The way I do this is by acquiescing my own truth in favor of another’s truth. I don’t mean that I adopt other’s values and beliefs, but rather I let other people tell me what to do and how to do it. In fact, it makes me feel better because I am conflict avoidant and search for reasons and means to circumvent it. I don’t have a great history of asserting myself cogently so I’d rather just not do it at all lest I come across as adversarial.

Usually how I do this is under the guise that I am being gracious. I think, “Okay, well this isn’t a huge deal to me so I can be gracious about them having their way. I can be open-minded and allow it. I can be more patient than them.” Because I think that’s what makes me a good person. I think that’s what I am supposed to do to have good relationships with people.

Every time I bite my tongue, every time I choose to let someone else dictate to me how I should act, be, and what choices to make for myself, I shrink and die a little inside. This way of coping between passiveness and aggression continues through today. When I become fed up with biting my tongue all the time, I am sensitive and incendiary.

When I stand up for myself, I can hear my voice straining and my body is tight and scrunched, expecting to not be heard and respected. Other people recognize the scent of an inflammatory argument in the air and before I know it, that’s exactly what’s happened.

One part of me creates this feeling. It whispers it in my ear. Some call it ego. Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain-body.

To me, I am fighting for my right to be heard all those times when I didn’t speak up; while the other person is bewildered, confused as to what the fight is even about. When I regain consciousness, I am aghast also, wondering, “Well, I just lost my shit. What the fuck is wrong with me?”

Re-Claiming My Power

Until now, I didn’t get that underneath it all is this pervasive feeling that everything is being taken from me, that I don’t have a voice to speak my truth, and that I don’t deserve to be heard. With this feeling, I’ve created my own reality.

It’s a reality where there is so little space for me that seemingly innocuous things will set me off.  Because in a very literal way, I’m fighting for the little I think I have. In reality, there is and always has been an abundance of personal power simply waiting for me to claim it.

I am getting that this is all my responsibility. I’ve been blaming the other person or situation for walking all over me or for unfair treatment. They were commandeering and mistreating me. When in fact, there is something in my way of being that is inviting that to show up in my life. There is something I do, something I say, and the way I speak that allows another to step into that role.

By not asserting the right to my own life and contributing my voice, I am shriveling up, withering away, and denying the world my unique flavor and aesthete. No one benefits from “nice”, we benefit from authenticity.


Header/featured image source link.

Read more about what I am learning from my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course:

week 1: a beginner’s mind

week 2: i hate sharing in big groups

week 3: difficult people

I’m taking this MBSR course at the Cambridge Health Alliance – Center for Mindfulness and Compassion in Cambridge, MA. Check out link here for information on this course and others like it.

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