“We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets.” ~Dalai Lama
I finally decided that I would call my friend. By then, our lunch plans wouldn’t have made any sense since it was getting close to midnight.
She answered and started speaking immediately. “Hey, I lost track of time. I’ve been running a lot of errands today. Oh, did you hear about this new job opportunity I’m getting? No? Let me tell you about it…”
I felt a wave of emotion within me.
This was the third time she had flaked on me this week, and it always ended with me calling her to find out what had happened. I noticed myself looking down at my feet at the end of our conversation, holding the phone in my hand as I said cheerily, “No, it’s totally fine! Don’t worry, I completely understand. I hope you have a good night!”
When I was younger, I would tell people proudly that one of my strong points was that I would never get mad.
“Have I ever been angry?” I would ask, knowing full well my reputation for being mellow. However, as time went on, I began to lose track of what being nice really meant.
When faced with challenges or confrontations with other people, I would automatically be agreeable, regardless of what I was feeling. However, on the inside I felt depressed and anxious.
I didn’t allow myself to share my thoughts and feelings, and this finally came to a climax when I was unable to speak my mind during my four-year relationship.
For me, being agreeable had transformed into something ugly and submissive, where at times I didn’t recognize myself. During arguments, I would attempt to be accommodating; however, when alone, I was caught up in self-pity and resentment.
I didn’t recognize this then, but I had made myself feel completely powerless. As I started to think about my day-to-day experiences with other people, I realized that I was being taken for granted.
People assumed that I would not speak out if I were upset. Whether I liked it or not, I had limited myself, and was having less genuine relationships with others.
Recently I have started to undo the damage I caused to myself by accepting that being nice does not mean I have to be weak.
Through my experiences, I have realized that being compassionate toward others is only a form of strength when you make sure to reflect on how you really feel.
If you’re simply being nice automatically, without reflecting on your own thoughts and values, you’re not being good to yourself.
If you don’t think about how you really feel, being agreeable is simply another mask you’ve put on to hide yourself from the world. If you don’t give yourself a chance to express yourself, you can experience fatigue and resentment.
In college, I studied a sociologist named Hegel, who argued that a person cannot truly be free without self-reflecting on decisions he or she has made. In the same way, in order to be kind in a sustainable manner, you need to reflect on your own needs.
Do you feel that you’re in a similar situation? Here are some strategies that push me to be more mindful, which may also be helpful for you.
1. Take time to unwind by yourself.
Regardless of how we act toward others, we all need time to just be, without acting a certain way for other people.
This can vary depending on your preferences. Unwinding can be as simple as taking a hike, practicing yoga, or spending five minutes breathing deeply and meditating. Make sure to write in some of this time into your schedule.
2. If you have difficulty sharing your opinions, write your thoughts down in a journal.
This journal does not need to be structured or consistent. Just think of this notebook as a place where you can vent. If you feel that you didn’t speak your mind, choose to fully express your opinion here.
3. Recognize toxic relationships.
Do you have a friend who always asks for favors but who doesn’t actually spend time with you? Do you have someone in your life who speaks but doesn’t listen? If you do have these types of relationship, recognition is the first step.
4. Try to make more decisions during your everyday interactions with other people.
For example, you can choose which movie you and your friends are going to go see. Make a decision to say no if a favor is asked of you. Take time to do an activity specifically for your own enjoyment, and don’t move it due to pressure by someone else. Speak up more if you notice a conversation is one-sided. Small victories build momentum.
5. If you choose to follow #4, track the progress you’ve made over time.
My friends and I have decided to write letters to our future selves. I will later receive my letter in one year. This is one way to see how time has changed me, but other ways also help to see short-term results.
For example, you can write in your journal when you expressed your opinion confidently or made a decision for a group of friends. You could also put a dollar in a jar each time you go on an individual adventure. When you collect enough dollars, you can use that money to treat yourself. Be creative.
6. Remember to reach out to your support network.
This includes trustworthy friends, family members, and even online forums.
7. Read and absorb anything that you think would help you.
I find it helpful to read psychology and self-help books. I re-read any advice that speaks to me.
In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, by Dr. Richard Carlson, I read that if you find yourself intimidated by others, try to view them as if they were children or elders. In Born to Win, by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward, I learned that I need to be aware of the role I play whenever I speak with others: the child, the adult, or the parent.
8. Avoid victimizing yourself or blaming others.
These actions will only accumulate negative energy, and will do nothing to solve your problems. We can only be in control of our responses to others’ actions.
9. Finally, don’t make excuses for your feelings—they are valid.
Remember that sometimes the biggest limitations we feel have only been constructed in our own minds.
About Nisha Balaram
Nisha Balaram is a recent UC Berkeley graduate. Her latest job has been at the Greenlining Institute promoting equity and political participation. She is a passionate reader, bird enthusiast, tea drinker, and rampant list-maker. Interact with her @Ninabee90 or email email@example.com.